How many women dressed up kinda like Karlie Kloss for Halloween?

I don’t think there’s much need to explain the problems with Karlie Kloss’s “Native American headdress replica” and bikini ensemble at Victoria Secret’s recent fashion show. As Nika Mavrody wrote at The Fashion Spot:

The headdress as fashion accessory relies on and reinforces stereotypes of Native Americans, a minority culture and race… I don’t know anything, but I do know that the headdress belongs to a specific spiritual practice, and commodifying it to sell corporate panties for Christmas — or a pouty-lipped pop star’s latest albums — fits nicely into the genocide-y, pillage-y relationship America has with American Indians.

The sexualized use of the headdress is particularly disturbing given the disproportionate rates of sexual violence against Native Americans. The last time we all needed to be reminded of this was, oh, two weeks ago, during all those Halloween costume debates. Look, I get it, Halloween is over—but this show, so soon after the 31st, proves that popular sexualization of  “ethnic” women isn’t contained to Halloween, though it most certainly gains steam from the holiday.

The most common pushback I’ve heard against the call to end racially insensitive costumes that look much like Karlie Kloss’s runway look (though maybe some prefer “Sexy Geisha” to “Sexy Tribal Indian Princess”) is that it’s “just Halloween” and everyone knows the get-ups are a joke. Even if I actually thought such bigotry were contained to a 24 hour period, this would strike me as a pretty absurd argument: have we decided it’s ok to be racist and sexist as long as it’s supposedly funny and contained to one special Let’s Be Racist and Sexist Day?

But given the Kloss “costume,” it’s impossible to pretend Halloween is some exception—or that our choices in October have no effect on what happens once the parties are over. Our willingness to accept such practices in the name of “fun” and financially promote them by buying costumes normalizes exoticization and supports a market that trades on stereotype.

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/malaise/ Malaise

    I think to me the sexualized tribal princess is much worse than the sexualized geisha simply because sexualization was the stock in trade for the self-styled geisha girls in Japan half a century ago. It’s a bit more troubling to take aspects of someone’s culture that are not inherently tied up with sexualization, and then simply add it.

    Regardless, it would be a long road to remove our appropriation of Native American culture if you’re concerned with that as a whole, and not just exoticisation/sexualization. Never mind Halloween, but between sports team mascots and young boys playing cowboys and indians, the idea of Native American as “other” has been firmly entrenched in our culture.