The SlutWalk Toronto movement is a form of resistance against sexual inequality and sexual violence. For nearly two years, SlutWalk Toronto has effectively challenged the slut-shaming and victim-blaming mentality that pervades the Toronto Police Service. The offensive statement delivered by Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti at Osgoode Hall Law School in January 2011, revealed much more than his personal views on sexual victimization and gendered violence. His comment was an illustration of the hegemonic patriarchal discourse in policing with regard to rape culture that allows for the vast sexual and moral regulation of women’s bodies and their behaviours. When exploring the criminalization of dissent, the significance of SlutWalk Toronto is most evident in its challenge to the patriarchal and heteronormative structures that enable sexual violence against women to prevail. By understanding dissent as an ongoing power dynamic and struggle with the state, its institutions, and its dominant ideologies, SlutWalk Toronto provides a lens to criticize the larger socio-political processes that sustain injustice and inequality in the Canadian nation-state. Through a closer examination of the SlutWalk Toronto movement, we can better understand the broader power dynamics in society.
By analyzing the SlutWalk Toronto movement through a Foucauldian lens, we are able to place Sanguinetti’s statement and police views on sexual violence in the larger context of disciplinary power. This aspect of governmentality works to shape and control the body’s conduct and behaviour without the need of coercive power or actions (Starr, Fernandez, and Scholl 2011: 7). On a macro-political scale, social control has been secured through overt and violent force. For Foucault, however, “disciplinary power circulates through discourse and is internalized […] by the dominated” (Starr, Fernandez, and Scholl 2011: 7). In this sense, individuals engage in informal social control through self-discipline, self-regulation, and responsibilization, where we internalize “what it means to be a citizen” and police our own behaviours (Starr, Fernandez, and Scholl 2011: 7). The self-governance ideal is reinforced through the police culture, and is clearly evident through Sanguinetti’s comment on sexual victimization. This “stop-dressing-like-sluts-in-order-not-to-be-victimized” attitude misplaces the responsibility of sexual assault onto women and suggests that one can evade sexual violence if they alter their conduct, their behaviour, and (apparently) their attire. This disciplinary power dynamic shapes how power is exercised in society and directly produces docile subjects who make constrained choices to govern their own conduct and minimize their own risk (Rose 2000: 322). Through this “scheme of risk reduction”, the police are held less accountable for sexual assault incidences, which ultimately reproduces the slut-shaming/victim-blaming discourse that promotes personal risk management and the self-policing of women and their bodies (Rose 2000: 322). The self-responsibilization perspective surrounding sexual violence is extremely fallible, as it fails to recognize that sexual assault has nothing to do with attire, sex, or behaviour; rather, it is about violence and power (Bromley 2011: 200). SlutWalk Toronto continues to actively challenge this disciplinary power that wrongfully places blame and responsibility on the victims of sexual assault. SlutWalk supporters make this message against self-responsibilization clear through their protest signs that read, “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused”, or one with a more cynical tone, “My rapist doesn’t know he’s a rapist. You taught him it wasn’t his fault – I drank too much, flirted, and my shorts too short. I was asking for it”. This self-disciplinary power at the micro-political level does not work in isolation of the larger structures that allow for the current slut-shaming/victim-blaming and rape culture to prevail. We must understand the SlutWalk Toronto movement in the context of the dominant patriarchal and heteronormative discourses prevalent in the Canadian state.
Patriarchal and heterosexist relations of power are central in understanding the Canadian national identity and its hegemonic interests. Gary Kinsman suggests that anything that upsets the pro-capitalist, patriarchal, and economic relations of the Canadian nation-state inevitably challenges the nation itself, and therefore becomes a “threat” to national security (Kinsman 2010: 152). Those groups who contest the dominant ideology of the nation, such as working class people, Indigenous peoples, and women, are deemed subversive and are subject to marginalization and inequality authorized by the state (Kinsman 2010: 150). These ideologies are widely reproduced through the state’s institutions, specifically the police, who work to sustain a particular social order and exclude those who do not neatly fit within the neoliberal regime. The patriarchal and heterosexist discourses valued in Canadian society allow forms of gendered violence to persist (Bromley 2011: 200). This is directly evident through patriarchal policing, which renders women, their bodies, and their sexualities as things to be suppressed and policed in order to uphold the values of the Canadian nation-state. Women, and more specifically feminists, have been continually targeted as threats to patriarchy and heteronormativity because their views and voices challenge male dominance and supremacy. The SlutWalk Toronto movement is a direct form of resistance against the oppressive patriarchal structure that has allowed for slut-shaming and victim-blaming mentalities to prevail (Bromley 2011: 200). SlutWalk Toronto has attempted to rectify how we think about rape culture, patriarchy, and heteronormative ideals by re-appropriating the term slut and celebrating diverse sexualities. The movement and its supporters work rigorously to denounce the patriarchy and heteronormativity explicit in policing and in society that continually places women’s political movements as potential threats to the nation-state. This is evident in SlutWalk Toronto’s slogan, which remarks, “Because We’ve Had Enough”—enough of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and the patriarchal and heteronormative structures that push women’s political voices to the periphery.
In the 1700s, one of the many concerns of ‘police’ was the moral regulation of the state’s citizens to ensure the well-being of society (Foucault 2009: 334). While centuries have passed, this moral aspect associated with policing persists and continually reinforces a particular social order in the Canadian nation-state. The police have always had an interest in “patrolling the boundaries of respectability”, which is evident when reviewing the SlutWalk Toronto movement (Starr, Fernandez, and Scholl 2011: 5). This idea of respectability is clear in Sanguinetti’s statement when he cautions women to be more respectable and not slutty, in order to protect themselves against sexual assault. This idea of the policing of gender was previously discussed in my media analysis. As my last point of analysis, I will revisit the arguments made to offer a concluding thought on the SlutWalk Toronto movement.
In Canadian society, there are groups of people that do not neatly fit within the confines of the capitalist social order, and therefore, suffer the brunt of police surveillance (Gordon 2006: 47, 49). The policing of these “ambiguous bodies” have been directly related to the moral cleansing and moral regulation of women’s bodies and their behaviours (Gordon 2006: 49). In the Canadian nation-state, there is a constant effort to “feminize and domesticate” women, which comes into direct contestation when women engage in political protests that fight against the patriarchal structures that exploit and oppress them (Gordon 2006: 49). The police service has actively worked to regulate women’s sexuality to ensure they do not rupture or upset the moral bounds of the dominant social fabric (Gordon 2006: 49). The patriarchal discourse in society has continually subjected women to the vast sexual and moral regulation by the police force. SlutWalk Toronto offers an avenue to condemn the dominant discourse that continually frames women’s bodies and their conduct as deviant and in need of policing.
By confronting the socio-cultural and political ideologies that perpetuate the shaming/blaming mentality with regard to sexual violence, SlutWalk Toronto critically questions and challenges the hegemonic patriarchal discourse and other power dynamics that oppress women. Through disciplinary power, the construction of women (and feminists) as threats to the nation-state, and the disproportionate sexual and moral regulation of women’s bodies, interesting questions surrounding issues of belonging and inclusion in the nation arise. The criminalization of dissent is used as a mechanism to ensure that a capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, and neoliberal regime is upheld in the Canadian state. Any actions, or bodies, that deviate from this schema are deemed as outsiders or threats or as the criminal Other. Sanguinetti’s statement and the broader police ideology that initiated the SlutWalk Toronto movement represented the larger power dynamics that are similarly scrutinized in other leftist protests, in which there is a call to dismantle the oppressive structures that attempt to reproduce an unequal “capitalist white settler society” (Gordon 2006: 50). The SlutWalk Toronto movement will continue to engage in an ongoing struggle against the hegemonic discourses that perpetuate sexual violence against women and the social control and regulation that has been unfairly cast along gendered lines.
For more information on SlutWalk Toronto, click here for a short video.
Bromley, Victoria L. 2011. “So Many Details and So Much Reading.” Pp. 80-82 in Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Bromley, Victoria L. 2011. “Still Struggling.” Pp. 198-200 in Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp. 333-358.
Gordon, Todd. 2006. “Producing Capitalist Order: Police, Class, Race and Gender.” Pp. 29-51 in Cops, Crime, and Capitalism. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.
Kinsman, Gary. 2010. “Against National Security: From the Canadian War on Queers to the ‘War on Terror.’” Pp. 149-66 in Locating Global Order: American Power and Canadian Security after 9/11, edited by Bruno Chabonneau and Wayne S. Cox. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Rose, Nikolas. 2000. “Government and Control.” British Journal of Criminology 40:321-39.
SlutWalk Toronto. 2011. “SlutWalk Toronto: Because We’ve Had Enough.” SlutWalk Toronto. Retrieved October 10, 2012 (http://www.slutwalktoronto.com).
Starr, Amory, Luis Fernandez and Christian Scholl. 2011. “What is Going On?” Pp. 1-18 in Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era. New York: New York University Press.