This year, there's been an awful lot of smack being talked about Harley Quinn's look in the Suicide Squad movie, and, by extension, about the women who are considering adopting Quinn's aesthetic for Halloween. So much so that it needs spelling out: sporting a Harley Quinn costume for Halloween is not a thing we should be slut shamed for.
But first, a little background: Quartz's take seemed representative of much of the negative reaction towards the costume when they implied that her outfit of "pigtails and a shirt that says 'Daddy' on it" signaled women being "subject to... ludicrous stereotypes driven by male fantasy" in the film. Hitfix also complained that Quinn had been "regulated to something from a prepubescent boy’s dream." Meanwhile, on fan boards, fans railed against her "ever increasingly sluttified outfits." Being a modern feminist, perhaps even one who agrees with any or all of the above assessments, should you ditch your Harley Quinn costume for Halloween and go dressed up as one of those Puritan chicks from Arthur Miller's The Crucible instead? No matter how big of a Harley Quinn fan you are?
Hell to the no. If you believe, as I do, that feminism is about all choices women make for themselves that don't harm others, then you should no more shame someone for wearing a Harley Quinn outfit come Halloween than you should shame a woman for covering themselves up too much. So what's the deal with everyone freaking out?
Obviously, there’s one key issue here: Harley Quinn is a fictional character, and you’re not. This means that Quinn had no agency over the clothing she chose. Her wardrobe was effectively selected by the predominantly male creators of the film and, admittedly, many of the shots of her in the film cater to the male gaze. Again, for emphasis: this is nothing she has any control over, because, as we’ve established, she’s a fictional character. The thorny issue for the internet here is you, as a human being with free will, choosing to dress like a character whose outfits and screen time border frequently on outright objectification. Knowing that, is it OK to dress as Harley Quinn?
Yes, yes, and one more time: YES. The difference here is that you, as a woman, are making a conscious decision to dress up like a badass female villain. As such, it being your choice and all, you shouldn’t be slut shamed or condescended to for it. Anyone who questions your choices is suggesting either you’re not capable of the logical footwork to make your own decisions (and that’s patronizing) or that you shouldn’t be allowed to have those choices (and that’s controlling).
Besides which, the fact that one of the criticisms leveled against her look is "infantilization" isn't entirely on the money. Women in pigtails don't necessarily equal an aspiring Lolita deferring to male fantasies. After all, can you think of any females stronger than the women of the Riot grrrl movement of the '90s? These women fronted bands, organized shows, and aimed to fuse punk and feminism. They also wore a lot of pigtails and skimpy clothing. And yet no one questioned those women's feminist credentials.
Perhaps one of the reasons the controversy about Harley Quinn's costume is so difficult to untangle is because the costume faces criticism from both feminists and misogynists. After all, the issue feels more specific than being about body politics and the long tradition of slut shaming that takes place when a woman wears revealing clothing. It's not just about a hostile online female response; it also feels representative of hostility toward women from the male fandoms that make up the comic book/gaming world itself. It's hard not to speculate that the hostility towards Harley Quinn is an extension of the discomfort these predominantly male communities have with the encroachment of women on their territory. Because, after all, the prominence Harley Quinn is given in Suicide Squad is also a reflection of the growing number of female comic book and gaming fans.
According to a 2015 study by the Entertainment Software Association, "women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 18 or younger (15 percent)," which seems ironic, given that most people assume teenage males are the main target audience. Comixology's Chip Mosher told MTV in December 2015 that, “Recently, surveys have shown that 30 percent of our new customers are female...This is up 50 percent from the last time we revealed the percentage of female new customers at NYCC in 2013.”
At the end of the day, if it's your body, it should be your rules — period. This costume isn’t anti-feminist; it’s about the most feminist costume you can wear. It takes the condition we take for granted in 2016 (that our choices are valid and matter), and it challenges those around you to celebrate your capacity to decide, rather than reinforce tired stereotypes by slut shaming you (whether from a misogynist or feminist perspective).
So f*ck the critics, embrace your inner villainess, and take a leaf out of Margot Robbie's book this Halloween round.
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures; Giphy (2)