Stop the “slut” shaming

I’ve decided to write about something a little bit different today. Usually I write about all things related to science and PhD life but I overheard something a few days ago that really got me angry thinking.

Before I get into it, it probably goes without saying that I see myself as a feminist. As a woman working in science, I am passionate about equality for women in the work place and I consider myself very fortunate to work in a department that has a large number of inspiring female researchers.

The issue that I’m going to talk about now, however, isn’t about academia per se, or the dreaded glass ceiling that seems to loom after the PhD is complete. It is about the ability of a certain occasion to drag our attitudes towards women back a good few decades. It’s about Halloween …

“To be honest though, some girls just use Halloween as an excuse to dress like a slut and get away with it…”

That’s what I overheard. And guess what, it wasn’t a guy that said it.

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Excuse me while I quote Tina Fey (from Mean Girls, of course):

“You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores”

You might think I’m overreacting to this statement (which, I should make clear, wasn’t directed towards me) but it does raise a few interesting questions that I would like to address:

  1. What is a slut?
  2. Do I need an excuse to dress like a “slut”? Can I dress like a “slut” for my own satisfaction or is my “slutty” attire purely for the (dis)pleasure of others?
  3. What exactly do you mean by “get away with it”? Should there be consequences for the way I dress? Who decides what is a “slutty” outfit and do they also decide the consequence(s)?

Let’s go through these one by one:

  1. A “slut”: “A term for a woman or girl who is considered to have loose sexual morals or who is sexually promiscuous” (Wikipedia). “A woman with the morals of a man” (Urban Dictionary)

Something to think about…

  1. I think I speak for every woman when I say, “Yes, I have breasts/ass/legs. Yes, my outfit is highlighting my breasts/ass/legs. No, this is not a signal that I want to have sex with you.”An outfit, or indeed Halloween costume, is never consent (even if it is a sexy pumpkin). Maybe, just maybe, we wear things that make us feel and look good because we want to feel and look good, for ourselves. Also, who decides what is “slutty” and what isn’t? If you don’t like what someone is wearing, that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion; just don’t perpetuate the dangerous myth that a woman’s sexual intentions are in any way related to her clothing.
  1. The last part of the statement is actually what scares me the most: “…get away with it”. It suggests that dressing in a certain way validates people’s actions towards you and this is eerily similar to the “yeah, but did you see what she was wearing?” rhetoric that so often occurs after a woman is sexually assaulted.
Credit: OC Rape Crisis Center
Credit: OC Rape Crisis Center

This may seem like an overreaction to a throwaway comment but these sexual objectifications of woman are heard far too often in everyday life and the media (y’know things are bad when a US presidential candidate utters the phrase “grab her by the p*ssy”).

The saddest thing is that we are all guilty of tearing each other down every now and then (myself included), but sometimes certain words and actions can perpetuate a sexist stereotype that we have been trying to rid ourselves of for decades.

So if you want to dress up like a bunny à la Regina George or keep it more traditionally scary like Cady, do it and accept the choices of others. Live and let live, and all that.

Also, I am aware that Halloween is now over for this year but fear not, ladies, Amazon has got us sorted for Christmas … (click here).

P.s I will not apologise for the number of Mean Girls references throughout this post.

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