Halloween and Gender

Remember Halloween? Being your favorite super hero or your favorite Disney Princess for one magical night. Going door-to-door collecting sugary hand-outs from strangers. Stashing the candy away in a pillow case, which you would ration out over the course of the next few months like it was the apocalypse.

Then sometime around 13, 14, 15 (in most cases,) you can’t Trick Or Treat anymore. It’s not normal. You’re too old. So, you go to Halloween parties, get drunk, get high, get friendly with strangers instead of taking candy from them.

And then there’s Adult Halloween.

Oh boy. You get a crazy dose of it in New York City.


In adulthood, Halloween becomes the one day a year in which unbridled hedonism is not only acceptable, but encouraged. It’s the one day of the year that people want to be freakish, and don’t get ridiculed for it.

2013, October 31st, I’m weaving through the macabre crowd, with a broken cell phone and a deadline to make. Along the way, I spot no less than eighty-seven “Sex Kittens.”

I counted. Eighty-seven, and of, in my opinion varying degrees of sexiness. In addition to the sexy Sex Kittens, there were the Sexy Little Bo Peeps, the Sexy Firefighters, the Sexy Police Women, the Sexy Vampire, the Sexy Devil, the Sexy Super Mario Woman, the Sexy Joker from Batman, and the classic example of Man’s uncomfortable attraction to matronly figures, the Sexy Nurse. There was also Sexy Baby, which is worse than Sexy Nurse.


The men, on the other hand, went as fantasy (literary, film, or personal,) science fiction, and pop culture characters. I spotted several Super Heroes, men sporting the iconic Anonymous Guy Fawkes masks, Dracula-style Vampires, Boy Scouts, Priests, Police Officers, etc, etc, etc. And yeah, there was at least one Baby Man.



I am… a dead-eyed 9-5 cubicle worker who gets to be a superhero for one magical night!

I find the choices of costuming to be fascinating. Perhaps I am reading too deep into the subject, but could it be that the costumes are a direct result of the gender roles forced upon men and women?

Women are discouraged from being promiscuous. To be sexual and have multiple partners, for a woman, means being a whore. To be sexual and have multiple partners, for a man, is being a plaaaaaayeerrrr.

Girls who lose their virginity at a young age are sluts. Men who don’t lose their virginity young are looooosers (or ‘homos,’ of course.)

On Hallows Eve, women are permitted – hell, they’re ENCOURAGED – to dress as little as possible. Long legs and large breasts, lip stick and makeup. Be scary, be sexy.

Men, on the other hand, are mocked for any perceived softness of character, and from entertaining fantasies that do not include naked women, a promotion, or naked women.

Women are encouraged to be whimsical and silly. Men are encouraged to be harsh and tough.

Women who take stuffed animals to college are cute. Men who take stuffed animals with them to college are ‘queer.’ (Ok, no one in their right minds should be taking stuffed animals to college, but it illustrates a point on softness.)

So, men take the opportunity to unleash their inner child. Men regress. Men become Spider Man for a day.

What does this say about men and women’s relationship with – and desire for – power, whether it be authoritative or sexual?

I’m not a psychologist, and my thoughts might strike you as either misinformed or pretentious. That’s fine. Argue your point down below.

There are 3 comments

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  1. natashia t

    Perhaps the best reply to this is the meme I made.

    That aside, borrowing Paul Kivel’s metaphor, the American ideals of heteronormativity are like boxes, highly constrictive and inevitably promoting an either or mindset. Costumes are a direct result of gender boxes forced upon men and women in society. There is no escaping it, as it is so deeply entrenched in our lives.

    We might not realize it, but the most difficult form of oppression to identify and vigilantly watch over, is one created by society’s constructed standards. We are taught and conditioned with them, and over time these standards become internalized and become our norms, our way of living. Marilyn Frye, a pioneering feminist, writes, “Many of the restrictions and limitations we live with are more or less internalized and self-monitored, and a part of our adaptations to the requirements and expectations imposed by the needs and tastes and tyrannies of others.” It is devious, subtle, and the most dangerous when we deny that we ourselves are participating in it, treating it as natural, and the only way to be.

    Perhaps the reason why we let loose on Halloween is the safety net of anonymity, the mask that we wear. There is no accountability, everything is an act on Hallow’s Eve. It is almost expected to act out the character you are dressed up as. If you dress as a sex kitten, by all means, act like one. No one is going to judge you. The other reason is perhaps we have come to treat Halloween as the one single day of reprieve from the box of heteronormativity.

  2. nickcalabrese

    It’s so great that in the city, there is no real judgement of others on this particular night. I think a lot of these views have to do with location. If I were to dress feminine in my hometown in Jersey, I would definitely be ridiculed. But here in NY I wouldn’t get a second glance.

    I’m not going to complain if a woman wants to dress sexy on Halloween. Whatever. I don’t feel that it’s a really a question of their character if on one night they choose sexy over pop culture reference. Issues arise when people are tasteless. Like the girl who dressed as a bloodied Boston marathon runner or people dressing in hoodies as Trayvon Martin. You can be sexy, just don’t be insulting.

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