As any veteran of a Madison Halloween will attest, the most commonly seen costume among female college students is some variation on a ""sexy profession"" theme. Though the costumes themselves are largely a non-issue, the judgment that many young women receive, especially by their fellow females, reflects a society fraught with fear of the expression of female sexuality.
Every year, I hear multiple people scornfully disapprove of these revealing costumes, describing them as tasteless and ""slutty."" The underlying social implications of such scorn raise a number of concerns. For one, the unabashed and frequent use of the term ""slut"" to describe these women is a blatant condemnation of the exploration of personal sexuality. Derogatory and offensive, the term ""slut"" passes unfair judgment and drives a wedge between women who could unite for a common cause.
The disgusted tone of those who criticize the more scantily costumed young women suggests an underlying sense of discomfort and judgment regarding the display of female sexuality. Schools, churches and society itself still perpetuate the notion that women should feel ashamed of their sexuality and maintain a demure, ""proper"" demeanor, lest they earn the title of ""slut."" The oft-heard judgment imparted by more modest women onto bolder women clearly demonstrates the harmful effects of these institutions. As women, we are taught to fear and avoid personal exploration of our sexuality, while we simultaneously learn that our bodies are our greatest assets. Such a confusing message ultimately pits women against each other, separating us into those who fear their sexuality and those who willingly exhibit their physical qualities. Ultimately, women who explore their sexuality are considered ""slutty,"" regardless of their character or motivation. The female body and female sexuality should not be considered offensive; unfortunately, our society still leads women to believe that their sexuality is a source of shame, breeding resentment and division among the female population.
One could make the argument that these body-flaunting costumes are negative because they reflect society's value of women for their physical assets. Perhaps. However, wearing such a costume does not inherently indicate submission to societal standards, nor does it suggest a conscious surrender of one's dignity. The notion that women who rightfully elect to wear a revealing costume belong to a lower moral stratum than their more modestly dressed peers is presumptuous, judgmental and unfounded. While I wouldn't assert that skimpy costumes promote female empowerment, I strongly disagree that any woman in a revealing outfit is automatically sacrificing her feminine strength and pride.
The inherent issue regarding the ubiquitous skimpy Halloween costume is not that these costumes are somehow inappropriate or offensive. Rather, the real issue is the fact that this kind of expression and exploration of female sexuality is only considered acceptable because it's Halloween. This unfortunate link between the expression of female sexuality and a holiday associated with shock and fear demonizes sexual expression, characterizing it as ""bad"" or ""scary."" This demonization in turn perpetuates the notion of female sexuality as a source of shame and fear.
I find the ""sexy profession"" costumes just as uncreative and thermally illogical as the next person, but they certainly don't offend me personally. It worries me greatly that women still struggle to accept each other's personal choices regarding their sexual expression without overt criticism. If we truly wish to overcome the obstacles of gender inequality, we must abandon these judgmental notions and embrace our differences. In this way, we can more successfully work together for a better, more just future. Otherwise, we may very well continue to divide and fall into the opposing roles that society has dictated for us: the ""sluts"" and their critics.
Alyssa Lochen is a senior majoring in zoology and Spanish. Please send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.