College and parties are like peas and carrots: They are an inevitable combination. Parties can be fun and all, but costume parties are where it’s at.
Costume parties encourage creativity and are a break from the mundane. They allow me to be something other than a college girl. I can be a Power Ranger, an old school basketball player or an 80s Zumba instructor.
However, a lot of costume and themed parties go beyond creative and fun to distasteful and offensive. Costumes can mock cultures or encourage stereotypes, often without the attendees or hosts being aware of their gross misstep. Eager hosts might select a party theme from Total Frat Move or Buzzfeed or try to replicate a rager held at University of [any state school with D1 sports], ignorant of the political incorrectness and damage they are causing.
Enough with the “college kids will be college kids” cop-out already. It’s time to fight the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, starting with a little party theme education.
Here is a list of common party themes: CEOs and Office Hoes, GI Joes and Army Hoes, Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes, Gym Bros and Yoga Hoes and finally the less creative Bros and Hoes. Hopefully you’ve noticed a pattern: Women are expected to dress as hoes. Themes such as these objectify women as sexual objects and are extremely degrading. While men can dress as CEOs or pros, women hit a glass ceiling and are left yet again searching through the closet for something skimpy.
The degrading stereotypes of women encouraged by these themes are (hopefully) fairly obvious, but men are equally stereotyped and pigeonholed by these gendered themes. Gender stereotypes that solely acknowledge and encourage a masculine versus feminine gender binary disservice everyone. The themes listed above corner men into portraying manly, testosterone-filled, iron-pumping men.
What if a college male just wants to write poetry and do yoga? Or feels self conscious about his body going as GI Joe to a party? Or is uncomfortable perpetuating the image of Mr. Man CEO and slutty secretary at his fraternity’s party? Does that make him less of a man? Do we as a society look down upon him because he doesn’t want to embody a lax bro/Don Draper/Tiger Woods?
If you’re not hosting or attending a party that abuses degrading gender stereotypes, you might be at a party that mocks other cultures. Cultural appropriation describes “borrowing” aspects of someone else’s culture without fully understanding or appreciating what you are “borrowing.” It occurs when a dominant, privileged group exploits a marginalized, minority culture. Cultural appropriation in college parties is disrespectful to other cultures and reinforces negative stereotypes.
Dressing up as a Mexican with a sombrero, poncho and mustache, wearing a Native American headdress or going as slutty Pocahontas to a Cowboys versus Indians party, caking on white face paint to be a sexy Geisha or pretending to be a gangster and acting “black” at a jail-themed party are all examples of cultural appropriation. These themes are all incredibly offensive to the minority groups the costumes are trying to depict. Don’t just take my word for it—combine “cultural appropriation” with “Washington Redskins,” “Katy Perry” or “Iggy Azalea” in a Google Search.
Even if these themes don’t seem offensive to you, they are offensive to others, and that is what matters.
Parties like these rob cultures of their dignity, confine people into strict, suffocating gender norms, are downright offensive and exacerbate abhorrent stereotypes. Stereotypes create bias, biases foster actions and actions lead to dreadful consequences. Once again, don’t take my word for it: Read the comments on a Hillary Clinton article, analyze the state of sexual assault on college campuses or look up the number of unarmed black men who have recently been shot.
We can evoke change by confronting our biases and discouraging stereotypes. An easy place to start is with your weekend plans: Don’t throw or attend an offensive party. Skip the Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes shindig, and plan your own Marvel versus DC party. Dress up as Harry Potter, or a Rugrat, or a mad scientist, or an athlete, or George Washington. Go crazy, get creative, just don’t be offensive.
And finally, blackface is never okay. Period.
Heather O’Keeffe is a junior studying biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. Her favorite party theme is Mathletes versus Athletes: Not only does it let you celebrate either your brains or brawns, but you can wear a sports bra and cut off to a party!