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Porn and raunch culture is so ubiquitous in American society that it has become normalized. From pole dancing and stripper workout classes to thong underwear to wearing t-shirts that sport the Playboy Bunny, what’s not to like? Recently, a man sitting next to me on a packed Manhattan train was looking at pictures of naked women on his iPad. He didn’t attempt to hide the images and expressed no embarrassment.
The acceptance of porn culture has utterly transformed Halloween. Go to any store that sells Halloween gear and you’ll be shocked by how women’s costumes have been sickeningly sexualized and distilled down to display breasts, thighs and buttocks. A few examples: a student costume called “Varsity Vixen” and printed on her underwear are the words “Haz Me,” a fire fighter uniform titled “Light My Fire” is a dress with a plunging light up flame neckline, and a women taxi driver outfit has “Free Rides” printed on the shirt above her breasts.
Nurses are special targets for hypersexualized costumes and are shown in skimpy, low-cut dresses and fishnet stockings held up by garter belts and wearing thigh high, red vinyl boots. They stand next to empty patient beds and are given names like “Nurse Garter,” “Ravishing RN” and “Juana B. Sedated.” Scary, smiling, sexually molesting male gynecologists costumes consist of white lab coats with embossed names like Dr. Seymour Bush and Dr. Feltersnatch.
The costumes are also racist. One get-up depicts a South Asian woman wearing a veil and calls her a “Bolly Ho,” a Native American woman’s costume is called “Native Knockout” and comes with a tomahawk and another is titled, “Saki 2 Me” and shows a woman in an extremely short kimono wielding a knife. You can view the slideshow of these images here.
Women in the military have also been selected to don uniforms that reduce them to body parts. They’re marketed as: “Boot Camp Babe,” “Desert Dolly,” “Officer Tease,” “Sailor’s Delight,” and “Private Pin-up.” You can view the images here.
Given the recent revelations of staggeringly high rates of sexual assaults of female soldiers, these images suggest women “tease” men and “ask for it.” They are beyond offensive and should be condemned by all who are opposed to sexual violence against women.
The documentary Invisible War provides a reality check: In 2011, there were over 22,800 sexual assaults, 20 percent of all active-duty female soldiers are sexually assaulted, and female soldiers aged 18 to 21 accounted for more than half of the victims. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is the leading cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for women veterans.
The companies that sell these costumes have names like Dream Girl, Leg Avenue and Forplay and view woman as sex objects and “whores.” The word “whore” is pejorative of course, and the correct word is prostitute or sex worker. But the power and persuasiveness of porn culture has convinced far to many women and girls that to dress up as a prostitute for Halloween is fun, sexy and hot. It is none of those things. These costumes reinforce the most misogynist ideas about women – that they are commodities to be bought and sold for the sexual pleasure of men.
Not all feminists agree with this position, like Chloe Angyal, an editor at Feministing and a blogger at Thought Catalog. In response to the title of our slideshow “Whorified,” a play on and a putting together of the words “whore” and “horrified,” she told us we aren’t feminists and to “Stop it. You’re not helping.” Angyal writes in her blog, “But bemoaning the fact that Halloween is an excuse for women and girls to dress up “like whores” lays bare the ugly reality about so many well-intentioned people who take up this cause.”
I do bemoan the fact that women and girls dress up as prostitutes for Halloween. The ugly reality is that sex work is degrading and to dress up as a sex worker is to degrade oneself. However, I don’t believe that women who engage in sex work are as Angyal accuses me of as “filthy prostitutes.” As a Marxist, I understand that women and men engage in sex work for economic reasons and not because they believe it is at all sexually liberating or empowering. It’s all about the money.
The Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollantai wrote: “The roots of prostitution are in economics. Woman is on the one hand placed in an economically vulnerable position, and on the other hand has been conditioned by centuries of education to expect material favors from a man in return for sexual favors whether these are given within or outside the marriage tie.”
If we lived in a society that paid all women a living wage, provided free childcare, health care and affordable housing, no woman would be forced to sell sexual services for money.
Prostitution, besides being a dangerous occupation (mainly because it is criminalized and unregulated), commodifies a central aspect of our human nature–our sexuality–and perverts, dehumanizes and sells it back to us as a profoundly alienated sexuality. Both sex-for-sale and “hookup sex” are devoid of connection, intimacy, love, respect or empathy – the things that we crave the most in sexual relations.
I want the entire sex industry that is built on the oppression and inequality of women to disappear. That’s a tall order, but we can start by attacking porn culture wherever we find it.
That means every October we should loudly protest against Halloween costumes that promote and glamorize female prostitution and refuse to buy or wear them.
Helen Redmond is an independent journalist and writes about the war on drugs and health care. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org