When Cultural Appropriation Becomes Dangerous
With Halloween approaching, people are paying more attention to Halloween retailers in order to ensure their costumes remain respectable and culturally conscious/cognizant. Yandy.com, an online lingerie and adult halloween costume store, has re-entered the backlash spotlight with the reveal of their new “Sexy Handmaid’s Tale-inspired” costume. The Handmaid’s Tale, the show that acted as its inspiration, is based in a dystopian future in which women are viewed in a misogynistic, derogatory sense. Due to the large amount of negativity it received, Yandy.com removed the costume from its site shortly after its release.
An official statement was published along with the removal of the costume. It stated that, while it initially released the costume as a sign of women’s empowerment, they understand that is being seen as a symbol of women’s oppression. While some viewed this as a positive step towards companies becoming more morally cognizant of the merchandise they sell, many call into question if Yandy is equally as dedicated to this message of women’s empowerment when it comes to women of color. The main demographic viewing The Handmaid’s Tale and most involved in the online backlash is white, along with the model displaying the costume on the website. While this costume was removed from their website in less than two days, there has been a battle to remove the Native-American inspired costumes from their website for many years now. The community not only cites cultural appropriation as a main reason for wanting their removal, but the oversexualization of Native American women as well.
When attacked for their costumes in the past, Yandy.com has defended itself by saying all of their costumes are sexualized because they want their customers to “Own Their Sexy”, in accordance with their brand’s motto. While their intentions may be positive, the clear lack of social cognizance of the issues that plague Native American women is startling. Halloween costumes are one of the methods of mainstream attention given to the Native American community throughout the year. That means that the very few times Native Americans get the spotlight, it is promoting a false idea of what the community actually looks like through oversexualized, inaccurate, and offensive costumes. This is dangerous because this community has recently recorded the highest levels of violence against tribal men and women. A 2016 Department of Justice study revealed that women in particular are more targeted: out of slightly more than 2000 tribal women, 84% have experienced violence, and 56% have experienced sexual violence. Within that percentage, 90% of those crimes were committed by a non-tribal member. The study also revealed that most of the perpetrators were white1. Some cities see even higher rates, with Seattle reporting that, out of 184 Native women, 94% say that they have been raped or coerced into sex2.
Recently, when presented with a petition containing over 13,000 signatures demanding Yandy remove the existing Native American-inspired costumes, and stop any further release of similar costumes, the organizers were asked to leave the premise, without even a promise of potential discussion over the matter3. While it was the same online method that caused the removal of the Handmaid’s Tale costume, it seemed inefficient when it came to a matter of cultural appropriation and endangerment of these people. If social media backlash, protests, petitions, and attempts at conversation are not enough to get this company to hear the adversities of Native American community, what will it take for them to listen?
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