Friday, October 4, 2013

My Hand on the Joystick of This Game of Cosmic Dress-Up

So I kinda feel like I have to talk about it. 

It’s October and it’s coming up on Halloween, my favorite time of year. I grew up in theatre, so I’ve always been in love with the costumes and the role playing. The idea that, at least one day a year, you can step out of yourself and into someone else. Add in the inherent playfulness of the holiday—the trick-or-treat ties and the revelry in safely-explored fears that just call out to giddy kinkster in me—how could I not love this time of year?

But, you know, there is always one thing that keeps ruining my favorite holiday season. 

The controversy about sexy costumes.

I think we all know what side of the argument I land on—look at my photos; I love me my sexy costumes. I am absolutely in love with the idea that, for at least one day a year, I  can walk down the street in whatever getup I want and—apologies for the Halloween pun, but—society can’t say boo. Indecency norms that keep my bra and panties and fleshy bits safely concealed lax a little more and more as that glorious day goes on. There is even a fabulous Naked and Scared” haunted house  that kinda makes me want to road trip it out to PA.

If clothes make a man, what is there not to love about a holiday that lets you dress up as a warrior or a president or an astronaut or a superhero or a god or anything your heart desires? That lets you borrow the magic and power and mystery of that make-believe being for twenty-four hours and do with it as you please. As one of my favorite writers, Joss Whedon, put it, Halloween is “come as you aren’t” day; where all the rules and limits you have to live by the other three-hundred-and-sixty-some days a year don’t exist.

And if I want to put “sexy” or “naughty” or whatever adjective I want in front of that costume, what business is it to anyone else?

Amanda Palmer—who is married to yet another one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman—wrote a great response letter to the critics (specifically Sinead O'Connor) censuring Miley Cyrus over her—okay, kinda silly and rather weirdly erotic (even to me)—“Wrecking Ball” video that is absolutely spot on about how I feel when it comes to the incredibly conflicting messages we keep sending to girls today.

On one hand—very rightly—we’re vehemently trying to convince the world that women are more than what we wear. That a dress—no matter how tight or low-cut or high-hemmed—cannot actually “ask for it.” When a woman asks for sex, she’ll do it with words not fabric. We’re becoming much more vocal to clothing designers and fashion industry heads, demanding that the full spectrum of women be recognized, not just a select and unattainable few. That standards and styles of dress shouldn’t be determined by weight or body type. That “sexy” can come in all sizes and shapes, which means clothes should too. And that “sexy” and “naked” aren’t always synonymous; that a woman should be able to feel and be perceived as just as beautiful and be taken just as seriously completely clothed as she is completely naked. That, yes, clothes may make a man, but those clothes exist only to enhance the already awesome and complete woman filling them out. 

And we should be applauded for that.

So why, on the other hand, can we not stop obsessing over scandalously (un)dressed women? Why do we still, as a culture, lay so much judgment on women who dress slutty. Why are the same feminists who rail against the tired, old dress-asked-for-it line the same voices calling Halloween Slutoween? Like it’s a bad thing. When did we start fighting against ourselves? 

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to rail against the fact that there aren’t enough non-slutty options available for women—that every costume choice we have seems to have “slutty” or “sexy” or “naughty” in front of it—hey, I’m all for it. I agree. Even as a proud sexy costumer, I firmly believe that the right to wear what you want goes both and any and every way. I can’t logically demand for the right to dress as slutty as I want, while denying someone’s right to not. It would be wrong of me to criticize someone for wanting essentially the same right as me—to wear whatever they want. And, as someone fighting for that same exact right, it would be wrong of me not to fight and rail and voice myself right alongside them.

It would just be nice, however, to feel like those demanding the right to dress as conservatively as they want were doing me the same courtesy. 

Instead, my embrace of the slutty costumes too often makes me part of the problem to them, makes me an active participant in Slutoween. In this season’s attempt to degrade and demean women as a whole. It makes me, because of my choice in clothes, a slut. As a pejorative. Suddenly, my state of (un)dress determines exactly how they see me and how they choose to approach me. It now determines my place in the world to them. Suddenly, I and those like me, who choose to dress sexy for ourselves and the joy of feeling sexy and not for men or society or anyone else—who just “want to feel like its our hand on the joystick”—have become nothing more than scraps fabric.

How did this happen? 

How did an argument meant to plead for freedom become someone else’s trap? As feminists, we’ve fought—and still fight—for the right to dress however we want without sacrificing ourselves and our place in the world in the process. Telling me that it’s wrong for me to buy and wear and exhibitionistically enjoy my sexy costumes is a bad as the message being told to you that, as a woman, you have to do the same. Saying that you shouldnt have to do something you don’t want to do should never become an argument saying someone else cant. As Palmer states “Its like a game of cosmic dress-up, but the stakes are high. If were allowed to play it, were empowered. If were not, were still in a cage.”

The point is choice. To be as free to do what we want, without judgment, as anyone else.

“I want to live in a world where the internal dialogue of a womans brain has evolved to the point where a female performer can wear a sex-pot outfit and, instead of the all-too-common head-chatter chorus of ‘UNFAIR! MANIPULATED! WEAK! MANIPULATIVE! EVIL!’, she dons her sexy costume and hears internal voices screaming ‘FAIR! POWERFUL! PLAYFUL! BRAVE! SEXY!’ You go girl. But not ‘you go girl and be manipulated by the man, or manipulate the men in your wake’. just...’you go girl and wear whatever the fuck you want. And play smart.’ ”

Like I said, this is my favorite time of year and I hate that this issue is still so big of a deal. Wear what you want to wear and let everyone else do the same; how have we not gotten there by now? Maybe, if we could, then we could all grab the treat of our choice and just enjoy the most magical night of the year.

* EDIT (because I just can't not share):

Like I do with most of my entries, I posted this up on FetLife (a kinky Facebook, for those who don't know--you should come join and say hi). And, an hour later, received this reply (the English major in me feels compelled to tell you that the typos are all his and are only copied here for authenticity and at great pains to myself):
FetLifeUserFirts, any woman that needs: "she dons her sexy costume " in order to "hears internal voices screaming ‘FAIR! POWERFUL! PLAYFUL! BRAVE! SEXY!’"has issues that no costume in the world will fix. If you need to dress that way to feel that way the problem is "you" not the viewers.Also, while no one ever has permission to "put hands on" a woman without her verbal(not auditory "she made a yes sound") permission, dressing sexy/sultry/slutty/revealingly is only to get attention. Period. I only have an issue when women dress in such a manner, and then get rude or pissy or bitchy because they are getting attention from all the guys, not JUST the guys they find attractive or have an interest in. There is no wat to dress "sexy , but only for certain guys". Make the choice, live with the results.Lastly, sexy trancends(sp?) trashy/slutty/revealing. In fact, a woman CAN BE sext in knee boots, a skirt to the knees and a blose and blazer...if she is the type to feel and know it in her head no matter what she wears.
as an aside, if you like the season in part because of the costumes...find a solid LARP...they get to do it 4 to 12 times a year.

 Now, like any other internet-savvy person, I know the first rule of interneting: Beware! There be trolls; do not feed. But, in this case...
Sonni_de_Soto@FetLifeUser, 1) Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
2) You might want to actually read mine before you comment on it (see: "a woman should be able to feel and be perceived as just as beautiful and be taken just as seriously completely clothed as she is completely naked." about half-way through--I know it's a lot of words to get there but, when someone agrees with you, it's usually worth the effort of getting there).
3) I--and a lot of women (and men, for that matter)--don't dress to get attention. I dress the way I dress because it's the fashion style I like and--like with most people's likes--I like to share that with the world. I don't dress sexy so that someone else reacts to me sexually any more than I should have to dress conservatively so people don't. Even as a fashion-lover, I know, they're just clothes. Don't give them more power than they have. If you want to know if a girl is interested in you, ask; you'll get a much more accurate answer than the one you interpret from the length of her skirt.
4) I don't need to don sexy clothes to feel sexy. I am fucking sexy, always and already. All I'm asking for is for people not to make judgmental presumptions based on something as irrelevant a hemline. And, you're absolutely right, if I wore clothes to fix something in me, I would have a problem that ought to be addressed by a mental health professional not a fashion consultant. So, using that logic, you do see how telling a woman that she shouldn't wear sexy clothes, that she should wear more conservative clothes, to fix her self-esteem is a little like trying to fix a problem by compounding on it? It's a logic that doesn't make sense. As I said, the underlying problem here isn't a fashion one--people should be able to wear whatever they want without having other people make completely insane and illogical assumptions about them based on something as flimsy as fabric. The problem shouldn't be what a girl wears or doesn't wear; the solution should be people understanding that she is more than just that and deserves to be treated as such.
5) What in the world makes you think I don't LARP?
So, to everyone who may be wondering why I keep on talking about issues like this--why I can't just sit back or ignore the pervasive problem I, and billions of others just like me, have to deal with--this why. Because I--and billions of others just like me--have to deal with it.

And, tell you what. I'll stop, when they do.

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