Your body can be utilized as a channel to express a message. Maybe I’m just a Journalism nerd, but I think this form of communication is powerful and vastly overlooked.
My favorite artist is Lady Gaga not because of her pop anthems, but because she uses her attire and lyrics to send influential messages that have shifted the way modern society understands empowerment through sexuality and expression. While Lady Gaga wears what many would consider costumes on a regular basis, I have emulated her purpose the past three Halloween celebrations.
Speaking out against sexual violence and sexism has been a defining characteristic of my life. This is likely because as a privileged white cis female, experiencing sexism and gender roles myself was the first exposure to social injustices I had growing up. While I’ve worked on intersectional anti-sexism campaigns for various sexual violence prevention and education organizations, I admit that I would not feel as comfortable calling out problematic ideas about sex and gender had I not once thought them myself.
In middle school, I would pride myself for dressing modestly. I interpreted wearing revealing clothing to be a way of a woman disrespecting herself for the shallow attention of another. I saw how sexy outfits appealed to the male gaze, and that dynamic made me simultaneously upset with people of all genders who contributed to it. I didn’t want to rely on short shorts to receive a boy’s approval, which seemed so sought after throughout middle and high school.
What I should’ve been thinking though was: I don’t need nor want male approval in the first place; all I need and want is my own. I should be proud of myself for everything I am, not because of how others may interpret me. How other people choose to dress is respectively no business of mine. For all I know, they could feel empowered by their bodies, rather than believing they are exploiting them.
There wasn’t a turning point that sparked this eventual realization for me, but rather it was an accumulation of experiences that shaped me from being an ignorant white feminist to a much more understanding, progressive and intersectional feminist. Due to this learning growth over time, I continue to strive every day to learn more and improve my intersectional activisms. Just because what you believe is what speaks to you, doesn’t necessarily validate your ideas as right. As a result, I am always inviting others to challenge their perspectives and mine as well. Breaking away from the oppressive mindsets that we’re fed through society and media is a sense of freedom that I will never take for granted.
So when Halloween my freshman year in college came around, I realized I could not let such a prime opportunity to challenge normative social constraints pass. I dug through what I had and haphazardly threw together an outfit with a mouthful of a title: a Guardian Angel of Consensual Sex. Equipped with a sharpie, a fanny pack and a much better understanding of sex and gender issues than I did as a 13-year-old, I felt prepared to make a statement or two.
The saying: “How we dress does not mean yes,” is what my outfit seemed to be grounded upon. By wearing just a bra and shorts, I meant to protest the popular idea that if a woman dresses sexily or with little clothing, she deserves to be harassed (or assaulted) because she is “asking for it.” No one deserves to be hurt or made to feel unsafe to any extent for the way their body appears.
On my exposed skin, I had friends write anti-sexism slogans and facts about sexual violence.
“Anti-man does not mean Pro-Woman”
“Consent is sexy”
“Only 5% of sexual assaults are reported”
“Sexism is a social disease”
“1 in 5 women are assaulted in colleges nationally”
“Drinking is not a crime. Rape is.”
“Consent is asking every time”
“Let’s talk about sex”
My fanny pack was stuffed with condoms and educational pamphlets about consent, sexual violence and assault. Halloween was never complete until my pack was empty. Friends, strangers, whoever– these goodies were meant to be given out.
Primarily, the response I received has consistently been overwhelmingly positive. However, it’s crucial to recognize that sexism is not a “hot topic,” it’s an issue that has pervaded our culture and society throughout every corner.
I have heard the notion that Halloween is an excuse for women to dress slutty since before I was old enough to understand what “slutty” even really meant. People of all identities are affected by sex and gender issues, whether they understand them or not. Plenty are upset that these oppressive structures and mindsets exist. However, many are afraid to speak out against them because the majority of our society accepts these unjust ideas. As a result, many have approached me expressing support for my message and subsequent costume. I hope to never forget the kind words a fellow student told me at a party last year about my Halloween outfit:
“Thank you for being brave. I’m so glad you are saying something about this; I wish I had thought to. More people need to speak out against rape culture. This is so inspiring. Please never stop doing what you do.”
The words of support that I have received over the years have kept me from allowing my voice to be silenced. Thank you to everyone who has made speaking out against dominant, oppressive structures not so scary anymore. I wouldn’t dare call myself inspiring, but the work and responses of other supporters inspires and motivates me to continue public expression against sexual violence.
Halloween is scary for more reasons than the obvious ones. At the University of Oregon, our quarter system is structured so that the sixth week of the academic year begins right after Halloween. The first six weeks of college are known as “The Red Zone,” because during this time there is a significant increase in sexual assaults for students, especially freshmen females.
I speak out because I care about the safety and happiness of my friends, peers, and fellow human beings. Our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness deserve to be respected. I believe it is fundamentally wrong in every sense that oppressive injustices occur on such a regular basis that society has accepted it as normal. Together, we get to decide what we want to be considered normal. Let’s make speaking out against sexism/assault and wearing outfits the we want not a question, but a standard.