Halloween is just around the corner! And because I love dressing up and getting candy free of charge, I am very excited. Even though I’m not American (and not a kid anymore) I still love seeing all the spooky decorations and getting my outfit ready; costume parties are my jam. Halloween goes hand-in-hand with dressing up in costumes that vary from the incredibly detailed to the last-minute-rush-as-I-walk-out-the-door variety. No matter which one it is, it’s always great to see what people come up with.
While spooky can be fun, it can also be, well… spooky. Playing dress-ups has become a hot topic lately, with controversies over who should wear what costumes, and whether certain outfits are all in good fun or just outright offensive. For some people the social rules of faux pas can be a little tricky to navigate.
That’s why we’re suggesting these four simple tips on how to not be insensitive this Halloween.
Tip One: Costumes are not consent
Anyone who has been to any of the big pop-culture conventions will tell you that costumes aren’t just worn on Halloween. Cosplayers wear costumes all year round, with people from all walks of life coming together to share in their love of fantasy and sci-fi by dressing up as their favourite characters.
They will also tell you that cosplay is not consent. This is a very common phrase used at conventions that simply means: just because someone is wearing a costume does not mean you can touch them. This rule is incredibly important at conventions, because sometimes people forget that it’s a real person walking around, and not actually their favourite comic book character. It’s also important because a few cosplays can be quite revealing, and some people think this means it is okay to touch the cosplayer.
It’s pretty simple really; costumes do not change the normal rules of etiquette. No matter what a person is wearing, no matter how much or how little skin they are revealing, you do not have the right to touch that person unless they give consent. So this Halloween, no matter what anyone is wearing, do not assume you have the right to touch them. No touchy – sound good?
Tip Two: Costumes have no gender
We’ve all seen stories posted online about parents who insist that their little girl wear the Cinderella dress even though they want to be Spiderman. Or the little boy who wanted to be Cinderella but is forced to dress as Spiderman instead. This is symptomatic of a larger issue regarding the division and reinforcement of the gender binary at a young age, of gender normativity, but that’s probably an issue for another post.
My point is: anyone can wear whatever costume they like. Boys can be princesses, girls can be superheroes. And this rule applies to you no matter what age you are. So you’re a 26-year-old man and you’ve always wanted to be Ariel? Go ahead – do it! You have my blessing!
Costumes on Halloween should be about having fun, and taking away a person’s joy because it doesn’t subscribe to your pink vs blue litmus test is ridiculous.
Tip Three: Dressing up is for everyone
While we’re on the subject of shattering ridiculous socially constructed norms, it’s time to open our minds to the idea that you don’t have to be white to dress as Sailor Moon. You don’t have to be skinny to dress as Catwoman. You don’t have to be ripped to dress as Thor. You can be a Timelord and still be in a wheelchair. People can dress up as whatever the hell they want, regardless of skin colour, weight, height, disability, body shape – anything! Whatever makes them happy and comfortable.
It’s important to understand that having fun is for everyone, so don’t be the one to rain on their parade.
Tip Four: Culture is not a costume
This appears to be a tricky one for some people, as was evidenced by the polarised response to the culturally insensitive Maui costume released by Disney earlier this year. The costume, for children, was a brown body suit covered in tribal tattoos with muscle padding. Many people called the costume out as racist for using the dark skin colour, and insensitive for the use of traditional tattoos in the costume design. It was quickly pulled from stores.
People seemed to be either offended by the costume, or offended that people would be offended. It’s fairly indisputable that the costume was cultural appropriation, but this concept is sometimes used as evidence of our world becoming too politically correct (an idea that I take umbrage with, but I digress).
Cultural appropriation is essentially the use of a culture you are not a part of. This on its own may not always be problematic, but it becomes an issue when minority groups – who suffer discrimination simply for being a member of their cultural minority – have their culture used in part by majority cultures. Very often the cultural element or the tradition is taken out if its original context, which is often disrespectful enough on its own. But adding insult to injury is the fact that the majority culture does not face the same hardship as the minority culture does for wearing that culture. If a Native American wears a headdress it’s political statement, but when a white person does it’s ‘quirky and fun.’ Therein lies the issue.
The best way to avoid being culturally inappropriate is to avoid culturally or racially charged costumes. Another person’s race or culture is their identity, not a costume for you to take on and off. While it’s important for you to have a great time, it’s more important not to offend minority cultures in the process.
So there you have it. Four easy, simple ways to not be insensitive this Halloween. Have fun this October, be safe, and remember we’re all just here for the booze and the Fantales anyway.