“However we dress, wherever we go, YES means YES and NO means NO”: An Overview of SlutWalk Toronto

“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” (Police Constable Michael Saguinetti 2011).

At a safety forum on York University’s campus in January 2011, the offensive comment made by Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti sparked a powerful movement in Toronto that would inspire feminists across the globe. The infamous comment left those in attendance at the forum in Osgoode Hall Law School silent and shocked (Rush 2011); however, this silence would not last for long. While the statement was hurtful, disrespectful, and demeaning, it held great significance. Sanguinetti’s words led the future organizers of the SlutWalk movement to challenge the dominant mentality of ‘victim-blaming’ and ‘slut-shaming’ in sexual violence. Through this, the crime of sexual assault became central in a movement to remind the police service and society that clothing style is never an invitation to sexual violence (SlutWalk Toronto 2012). On our university campus, the legacy of SlutWalk Toronto emerged as a powerful form of resistance against sexual regulation and violence.

The statement delivered by Sanguinetti strongly resonated with activists like Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett, who became eager to undermine the stereotypes that perpetuate myths about sexual harassment (SlutWalk Toronto 2012). In February 2011, Jarvis and Barnett co-founded ‘SlutWalk’ Toronto as a reaction to the ‘slut-blaming’ mentality that pervaded the police service. The organizers of the SlutWalk movement contended that the onus and blame of a sexual assault should never be placed on the victim. On 3 April 2011, the first SlutWalk began in Toronto, where thousands of people from diverse experiences and orientations joined in a peaceful protest from Queen’s Park to Police Headquarters. As people arrived in their jackets and jeans, in pyjamas, or in fishnet stockings and leather boots, the SlutWalk commenced a movement to teach our police services that sexual assault cannot be justified or excused based on a woman’s attire, their sexual activity or preferences, and their superficial label as a ‘slut’ (SlutWalk Toronto 2012.). Another major part of the SlutWalk’s mission is to reclaim and re-appropriate the term ‘slut’. Rather than viewing it narrowly as a term to stigmatize and oppress, women of the movement seek to change its meaning and remove its negative undertones (SlutWalk Toronto 2012.). This reclamation of the term slut holds a powerful message that turns oppression and the patriarchal structure on its head.

SlutWalk Toronto is a significant movement that has influenced various groups on a global scale (Miller 2011). In major cities like New York, Sydney, Vancouver, Buenos Aires, London, and Glasgow, the SlutWalk movement has been extremely successful in promoting awareness and challenging the victim-blaming and shaming mindset (Ringrose and Renold 2012). As the SlutWalk continues to grow and transcend borders, the more powerful it will become. What began as a small reaction to a derogatory statement eventually became a site of political resistance to socio-cultural ideologies that abhorrently allow victims of sexual violence to be blamed (Ringrose and Renold 2012). The legacy of SlutWalk Toronto will continue to problematize sexual violence against women and challenge how women’s bodies are policed and objectified in the dominant discourse. The SlutWalk is an annual event that fights to keep the issues of sexual regulation, oppression, and violence visible in society and alive in public conversation.

For a short interview with SlutWalk Toronto Co-Founder, Heather Jarvis, click here.

For images of the SlutWalk Toronto movement, click here.

References

Miller, Sarah. 2011. “Police officer’s remarks at York inspire ‘SlutWalk’.” Toronto Star, March 17. Retrieved October 10, 2012(http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/955682–police-officer-s-remarks-at-york-inspire-slutwalk).

Ringrose, Jessica and Emma Renold. 2012. “Slut-shaming, Girl Power, and ‘Sexualisation’: Thinking through the Politics of International SlutWalks with Teen Girls.” Gender and Education, 24:3, 333-343. Retrieved October 10, 2012(http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/doi/pdf/10.1080/09540253.2011.645023).

Rush, Curtis. 2011. “Cop apologizes for ‘sluts’ remark at law school.” Toronto Star, February 18. Retrieved October 10, 2012( http://www.thestar.com/news/article/940665-police-of%EF%AC%81cer-toapologize-for-sluts-comment).

SlutWalk Toronto. 2011.“SlutWalk Toronto: Because We’ve Had Enough.” SlutWalk Toronto. Retrieved October 10, 2012 (http://www.slutwalktoronto.com).

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