This Halloween: We are being Haunted by the Spirit of Intolerance

As Halloween approaches, we excitedly anticipate what we will be doing on the night where most anything can happen, be it pulling crude pranks, attending crazy parties, or just going door to door getting free candy. The nature of this holiday, however, is also problematic, in that it promotes an anarchy of behavior, attitude, and dress. The mysterious, scary, and nocturnal aspects of Halloween combine to produce an attitude similar to that of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is needless to say that for many people, what happens on Halloween night stays there.

This moral relativity causes us to think twice about how we as a culture define what we value. After all, if something is precious enough to us, then no amount of rebelliousness will sway us from holding what we value sacred. For example, as a nation, we value safety, so for a person to go out on Halloween and proceed to shoot a gun everywhere would mean immediate arrest. No one would stand for this form of anarchical behavior even on a night when many things normally considered harmful are pretty much accepted.

Yet, there is another form of anarchy—one that attacks our beliefs as a culture—that is reflected in our choice of costumes this Halloween season. Seemingly inconsequential to some people, costume trends can in fact speak strongly to the values we hold as a nation, especially because companies selling these costumes market them to the consumer. If the demand for these costumes is high, then they will likely be on the shelves in bulk. Therefore, we must turn our attention to the website of one of the largest Halloween costume manufacturers: Spirit Halloween.

Scrolling through the hundreds of costumes on this website, one sees interesting trends. Each of the costumes has a title or one line description usually containing a catchy pun or joke of some sort. Among the men’s costumes are the “Zeus Costume,” the “Beef Taco Costume,” and the “Hipster Nerd Costume,” to name a few. However, under the women’s section the names tell a completely different story.

Most of the female costume names contain sexually explicit or provocative words like: rebel, sexy, cutie, enchanting, brazen, curvy, hot, dazzling, princess, hottie, etc. Also of note, the women’s costumes do not use “woman” or “female” as part of their names but “girl” or “doll.” These may sound harmless at first look, but let us compare them to the names of the men’s costumes which mainly just state the title of the costume objectively like: “Doctor Costume,” “Beef Taco Costume,” “Pope Costume,” etc. Clearly, the standards and expectations for men’s and women’s costumes are vastly different and serve to insult—if not outright deny—women’s dignity.

Of course, we cannot ignore the various culturally offensive costumes listed on the Spirit Halloween website. The website contains countless “Indian” costumes as well as others like “Los Muertos Day of the Dead Costume” and “Cantina Gal Costume.” The latter two play on stereotyped traditions of Mexican culture as well as of Hispanic/Latinx culture in general. These costumes should not be costumes—they not only generalize multiple traditions into one stereotypical portrayal but also delegitimize the validity of these cultures as reverent and beautiful. There is a reason that every Halloween we hear outcries against the “gangster” and “Indian” costumes. They are culturally insensitive and insulting to people who identify with the cultures they exploit.

Halloween costumes are not simply fun outfits people bring out for one night of the year; they reflect our culture and beliefs as a society. If girls and young women see hundreds of “sexy” yet demeaning costumes, will they see themselves as women who are valued and dignified? Or will they buy into the idea that women are somehow less than men?

Likewise, if people think it is okay to buy and wear “Indian” costumes as casual displays of entire cultural and religious traditions, then we have a lot of work to do as a nation. The simple rule of economics is that companies will not sell products that people do not buy, so the fact that these costumes are still on sale means that people are still buying them. This is the issue: not the fact that these offensive costumes exist, because unfortunately in this world of prejudice and intolerance those things will always be there, but the fact that they exist in popular culture and that people largely accept them. Lately, our country has been dealing with problems of racial and religious intolerance and people are seeking to change this, but if we propagate these prejudiced ideas in something as mundane as Halloween costumes, what hope do we have of solving these issues at a higher level?

This article was written by Ceci Weigman. Click here to see more of Ceci’s work.