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What are you going to be for Halloween?

On my ride to campus the other morning I was scanning through radio stations and caught the end of a DJ’s discussion about this year’s most popular Halloween costume ideas. Michael Jackson and Kate Gosselin (the mother from the show John and Kate Plus 8 who is in the process of going through a very public divorce while still taping her family’s reality TV program) have topped the list of costumes for this fall, both of whom have received a great deal of media attention in the past few months. With the constant bombardment of celebrity news and gossip, it is not surprising that such figures are making their way into the repertoire of Halloween costumes.
I feel that Halloween costumes in themselves worth commenting on. For anyone who has not had the opportunity to spend time on a college campus on Halloween night, you may be surprised to learn how many students do in fact dress up to celebrate this event. And, some cultural critics find the choices of costumes to be rather concerning.  While males tend to lean toward costumes that are scary or even ironic, females in their teens and twenties tend to wear costumes that are a bit more revealing (a polite way of saying slutty). This trend has trickled as far down as preteens (often referred to as tweens by marketers), with girls as young as nine or ten years old requesting various provocative costumes. And, any costume can be turned “slutty.” I have seen slutty nurses, doctors, mechanics, maids, school girls and cheerleaders, just to name a few. One of more creative slutty costumes I encountered was what the student self-titled “eggs over easy.”  This costume consisted of tiny shorts, fishnet tights, and a corset. What made her call this costume “eggs over easy”? She tied an empty egg carton to her head and referred  to herself as “easy.”  This type of costume has become such a growing phenomenon that many popular publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post have run stories about it in recent years.
So, why is this happening? I believe that a line from the widely popular teen movie Mean Girls may explain it best- “Halloween is the one night a year when  a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” You can revisit the movie to see various examples of such costumes including but not limited to slutty Christmas outfits. We live in a culture where one of the most hurtful names a female can be called is a slut (or various other equally offensive terms), and often times it’s other girls who are doing the name-calling. Halloween seems to be the only chance that many young women feel comfortable publicly expressing their sexualities. What I also find problematic about this trend, among many other things I won’t delve into at this point in time, is that girls either consciously or unconsciously seem to associate being sexual with being slutty. And, maybe this isn’t all that shocking since we get so many contradictory messages about sex and sexuality from various social institutions. For instance, abstinence-only education remains the primary form of sex education taught in public schools, and it clearly isn’t particularly effective since the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world.  This attitude, coupled with sex-saturated media content, sends a very confusing and complicated message to young people. Such discussions are not new to scholars of Communication, Sociology, Gender, and Education, among other disciplines. But these issues impact a wider constituency than scholarly investigation often reaches, and I would like to hear what students are thinking.
Andrea Bergstrom, Department of Mass Communication
Pierce Arrow Blogger

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