You and your friends are hanging out at the Halloween party of the millennium (it is that epic). You're playing it cool, scanning the room for eligible tasty when your eyes lock on a fine specimen. Red Solo cup suspended in mid-heft, jaw slightly slack, you can't look away. You know it's not polite to stare, but give me a break. It's Halloween! It's the holiday God or the Masons or the Candy Maker's Association of America invented to give people a reason to stare and be stared out, or at least that's the theory you and your friends have worked out so as not to feel guilty about openly gawking at all the pretty peaches, all the there-for-the-taking date meat.
Target acquired, you think, raking your eyes up, down and over mount luscious. Hello, Mr. Ghostbuster. His barely there, tight coveralls (Coveralls, you think, quickly wracking your brain for a clever line like, "Looks like those coveralls don't cover... all." Damnit. Never mind, you'll come up with something amazing and alluring in the moment) do little to hide the outline of his packed pecks, his astonishing abs, his tight titanium glutes. The faux proton pack strapped to his, hello, strapping back doubles as a drink dispenser. The harness of the pack calling attention to the kind of arms made for shoveling coal into the belly of the Titanic. You sashay over.
"Hey," you say.
"Hey," he says.
"Who you gonna call?" you ask with a smirk. Nailed it.
The same rules hardly apply to men as they do to women when it comes to dressing for Halloween, a ritual that annually consumes the public with ire for the increasingly suggestive nature of women's costumes from tarted up popcorn boxes to nasty widgets and slutty pumpkins. Men escape the slutty pumpkin double standard. They are not typically sold on a collection of arbitrary, manufactured norms designed by someone else with the purpose of seducing them into an inflated and shallow sense of self-worth and value. Those who engineer their own masculine version of the slutty pumpkin -- shirtless Mexican wrestlers, Indiana Jones, Astronaut Mike Dexter -- almost never receive the same attention as women in their fishnets, high heels and tiny skirts (i.e., the slutty Minnie Mouse costume). Which is to say, the attention they receive is flattering, ego-boosting and an affirmation of masculine pride and identity. When was the last time a guy dressed as a "hot firefighter" admitted he felt vulnerable by the tongue wagging or uncomfortable being seen as just a collection of his sizzling parts? Right.
The social and representational dynamic advanced by film theorist Laura Mulvey decades ago that women are publicly configured "to be looked at" through an imagined masculine gaze holds up with some exceptions. The problem is not the corsets, the leather pants or the thigh-high boots (i.e., the slutty Robo-Cop costume), the issue is that we fail to recognize men as equally implicated in the systems driving what has become a permissive part of Halloween: women's bodies on display, social acceptance in the form of narratives about choice and empowerment and men redacted from the cultural discussion because Hey, if girls want to dress like that how can we not look? Amirite? Dude, up top.
A call on retailers to stop shipping or marketing racy Halloween costumes is not the answers. Neither is making women feel they hold all the power as well as all the responsibility for their costume choices. No one deserves mistreatment or disrespect, clothing or lack-there-of is never to blame for poor behavior choices. Women can be critically aware of their self-presentation, men can be critically aware of how they respond and both can assume ownership in the course of what unfolds not just on Halloween, but on every ordinary day that doesn't call for one to be dressed in a tube top, short shorts and pigtails (i.e., the slutty Yo-Yo costume).