After the SlutWalk: Still Not ‘Asking For It’

On April 3, 2011, thousands of people walked the streets of Toronto dressed in whatever they wanted in response to comments from a member of Toronto’s police force who told them they shouldn’t. By now, we (hopefully) all know the SlutWalk story: Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti told a class at York University that women should avoid dressing “like sluts” in order to protect themselves from being sexually victimized. This comment provoked some much-needed attention and shed light on issues that have long been present in our society but are often overlooked — victim-blaming and slut-shaming among them.

Since Toronto’s SlutWalk, at least 25 similar protests have been organized in cities around the world. From Twitter to the blogosphere to The Globe and Mail, it seems like everyone has something to say about the movement.

What to read:

An interview with Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, co-founders of Toronto’s SlutWalk on

At SlutWalkTO, Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by Jaime Woo for Torontoist.

The Best 30 Signs at SlutWalk Toronto” on BuzzFeed.

On the street… at Slutwalk” by Sarah Nicole Prickett for EYE WEEKLY.

Feminism and Fashion: The (Other) Two Solitudes” by Katrina Onstad for The Globe and Mail.

The Funny Thing About the SlutWalk“ on And then editor Ryan O’Connell’s much-needed apology, “We’re So Sorry About ‘The Funny Thing About the SlutWalk.’

A Dress is Not a Yes — SlutWalking in Toronto” by our own Alyssa Garrison for the WORN blog.

Upcoming SlutWalks:

Dallas, TX (April 23)
Rochester, NY (May 7)
Vancouver, BC (May 15)
Waterloo, ON (May 15)
Riverside, CA (May 28)
Montreal, QC (May 29)
Edmonton, AB (June 4)
Chicago, IL (June 4)
Adelaide, Australia (June 11)
Portland, OR (June 11)
Seattle, WA (June 19)

For a full list of SlutWalks, click here.

Want to get involved? Attend an upcoming SlutWalk or organize one for your town. Fight for the countless victims of rape who have felt further victimized by authority figures who care what they were wearing when it happened. Fight for your right to feel safe and dress how you please.

- Stephanie Fereiro

A Dress is Not a Yes — SlutWalking in Toronto

Sluts from all walks of life took over College Street in Toronto last Sunday, chanting one resounding line: However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.

The protest march was sparked when local media caught wind of a statement made by a representative of the police force this January during a campus safety information session at York University. According to the school paper, the officer told female students they should avoid dressing like “sluts” to prevent becoming victims of assault.

City-wide, women and their allies were outraged. Not only was the officer’s comment an attack on rape victims, it was an attack on women’s right to wear whatever they want. The idea that women who dress provocatively are “asking for it” is everywhere in pop culture, from crime shows to video games. Sonya Barnett, a SlutWalk co-founder, was already tired of the primitive stereotypes surrounding women and their appearances in the media. For her, the police officer’s sexist statement was a call to action.

“Women, and any gender identification, have the right to wear what pleases them, not the obligation to wear what pleases another. It’s important to make that distinction,” said Barnett.

Barnett and several others immediately began organizing a peaceful protest.Volunteers were summoned, a website was launched, t-shirts and buttons were made. By the time April arrived, over 3000 people had clicked ‘attending’ on the facebook page. The invitation was compelling:

“SlutWalk Toronto is asking you to COME AS YOU ARE. If you want to wear fishnets, great. If you want to wear parkas, that’s just as great. Any gender-identification, any age. Singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children, friends. No matter how you visually identify, come walk with us. And we’re welcoming ALL those who feel that prevailing attitudes as to why sexual assault happens need to change: WHETHER YOU’RE A SLUT OR AN ALLY, come walk, roll, holler or stomp with us.”

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Book Review: The Cultural Politics of Fur

Fur is in, let’s face it. And it’s controversial. With many designers and celebrities passionately advocating or denouncing it (think GaGa’s dead Kermit outfit), PETA targeting high-profile designers like Michael Kors and Isaac “All I want to do is wear fur pants!” Mizrahi, and the United States Humane Society loudly exposing the false labeling of raccoon dog hides as faux, the debate about fur has far from abated. The issue runs deeper than animal rights, however, and fur’s connotations with fetishism, feminism and functionality are pervasive and date back hundreds of years. The Cultural Politics of Fur is an academic account of the many social dimensions of this notorious commodity, a fashion as old as our species.

The book is framed by contemporary discussions of fur, covering fur-related campaigns (Diesel advertising for and Lynx protesting against), its role as the main source of income for First Nations peoples, and the symbolic implications of women wearing fur fashions. The majority of the text, however, is devoted to history, discussing sumptuary legislations about fur and its representations in fine art prior to the 19th century, as well as to the masochistic connotations of fur fetishism, especially in Venus in Furs. In these sections, Emberley frequently wanders onto topics that are barely relevant to her discussions of fur, such as object representation in fine art, the historical shift in the image-text relationship during the 20th century, and the exclusion of First Nations people from organized labour. While these topics are applicable, too much time is spent on extraneous details, and the book begins to feel long and disjointed. Specific films like The Joyless Street and Paris is Burning are used illustrate certain points, but when Emberley relays every detail and plotline I began to think her arguments would stand better on their own.
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American Able

Imagine this: you’re headed towards a bus stop on your daily commute to work. You notice a gigantic advertisement plastered on the side of the bus shelter – a young, thin, blonde woman wearing nothing but striped socks and a pair of underwear. It’s not even 8 :30 in the morning yet, and you’re sighing at the sight of a woman objectified and hyper-sexualized, all in the name of advertising. How cliché. The problem isn’t even necessarily the fact that she’s half-naked, it’s more that you’re sick of seeing the same kind of woman sexualized in these boring, uncreative ways. What’s even worse is that the fine print of the ad tells you that this is not, in fact, a professional model but rather an every day, average gal. Just like you! Ah, American Apparel strikes again, you tell yourself. As if this speaks to my life.

In my reality, all kinds of people are sexy and sexual: People who identify as queer, as disabled, as trans, as fat, and generally, as awesome. But in this world of American Apparel and various other “real beauty” ad campaigns making claims of representing the “average woman,” I never see myself or the kinds of people I know. It still doesn’t speak to my reality, and I’m sure it doesn’t speak to a lot of other people’s realities as well.

Luckily, if Holly Norris and Jes Sachse have anything to do with it, that reality might slowly be changing. This May, riders of the TTC in Toronto will bear witness to the critical sass created by photographer Holly Norris who teamed up with her then-roommate and poet/photographer/pornographer Jes Sachse to satirize the notorious American Apparel ad campaings in a witty, sex-positive way. Their spoofs of the ads, titled American Able, will be shown on television screens in subway stations across the city as part of the Contact Toronto What’s the Hype? Exhibition.

One of the most effective ways for feminists to constructively criticize the fashion industry and their problematic ad campaigns is with humour. Many of us have seen Sarah Haskins’ Target Women videos, which are probably the best known contemporary examples of criticizing the rampant stereotyping and sexism that goes on in advertising while simultaneously making you laugh your ass off. Holly and Jes’ thoughtful and witty takeup of American Apparel’s notorious ad campaigns is just another way to think about how (and which) women are presented and sold to us in the advertising industry.

To talk a bit about why a photo series like American Able is needed, I caught up with these old friends to ask them a few questions.

Tell me a bit about your goal with this project and how you came up with it.

Holly: Originally, it was just a project for a Women and Pop Culture class at Trent University in 2008. While working on the assignment, I saw a photograph on Facebook of the Fat Femme Mafia in a change room wearing tight, shiny American Apparel tracksuits. It got me thinking about how different bodies look in clothing, and how we only see one specific kind of body in advertisements. I had been living with Jes that summer, and we had started talking about disabilities and difference. She does a bit of modeling so I asked her if she could model for this little ad thing I was doing for class and it just grew from there.

Jes: Holly was taking Women and Pop Culture I think? We’d lived together during the summer of 2008 and had some shitty experiences that got us talking about disability politics. Holly was relatively new to critical dis theory, and would ask me lots of questions, which got us into great conversations. The shoot was Holly’s idea, but the actual process was collaborative. The second set was all my own clothing, much of which was American Apparel. The poses were all me, some of the ideas, and the general attitude was mine. But Holly is the genius behind the lens.
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