Why do certain words trigger such strong emotions in us? We associate words with specific feelings that we carry throughout our whole life—some words inspire us, some hurt us, some anger us, and some motivate us. However, no matter what meaning we give to these words, they always create some sort of value that we learn to accept.
With Halloween right around the corner, a particular s-word comes to mind. This word has been derogatory in the past but as time goes by it becomes more and more normal and socially acceptable to use, especially around this time of the year. For the most part, women have been more inclined to dress in costumes such as bunnies, cops, and nurses rather than scary costumes such as a zombie or a witch. It is in cases like this that the s-word gets thrown around, unaware of the power it has to insult someone. Insert “slutty” before any of these costumes and you get the point. Is it okay to use that word simply to celebrate a consumerist holiday? Our word choice says many things about who we are and what we believe and should be chosen carefully. By saying it, we prolong the life of this ugly word; all while we have the full capability to pick less offending adjectives for costumes such as “sexy nurse” or “sexy bunny rabbit.” This word has become so common in the description of Halloween costumes for women that when the phrase “slutty Halloween costumes” is Googled, Google yields results that replace “sexy” with “slutty,” treating these words as if they are one and the same.
Companies also have a responsibility to their new and loyal customers to use language in such a way that demonstrates who they are and how they view their customers. Fortunately, companies that are selling these provocative costumes use the words “sexy” or “adult” in place of the stigmatized word “slutty.” For example, yandy.com features women’s costumes that range from “sexy swashbuckler” or “adult peacock” to “sexy corn on the cob.” Halloween costume companies seem to understand the offensiveness of this word and avoid it completely. While choosing to use language in this way protects the company from accusations of disrespecting women, it does not solve the problem of the common usage of this hurtful word in relation to their costumes.
Sexy costumes for women dominate the shelves during Halloween, which shows us that our culture has undergone a change. Since the early 1950s,women’s clothing and style has changed dramatically. We all know that clothing throughout the years is associated with sexuality and sometimes with negative stigmas towards women. Halloween appears to be one of the only days women can dress more provocatively and it is accepted; for whatever reason it is- to embrace their sexuality or for another reason. Regardless, we have to realize that there are some words that people get offended by and sometimes they slip through the cracks (like the s-word). But we can’t help but to wonder why? Whether we are regular people or a unified company…it matters.
Note from the authors: This blog is meant to shed light on the acceptance of the word in our language; that some words are used without regard to their meaning (hence the importance for company’s care in their own word choices). The analogy of Halloween is simply meant to show the issue in a more socially constructed way.
– Nicole Betterbid, Rachel Betterbid, Lucy Rojo, Sierra Scellato, Shauna Seaver
I found this post to be rather offensive… I was under the impression that this blog had to do with aspects of marketing, but what I take away from this post is definitely some personal opinions. While you may feel that these “sexy” costumes make women look “slutty”, they are not marketed as “slutty” for a reason. I personally have NEVER seen a costume that was explicitly marketed as “slutty” and the only way that I can imagine that you would arrive at this conclusion was to incorporate your personal attitudes about the clothing that you see women wearing on Halloween. Perhaps a more productive way to address this topic would have been to examine the marketing of “sexy” costumes without delving into the subjective realm of “sluttiness.” Either way I think this post is a stretch, given the topic of your blog, and you may be unwittingly reinforcing these negative stereotypes and hegemonic control mechanisms.
First we would like to say, that we are very sorry that you were offended by the post. In no way was it meant to offend anyone. After another analysis of what was written, we understand where there could have been a misunderstanding. We did not mean that women who dress in “sexy costumes” are “slutty” or that companies market “slutty”. The blog was written with concern for the use of the word in our culture, and that our words should always be chosen with care. The blog has since been changed, and we hope that we have made our stance more clear. We would be happy to address this issue further if there is still a concern. This seems to reinforce the idea of the importance of choosing our words with painstaking diligence, so the meaning is completely clear. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention and your presence as a subscriber to IMCHAWKS.
I’m glad that you took the time to read such a thoughtful comment on my students’ blog post. I think you bring up really valid points, and I’d also like to think that I’m teaching my students not only about being reflective IMC practitioners but also thoughtful consumers. This specific post falls into the latter category.
Unfortunately, the connotation of “sexy” versus “slutty” is conflated in discourse today and it IS used in marketing products to girls and women. The photo that the students chose to illustrate this story is from the movie Mean Girls, and in the movie the main character states “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, 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.” This website is one of the first that comes up when you search “sexy costumes”: http://www.amiclubwear.com/sexy-costume.html and if you look at the page title (what comes up in the tab above the URL in Firefox, for example) they’ve accounted for the search for “slutty costumes” by calling the page “Sexy Halloween Costumes Ideas|Slutty, Skanky, Cute.” This was found by a 2-second search on Google for “slutty costumes.”
I am a parent, a feminist, and a rhetorical scholar. I pay attention to words, their connotation, and their meaning as negotiated by humans living in society together. We are responsible for the words we choose. As my students stated in their comment, the idea of choosing our words carefully is what we’re trying to highlight in this blog. Marketing is a form of human communication. I might ask that they offer more evidence for their claims (which I’ve tried to provide here) but I’m not going to ask them to ignore a phenomenon that exists, I’m asking them to consider that phenomenon from a variety of communicative standpoints. I’m hoping you continue to read our blog and engage in more constructive discourse!
Regards, Jeanne M. Persuit, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies, UNCW