The Spooky Reality of Slut-shaming

Category : Blog

For many of us, Halloween is a fun night to dress up, eat too much candy, and celebrate being someone different for an evening! But unfortunately, slut-shaming women for their costumes is an all too common part of Halloween for many members of our community.   

Sex sells   

Did you know that 33% of girls’ and 90% of women’s costumes are sexualized in some form? For comparison, less than 1% of boys’ and 10% of men’s costumes are sexualized. This is because for better or worse, sex sells. And costume manufacturers know this.   

The over-sexualization of women’s Halloween costumes creates a vicious cycle. Because these are the costumes that are available, women have fewer options to choose from and therefore may end up setling on a more sexualized costume.    

If you’ve got it, haunt it!  

Let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with a woman showing off in a sexualized costume if that’s what she wants to do. But for the women who may not want to wear a sexualized costume, there are fewer options available in stores, which means she may end up wearing something she is not entirely comfortable in.   

So why do we slut shame women simply for wearing what is available to them? If our society was truly concerned about the morality of short, tight-fitting, risqué costumes, we would go after the companies who market and produce them.   

Instead, due to the permissiveness of patriarchal and misogynistic structures in our society, we shame individual women for their Halloween costumes. As a community, we need to stop equating what a woman wears for Halloween with her worth as a human being.   

Wait, what is slut shaming? 

At its core, slut shaming consists of actions, beliefs and attitudes that shame a person, particularly a woman or girl, for engaging in behaviours that are seen as sexually provocative. Slut shaming is problematic because it fundamentally involves some sort of attempt to police the bodies and autonomy of women and girls. It’s all about control. 

Central to the concept of slut shaming is a distinction between healthy sexuality and sexualization. Healthy sexuality is something that comes from within a person and involves respect, genuine pleasure, and above all, consent. It’s something that a woman has for herself; it’s all about her understanding of and connection to her own desire. 

On the other hand, sexualization is something that is imposed upon women and girls.  Sexualization equivocates a person’s worth with their physical attractiveness, especially in terms of sexiness. This focus on appearance often exclude other characteristics, such as intelligence or kindness, and inherently objectifies a person. When a woman or girl is sexualized, she is seen as a thing generating sexual pleasures or gratification for others, irrespective of her own feelings.  

Slut shaming can be both malicious and well-intentioned. It can be as overt as bullying, or as seemingly innocuous as high school dress codes. A study conducted on a college campus found that the schools populace had no cohesive definition of a “slut” or what consituted “sluttiness.” The concept of a “slut,” in practice, is a “misogynistic catch-all” used to create gendered hierarchies. 

So why is slut shaming considered an act of violence against women? 

Slut shaming affects people in various ways, all the way from the individual level up to the societal level. As a personal attack on a woman or girl’s moral character, slut shaming can have many adverse mental health effects. On the societal level, slut shaming contributes to notions of male entitlement, contributing to sexual violence. 

Here are some of the negative effects stemming from experiencing slut shaming: 

1. Slut shaming informs teenagers’ beliefs around sex, normalizing sexual violence and teaching girls to be ashamed of their bodies 

Research demonstrates that the teenage years are extremely critical in the development of both boys’ and girls’ sexuallity. During adolescence, people start to explore ways of demonstrating love and intimacy. The development of a person’s sexuality is heavily influenced by cultural attitudes and perceptions. Patriarchal structures and narratives can make girls especially vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse. 

Many teenagers internalize notions of male entitlement. The age-old adage “boys will be boys” is often used by girls and boys to make sense of the harassment and violence they see and experience. This normalizes acts of sexual violence, and may even be a major reason why sexual violence often goes unreported; in many cases, girls don’t even see what was done to them as a crime. 

2. Slut shaming can be deteriorative to a woman or girl’s mental health 

The effects of shame, especially when tied to sexualization, are adverse. Slut shaming creates a distinction between “good girls” and “sluts,” which can alienate women from their own sexuality as they try to adhere to social expectations. 

As humans are social animals, our sense of self is highly dependent on the perceptions of us by a group. Because shame can only exist in group settings, being shamed may result in feelings of isolation, judgement, and distrust. These feelings are frequently implicated in social anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. 

3. Slut shaming contributes to a cycle of victim-blaming, especially when it comes to women of colour 

Slut shaming focuses on the actions of survivors, rather than the actions of perpetrators. Labelling a woman or girl as a “slut” implies that she is always sexually available and therefore cannot be sexually assaulted. Slut shaming is a central component of rape culture because it reaffirms the cultural belief that some women and girls “are asking for it” because of the way they act or dress, implying that some women and girls are therefore more “deserving” of the violence imposed upon them. This shifts the blame onto survivors and away from perpetrators of sexual violence.  

Slut shaming often occurs along racial lines and reaffirms gendered racist stereotypes. In popular culture, women of colour, especially Black, Latina and Indigenous women, are disproportionately slut shamed. Gender often intersects with other oppressed identities in ways that shape the way we sexualize individuals, and the bodies of racialized women are often implicitly associated with sexual availability. This implicit association with “sluttiness” or promiscuity can have profound effects on the way we respond to violence against women of colour. For example, the hypersexualization of Indigenous women and girls in pop culture has constructed their bodies as “inherently sexually available” and played a critical role in the lack of a coordinated response to the ongoing MMIWG crisis

Don’t be a jerk-o-lantern 

Are you wondering how you can be a better ally this Halloween and help end slut shaming of women’s costumes?  

First, remember that women are allowed to wear whatever they want every single day of the year. This means that unless you’re complimenting someone’s costume, keep your opinions to yourself.  

Additionally, calling out slut shaming for what it is and teaching others why it’s harmful when you encounter it is a great way to be a good ally. 

If you’re on the hunt for a less sexualized costume this year, check out a locally owned costume store, such as Merchant of Dream, or get creative and make your own! And if you want to wear a more sexualized costume, don’t let the patriarchy stop you!  

Regardless of what you wear, you are boo-tiful and deserve respect. Happy Halloween!  


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