2011 Hero: SlutWalk Toronto
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2011 Hero: SlutWalk Toronto

Nominated for: getting feminists the world over to walk the walk.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

Now that we’re more than a decade into the new millennium it’s possible, on occasion, to think that the prejudices of the past have been eradicated—that with the passage of time, our attitudes have shifted from archaic to progressive, from discriminatory to inclusive, and that social justice, in our society at least, requires no more heroes.

Of course, that’s not the case. And on January 24, a four-letter word uttered by Constable Michael Sanguinetti of the Toronto Police reminded us of that fact. Luckily, a group of corseted crusaders swiftly, and sluttily, came to the rescue in the form of SlutWalk Toronto.

While giving a lecture on campus safety to students at York University, Sanguinetti, foot placed firmly in his mouth, stated that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” according to one attendee. Though he later apologized, the sting of his words had already reached Heather Jarvis and Sonya Barnett, co-founders of SlutWalk Toronto, and more than 3,000 men and women who took to the streets on April 3 and marched from Queen’s Park to Toronto Police Headquarters on College Street. “Sluts” of all colours, shapes, sizes, genders (even species) joined the walk, some with cheeky signs and cheekier outfits, others fully clothed. But just like clothing doesn’t imply consent, it also did not hinder or help in conveying their indignation at a police culture that seems to teach “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.” Again, like consent, their message was sent through their words and actions.

SlutWalk’s name is controversial on purpose, to both get attention and redefine those volatile four letters in women’s terms. Consequently, not all agreed with the idea (Margaret Wente called it “what you get when graduate students in feminist studies run out of things to do,” which SlutWalk responds to here), but it’s undeniable that the strategy was effective in raising awareness and spreading a message. About 75 SlutWalks have taken place since then across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Sweden, France, South Africa, Honduras, India, and, most recently, in Perth, Australia, and Kuala Lumpur. Germaine Greer supports the movement, and Jarvis and Barnett were named as two of Utne Reader‘s 2011 Visionaries. SlutWalks have been called “the most successful feminist action of the past 20 years.”

If short shorts and bustiers were indeed a statement of promiscuity, then Wonder Woman herself would be a slut, too. But Jarvis, Barnett, and the thousands who have joined them all over the world have proven that heroes don’t need physical weapons, a costume, or superpowers to be victorious—sometimes all a hero needs to do is walk.