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College students face slut-shaming on Halloween

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Taylor Brooks graduated in May from the nursing program at D’Youville College and has memories of the vigorous educational process.

Now a registered nurse who works the twelve-hour overnight shift at Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital, Brooks finds the popular Halloween portrayal of her career as “sexy” offensive, to say the least.

“I don’t like the fact that our profession is hyper sexualized,” Brooks said. “We have a hard job [and] it’s offensive when people don’t appreciate it … I feel like [the sexy nurse costume] is kinda a slap to [what] all we do.”

The costume is a classic, especially given that nursing has historically been a profession of women. It is so closely associated with femininity that a stigma still exists surrounding men in the profession.

According to Sarah M. Glann, a graduate student instructor and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at UB, this is telling of a larger cultural practice not limited to Halloween – one that sexualizes women and the roles often held by them at the expense of other, possibly more important qualities.

“We live in a culture that … literally causes us to view women as objects based on their bodies, rather than human beings,” Glann said. “Our media and culture send messages to women that say their primary worth comes from their physical appearance and beauty rather than their intelligence, creativity, or personality.”

When we fail to remember the more important qualities of being a woman, an even bigger problem emerges between Halloween and females. The problem according to Glann is called “slut-shaming,” an act of putting down, disparaging, insulting and otherwise degrading women for making choices about their own bodies.

Slut-shaming can be both apparent and simple. It can be man or woman shouting across the street that the girl passing by is a slut or it can be a girl dressed more modestly rolling her eyes at the girl in the sexy cop costume.

Glann stresses the importance of remembering that while the abundance of sexualized Halloween costumes available for women does reflect a culture that often objectifies them, this in no way interferes with a woman’s exclusive right to make decisions about her sexuality.

“It’s important to remember that our culture and society is embedded with gender inequalities that we have both inherited and, often unintentionally, continue through our actions,” Glann said. “But at the same time, Halloween allows people the chance to be somebody else, if even for a night…[and] everyone has the right to expression, fun, and creativity.”

It can ruin a girl’s night or make her feel suddenly uncomfortable with the costume she spent all month planning.

“Women should not be shamed for wearing certain clothing nor should the rest of society feel entitled to comment on women’s bodies or their attire, no matter what they are wearing,” Glann said.

The long-term effects of slut-shaming lead to social issues much more serious than a blow to someone’s confidence.

“What’s problematic is that if something bad happens to [a woman,] if [she is] assaulted, or cat-called or otherwise scrutinized for the costumes [she’s wearing], women are blamed individually for ‘making poor choices’” Glann said.

This all becomes increasingly troubling when you consider that it takes place within a culture that encourages women to be sexual by offering them hundreds of sexy Halloween costumes.

“It blames women in the aggregate for living in a system that devalues their bodies while simultaneously telling them that their bodies are their most important assets,” Glann said.

Maybe this Halloween you want to be a hippie, a flapper or one of your favorite beat-poets. Perhaps as a culture we can begin to leave the sexist cultural practices that began long before tie-dye, speakeasies and Ginsberg in the past for good.

Sophia McKeone is a staff writer and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com


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