I’ve a Feeling We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…


Finally it’s Autumn.  I love this time of year.  In Austin, the weather cools down to a balmy 92° and thoughts turn to things like turning leaves, football, chili, and Halloween.  Ah, Halloween – the one day out of the year where us grown kids can act like our children and nobody will give it a second thought.

Now if you’ve known me for a long time, you know that I have not always been a fan of Halloween.  In fact, I can remember several times in college when I, along with my roommates Pat and Springer, would sit and drink beer with all the lights off in the house so the trick-or-treaters would think we weren’t home.  I hated Halloween.  For me, that tradition more or less carried on until I had a child of my own.  Once my son was born, something changed.  The more he understood Halloween, the more he got into it and the more I got into it.

My son is 5 now.  Last year was the first time he actually cared about his costume.  We shopped at places like Spirit Halloween and Party City to find a Wall-E costume because, in his mind, nothing else would do.  Sadly, none of the costumes we found met his exacting standards.  So, being that I have a degree in art, I decided to make a costume for him.  Check it out…

DSC03299

Pretty cool, huh?  At first I was sad that I wasn’t able to find a costume all ready to go, but it was fun making this with him.  I was also saddened by what I did find in those stores.  So this year I decided to write about it.  In order to research this article, I visited www.spirithalloween.com to see if anything had changed.  They have costumes for babies all the way to adults.  They are also separated by gender and style for convenience.  I started by looking at costumes for men and then for women.  Quickly I was overwhelmed by the stark differences between the male and female costumes.  In fact, it was so bad that I had to find a way to simplify it so that I could even put it into words.

For this article, I wanted to be able to compare apples to apples.  I wanted you to see just how entrenched male and female gender roles really are in our society.  I decided to focus on a set of costumes to which most, if not all of us can relate…the characters from Wizard of Oz.

First, here are the “standard” costumes for Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Dorothy:

all_four

I’d say this pretty much what I expected to find.  They seem true to the original movie wardrobes.  HOWEVER…I also found a series of costumes called the “Wicked of Oz”.  Here are the same 4 characters from that line:

all_fourWhat I noticed right off that bat is that the male characters, in this version, appear more powerful because they are more menacing.  Meanwhile, the female character (Dorothy) became more powerful by seeming sexually dominant – down to the black latex corset and knee boots.  She looks like a dominatrix.

These gendered expressions of power are found throughout pop culture.  Nowhere is it more evident than in the world of superheroes.  Male superheros are powerful because they are physically dominant machines that leave collapsed heaps of criminals in their wake.  The lines between hero and villain are often blurred because of the violent nature of many heroes today.  For female superheroes, their power is expressed in their sexuality.  Take a look at these examples of  Batman in the film The Dark Knight and Silk Spectre from the film The Watchmen and you will see what  I mean:

Batman-Dark-Knight-Solo-FP2062SilkSpectre

Batman is the embodiment of raw power and anger who is always teetering on the brink between good and evil.  Silk Spectre, on the other hand, radiates sexuality.  In fact, her story line in the movie is that she is involved in 2 sexual relationships with 2 other superheroes (Night Owl and Dr. Manhattan).  Oh, and she is the daughter of a superhero who was beaten and raped by another superhero (The Comedian).  Both characters are powerful, but they arrive at their power by very different means.

But I digress.  Where was I??? Ah, yes…KANSAS.  I was stunned (but not surprised) at the divergence of the character paths in the “wicked” costumes.  So, I decided to see if there were any other interpretations of these characters costumes.  I did a search on the site by each of the character names (Scarecrow, etc.).  What I found was nearly unbelievable.  Check it out:

SexyOz

This is wrong on so many levels I will have to focus on just one in this particular post.  These outfits scream SEX regardless of the character contexts.  These costumes make the models look like a strange amalgamation of naughty school girl meets farmer’s daughter meets St. Paulie’s Girl meets “Diamond” from the local strip club.  All of them play on male (generally speaking) sexual fantasies.  They also reinforce the cultural belief that women’s bodies are the most valuable currency women have in order to “purchase” power from men.  In a patriarchal society, men are the keepers of power and women are forced to use their sexuality in order to share in that power – even if temporarily.

I think these costumes send the message to girls and women that females should always exude sexuality or should always give off a sexual vibe.  For boys and men, the message is that females are always looking for sex or to be sexy.  If you combine that with other messages that tell males that “real men” are tough, strong, in control, devoid of emotion (other than anger) and hypersexual, then it is easy to see why some men don’t take “no” for an answer when it comes to sex and/or why some men don’t accept responsibility for getting consent (they put the onus on women to say no rather than actively seeking an enthusiastic “yes”).  It is also easy to see why some women give in when being pressured to have sex even if they don’t really want to and why some women don’t classify or report an unwanted sexual encounter as a sexual assault.  The lines around intent, sexuality, consent, appropriate vs. inappropriate, wanted vs. unwanted are blurred.  Everyone is confused and some men (and women) are taking advantage of that confusion.

Thankfully, most men treat women with dignity and respect (I really don’t like the word respect, but I don’t have a better one in this case).  Most men do not abuse, assault or rape women.  However, I think on some level we all have a hand in paving the way for the men who do.  We are all part of a culture that accepts the sexualization and exploitation of women.  By accepting those parts of our culture, we are creating space and therefore opportunity for the small number of men who see women as sex objects and pressure, coerce and force women into having sex.  When we say things like “I don’t abuse or rape women, so it’s not my problem” we are actually saying that we have no influence on the world around us.  If that were true, then boys who grow up in abusive households wouldn’t frequently grow up to be abusive themselves (for example).

The reality is that men must challenge our own socialization.  We must think critically about the world around us and how we are influenced by it.  If we are ever going to live in a world that values men and women equally, men must join women in challenging anything to the contrary.  We must also be willing to pass on to the next generation a set of attitudes and beliefs that reflect and promote gender equality.  We can do this through schools, community centers, churches, sports leagues, etc. but for these values to really take root and flourish, THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FOLLOW UP POST CALLED “PAY ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN”

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18 thoughts on “I’ve a Feeling We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…

  1. ozob says:

    College Humor picked up on this trend:

    I’m glad they are making fun of it, and think it’s suitable that the guy selling costumes is a total creep.

  2. Goose says:

    Lovely post. And for the very very most part I agree. I don’t think that kids should have costumes marketed at them that are sexualized versions of everyday characters AND I don’t think that the gender binary (man=strong, woman=sexual) should be imposed especially in such a corporate manner.

    BUT

    I do enjoy Halloween as a night when many Americans unleash a bit of their libidinous side. I don’t think that it always has to play out along such strict and sexist gender roles, but I do appreciate the desire. I wish men were more able and willing to be the object of gaze, to be wanted, to be sexual rather than strong.

    That would be interesting to me, anyway.

    • Thanks for making a great point Goose. I wholeheartedly agree that there should be space, Halloween or otherwise, for people to “unleash their libidinous side.” That is part of what makes life interesting. My intent was to speak more directly to the point of women being turned into a commodity. I am all for sexy and sexual for women and men. I just don’t like that being sexual is one of the few ways women appear powerful in society. Outside of being sexy, if women speak out they are called bitch rather than independent or powerful. I guess when it boils down to it, I really want men to understand that sexy is not the only way women can be powerful.

      Also – do you find that men generally DON’T want to be the object of gaze, to be wanted, or to be sexual? I would think that most men do want that. Perhaps the way it plays out (a guys idea of what that looks like vs. a girls idea of what that looks like) is different, but it seems to me that men are socialized to be hypersexual. Maybe that comes across as strong because we are socialized to be that as well. I’d bet it comes across as angry and/or aggressive as well.

      • Goose says:

        Hi, yes I think the way men are taught to be sexual is in the form of strength or assertiveness. They are the gazer, the predator, the hunter. They tend to play the dominant role. Most of our hollywood tropes and story structure come from this ideal of a Prince Charming.

        Do you remember that crazy Star Trek Next Gen episode where Riker goes down to the planet of dominant women? All the dudes were smaller than the ladies and wore revealing clothes (like sarongs) and the women were tall and wore jumpsuits? And the main woman falls in lust with Riker and treats him a bit like a subordinate and makes him wear the sarong and he’s totally freaked out.

        Well, that silly role reversal highlights where we place our emphasis on gaze, and what constitutes power. More clothed-power. Less clothed-….the women wearing sexy clothes have power but it isn’t valued the same way as a businessman’s power.

        It is too early and I’m mucking this up, but while I do think men want to be desired and wanted, none of us know how to do that outside the confines of binary, sexist models.

        Which is why so many men (and women) in kink community feel weird about male submissives. It messes up our story.

  3. hellabeans says:

    there’s a scene in the movie ‘mean girls’ (yes, the one with lindsey lohan) where the main character acknowledges this phenomenon because, having grown up in africa, she didn’t know the rules. she showed up in a true halloween costume, ghoulish, while all the other girls were ‘sexy kitten’ or even ‘sexy mouse’. another pop culture moment: in the sex and the city movie, miranda is looking for a costume and notes, ‘its either sexy kitten or witch’ for women.
    so, is halloween a time to play on stereotype? to reinforce stereotype? to let loose and display a sexuality we don’t normally get to do? when does that spill over into objectifying women (or men)? is wearing a dominatrix outfit empowering as a costume or has it become an enforced expectation on halloween?
    good to know there are guys out there thinking about this stuff too!

  4. Chris says:

    Thanks for this great post. I think what you discuss in the later paragraphs really captures a lot of the reality of how men and women play out our directed sexual roles. I enjoyed reading this, and will definitely use this for discussion.

  5. […] I’ve a Feeling We’re Not In Kansas Anymore… « Responsible Men's Blog responsiblemen.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/ – view page – cached Categories: Consumerism, Gender Roles, Male Culture, equality Tags: abuse, advertising, assault, Consumerism, consumers, costumes, dating violence, domestic violence, equality, gender, gender… (Read more)Categories: Consumerism, Gender Roles, Male Culture, equality Tags: abuse, advertising, assault, Consumerism, consumers, costumes, dating violence, domestic violence, equality, gender, gender equality, Gender Roles, Halloween, holidays, Male Culture, marketing, men, objectification, oppression, rape, respect, sexism, sexist, sexual assault, sexualized, sexy, trick or treat, violence, violence against women, women (Read less) — From the page […]

  6. Lindsey says:

    I came along your site because I wrote a post about Halloween and women’s costumes, and got a comment about your post. Your post is absolutely amazing. In fact, your whole blog is. Can you please become really famous and teach the nation the error of its ways? Wow, I love the stuff going on here: your great insight and then the support of the comments – people have brought up such great points and supporting examples. Thank you!!

  7. I love this discussion! thanks to all for reading this article and talking about it. Also, thanks so much for all the kind words. I am glad you enjoy the blog. Please share it with your friends and feel free to use it to start other conversations.

    Ted

    @Lindsey – I am not so concerned about the famous part, but I would love to help teach the world about gender equality. I am available to do workshops and lectures an I am particularly interested in working on college campuses. Let me know if I can be of service.

  8. Goose says:

    You might find this link interesting in conjunction with your article. Gendered sports coverage. Or not “coverage”
    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/half-of-these-things-are-not-like.html#disqus_thread

  9. Carrie says:

    Great blog! You mentioned that you don’t like the word “respect”. I don’t either, but I’m not quite sure why, and I thought it was really interesting to hear you feel the same way. I think maybe I don’t like it because the word is so heavily used by those seeking power and control. A counselor once told me there’s actually no such word as “disrespect”, that it’s slang (I haven’t looked into that). But after thinking about it, I never really hear the word “disrespect” in any kind of productive context.

    Will you expand on why you don’t like it? I have a feeling it will help me verbalize my own discomfort with the word.

    • Thanks Carrie – you hit the nail on the head. I do not like the word respect because it means so many things to so many people. One person may understand respect to mean something that is given/received in admiration while others may understand it as something given/received out of fear (for example). It is almost certainly based in power and control. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my father. Most of that is because he is a fantastic man. However some of that is because I recognize the level of power and control he had over me as a child. He never used in in a bad way ever, but I recognized that the potential was there. At the core of that was fear. I was afraid that I might disappoint him or that he might get angry or that he would take my car away. I think respect is often confused with fear in society (gangs get “respect” when people are afraid of the consequences of “disrespecting” them). I hope that helps!

  10. super site. keep on going.

  11. […] against women, Wizard of Oz, women In light of the fantastic response to my last article “I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” I decided to write a follow up piece.  My colleague, Pat McGann from Men Can Stop Rape, commented […]

  12. […] to a healthier Halloween for us all, as this great post at Responsible Men reflects, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Definitely worthy of an […]

  13. nice post. usefull info like always. Thanks.

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