October Disguise

Sexist fun at the Halloween store

There is evidently no end to the public enthusiasm for legless mermaids, horned devil women, and Little Bo-Peeps holding phallic staffs. These depressing archetypes, and plenty more like them, are crowding the racks at the East Village branch of Halloween Adventure, which this week is teeming with customers. Judging by the vast majority of packaged outfits, those pesky gender stereotypes that dogged us through the last century have followed us practically unchanged into the current one.

So, OK, we understand that maybe you don't want to dress up like Madame Curie, or Amelia Bloomer, or even Lizzie Borden. But why should this mean that the most prominent liberated-woman costume on display is that of an 80-year-old stereotype, the flapper? Sadly, this fringed disguise hangs next to kits meant to turn you into a sniveling post-war bobby soxer or a hysterically conformist poodle-skirted co-ed, neither or whom were exactly icons of feminism.

Even outfits that might bespeak strength and power are frequently compromised by an undercurrent of sexual subjugation. So though there is no lack of firefighter uniforms for men, the female version is called Fire Fox. (Could she be the New York Post's famous firehouse nympho?) Likewise, the woman police officer is known as Officer McNaughty.

Though there are bountiful offerings for men of medicine, including a blood- soaked Dr. Kill Joy and a foaming mad scientist, Nurse Feelbetter is all-girl. (In fairness, there is a white coat inscribed Dr. Ophelia Cummings, sex therapist, M.D.) But there is one institution that is definitely female-friendly: the insane asylum, where the voluptuous inmate suffers in a vinyl shorts-and-chains combo.

Could restrictive career choices have led to this stint in the loony bin? In Halloween costume land, the following service occupations are available: French Maid, Soubrette, Beer Hall Fraulein, Sexy Sailor Lady, and G.I. girl. (These last two, we would guess, are seeing far fewer takers this year.)

If she's attracted to a life of crime, her options are limited to sidekick status: There's a Gangster Moll, and, believe it or not, a Pimpette outfit. (Dress up like a woman who traffics in women! Fun!) Don't waste your breath arguing that Betty Boop is cuter than Toxic Waste Tom: The skimpily-clad Betty may be having more fun, but at least Tom has a job.

Of course, your career options are limited when you spend your formative years dressed variously as a Cheerleader (or its variant, a Zombie Cheerleader) a Sexy Scout, or the Britney-esque Teacher's Pet. Retreating into the history books only intensifies the retrograde roles: The Cave Woman costume comes with what's billed as a fake foam bust; the Renaissance princess trick-or-treats in cheap velvet Stevie Nicks drag. There's even a horrific getup that should properly have disappeared along with Jim Crow laws: an appalling outfit that promises to turn you into a Jungle Voodoo Vamp.

Still, all is not lost. Intense searching turns up a lone female astronaut, and, in another encouraging sign, Big Boy Bunny, Hippo Ballerina, and Bodacious Biker Babe all feature happy male models on their packages, with the cyclist even sporting a mug full of stubble.

 
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