Halloween with a Conscience: Honor Your Feminist Ancestors in Costume


Each year, both men and women have three basic choices for Halloween.

1.) Go costume-less, maybe with a nod to the day by wearing all black, or wear a t-shirt that says “Costume”:

“Halloween means nothing to me, and I’m sure-as-hell not going to make an ass out of myself….again.”

2.) Go all-out, and start hand-sewing the costume the day after last year’s Halloween, like you’re preparing to join a professional samba school for Carnival:

“Halloween, or Samhain, as it should be called, is the best day to honor the dissolving of the walls between the material world and the spiritual world. That is why I have brought dried sage to burn for all of you.”

(full disclosure: I’m allowed to make fun of this, because it was my Celtic ancestors who were probably dancing around naked in the woods…)

3.) Throw something together, either kick-ass or lame-ass, really doesn’t matter at this point, a scant two hours before the office party: “I worked 80 hours last week, not including overtime, and didn’t really have time to plan for this, but I’ll be damned if I’m the only one without a costume this year.”

I’d like to encourage you to go with options b) or c). All kidding aside, option b) might actually be the best (even if you’re too late for the obsessive planning-ahead component), because it speaks to the actual meaning of the day. Samhain, which predates All Hallow’s Eve, was traditionally a time for reflection and meditation on death, and a way to honor one’s actual or spiritual ancestors. It’s basically an opportunity to celebrate those who lived before you. Which makes it an ideal time to remember those many women and men who have made a significant difference to later generations of women, chiefly in the areas of race, class and gender equality and opportunity. I’m thinking of the great feminists from around the globe, not only the ones with whom we are familiar. Consider this: You can’t walk out of the door in costume on Halloween without somebody asking, “Who are you supposed to be?” Let’s give others something to think about, by going as (in no particular order):

  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), African-American anti-lynching crusader, suffragist.
  • Dolores Jiménez y Muro (1848-1925), Socialist reformer of the Mexican Revolution.
  • John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), English philosopher, women’s rights advocate.
  • Lovisa Arberg (1801–1881), first woman doctor and surgeon in Sweden.
  • Concepcion Arenal (1820-1893), founder of the Feminist movement in Spain.
  • Mariama Bâ (1929–1981), Senegalese author and feminist against polygamy.
  • Christine de Pizan (1363–c.1430), late medieval author who challenged misogyny.
  • Tomáš Masaryk (1850–1937), leading Czechoslovakian proponent of women’s rights.
  • Hiratsuka Raichō (1886–1971), political activist and pioneering Japanese feminist.


I’ve purposely chosen individuals who may not be household names but who’ have certainly changed the world in which we live. If you “go” as one of them, or some other notable figure, you’ve got an opportunity to start a real conversation. So let’s have fun today, be true to one’s self and our spiritual ancestors.


Happy trick-or-treating!

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