Halloween is the best American holiday, hands down. One of the great things about Halloween is that it's the one day each year to "be" anyone you want, within reason. While it is commonly known that racist costumes like those deploying the use of blackface, feathers, or sombreros are definite Halloween don'ts, when it comes to dressing as a woman, the lines are more blurry.
Is it OK for a man to dress as Hillary Clinton? Can he be Wonder Woman? How about just putting on a dress and calling it a day?
Among LGBT people, playing with gender roles has long been a celebrated activity. The popularity of RuPaul's Drag Race alone testifies to the fact that dressing up in typically feminine attire can be elevated to an art form. At its best, drag celebrates the feminine while simultaneously poking holes in gender construction. At its worst, "dressing as a woman" on Halloween entails tossing on an ill-fitting dress and some lipstick to go pick up chicks with your frat brothers.
Never has their been such a seemingly vast disparity.
So, to clarify a few things, "woman" is generally not a Halloween costume, even if you are not straight. Sorry. As with any other insensitive Halloween costume, you are free to dress as "a woman," but just know you should not be loved and celebrated for it. Being a generic "woman" is really not creative. Every day women wake up as women — that's one way you know it's not a costume. Throwing on a dress and some lipstick literally just says you are lazy and unimaginative.
It has been pointed out that Halloween is often a time of experimentation, when trans-identified women who may be living as men step out as who they really are. It's wonderful Halloween helps ease the burden of dressing up as male 364 days per year. It's incredibly valuable to have one day per year where no costume is required and this is of course not the type of costuming I am speaking about.
It's cisgender men who think there's something funny about being female that need to stop. The idea that it's "funny" for a man to dress as "a woman" requires one to think there is something inherently funny about being a woman. In laughing at the idea of being "a woman," the costume wearer is essentially reinforcing patriarchal values and structural inequality by imagining it to be "so funny" to dress as someone of a lesser social status. If this seems confusing, just think about how funny it might be to dress up as a poor person. It's not funny, just mean.
Other faux pas include dressing as "a lesbian," dressing as "a prostitute," "a tranny granny," "a fat woman" or "a hag." These costumes traffic in negative stereotyping and would not make your mother proud.
However, if there is a specific woman you admire, like the pilot Amelia Earhart, reporter Amy Goodman, or Cher, go for it. Women are amazing and inspirational, and there is no reason men should not participate in celebrating the work of influential women. How better to celebrate than by dressing in their likeness.
While this may seem like contradictory information, it's really not.
There is nothing unacceptable about being a specific woman whom you admire. Intense drag and camp is fine too, as long as the costume adds something to the conversation about what it means to be a woman or about gender in general. There are many ridiculous constraints and confines unique to female gender roles that are oppressive and ripe for critique. All women should be treated with respect, and as long as your costume does not use femininity as a ploy for denigration, you should be just fine.
ELIZABETH DALEY is an Advocate contributor covering feminism. She can be found on Twitter @fakepretty