Canada: The Start of the SlutWalk Movement

This post is part of our special coverage SlutWalks 2011.

Global Voices’ author, Maria Grabowski, interviews Heather Jarvis, the co-founder of the first SlutWalk initiative based in Toronto, Canada. Here, they talk about the background of the movement and its quick spread to the rest of the world. [See Jarvis’ Toronto SlutWalk speech here].

Heather Jarvis came up with the SlutWalk idea as a direct response to a Toronto police officer's advice that female students avoid “avoid dressing like sluts”:

We threw it right back. Let's talk about sluts then, victim-blaming and slut-shaming. […] We had had enough – it had been a harsh year against women’s rights.

She tells the story about a rapist in a local area that wasn't convicted, as the judge concluded that the victim [had] “put sex in the air”, referring to her tube top and make-up.

Hitting a nerve

Heather Jarvis, used with permission.

Heather Jarvis, used with permission.

Heather believes that the SlutWalk concept hit a nerve in many people:

Everybody knows how it feels like to be called a dehumanizing word. Maybe SlutWalk is an entry point for people that didn't know where to go to.

Only six weeks from sparking the idea, the event took place with 3-4,000 people attending. She describes this first walk as unbelievable and inspiring: “It was an amazing multi-layered atmosphere. […] Some were crying, some were yelling.”

Women of all ages attended, together with children, men, sex workers and queer groups. All seemed to be there to back each other up. Heather accounts how everyone around a rape victim is also deeply affected – both family, partners and friends – and that they also need support.

The word spread quickly through Facebook and Twitter for the TorontoWalk and is still rolling throughout the world (see GV coverage on SlutWalks in Costa Rica, Brazil, India, Morocco, Australia).

“We weren't expecting this,” Heather comments. She tells how many independent SlutWalk groups don't even contact the Toronto group, but just go ahead with it and find their own form embedded in their local culture. Slutwalk Toronto provides supports to new groups that want it, but Heather's advice is to do whatever you can, wherever you are, and connect with other organizations to stand stronger.

To the critics of SlutWalk, Heather responds: “We believe in dialogue. It's absolutely okay that not everyone agrees.”

She emphasizes that the purpose also is to build bridges, and her hope is that critics will contact SlutWalk so they can talk about in a respectful way. “We are all in a learning curve,” she explains.

This post is part of our special coverage SlutWalks 2011.

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