Thursday, November 3, 2011

Adorable and Transgender, Innocent and Subversive

I ran across this photo the other day thanks to Feminist Frequency. In light of Sociological Images’ usual skewering of sexist Halloween costumes, I found this pink Darth Vader so striking--in a good way.

The costume is cute, subversive, adorable, transgender, innocent and well-executed all at once. It’s a bundle of culturally contradictory (again, in a good way) messages about gender. There’s the combination of Darth Vader--usually gendered as male. The tall, dark menacing figure with one of the deepest voices imaginable is the most iconic character in a movie series that is known for its heavily male fan following. But the costume’s pink coloring genders it female. As far as Halloween costumes go, it’s not the usual female costume because it’s not creating a “sexy” persona (unfortunately, this trend is not confined to costumes designed for adults. Women and girls can use male costumes as a sense of empowerment, but this pink Darth Vader’s empowerment can’t derive entirely from that as it’s full pink--the most completely gendered color.

Since I first saw the image, it's been stuck in my head as such a simple and great example of how symbols so central to our culture and gender ideology can be remade to send very different and even radical messages--all in the package a child's costume.


  1. I also see another trend. 21st century American pop culture's take on feminism seems to be to "empower" women to be violent killing machines just like "real men." Note the recent films like "Columbiana" and various police shows on TV in which fashionable, sexy women are also kick-ass enforcers. I guess we are all macho now, and no one has to cry or be soft anymore. Whoo-whoo-, that's progress.

  2. You clearly have a point about how deeply violence is embedded in our culture as that's a major means of "empowerment." I neglected that in this post. I grew up as a child obsessed with the Star Wars movies, so I often give an uncritical "pass" to the violence central to the story. That's not all that consistent with some of the other posts on my site that attempt to look deeply at cultural phenomena that seem mundane, but perpetuate negative social patterns. In that way, your point is well taken.

    My obvious like of the costume at the heart of this post, however, stemmed from my dislike of the clear objectification of women in American Halloween costumes. Over the course of the last several weeks, many of the blogs I read examined this prevalent sexist bias. Women are to be sexual objects, to be leered at by men. Even costumes for young girls emphasize a pee wee version with the focus on "pretty princesses," just a small step away from "sexy pirate." This pink Darth Vader shows a little girl as a subject that acts on the world, albeit in the problematic manner that you note.

    Also, I think your mention of films like "Columbiana," while relevant, is a bit off the mark in comparing to this image. While both the protagonist of that film and Darth Vader pursue goals through violence, most movies that feature female action leads are clearly capitalizing on the sexual objectification of the actress. That isn't the case with this Halloween costume.