SlutWalk Takes to Toronto Streets
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SlutWalk Takes to Toronto Streets

SlutWalk Toronto holds its second rally after launching a global phenomenon last year.

Say what you will about SlutWalk, it certainly knows how to grab your attention. The rally against sexual violence began last year as a response to Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti’s suggestion, to a roomful of York University students, that to deter sexual assault women should avoid dressing like “sluts.” In response, more than 3,000 people gathered at Queen’s Park to express their outrage with Sanguinetti’s remarks, and to refute the notion that women should ever be held accountable for crimes committed against them. The march inspired a worldwide movement, and now SlutWalks have been held in more than 200 cities across the globe. Heather Jarvis, co-founder of the Toronto march, said she never anticipated so much success.

“We thought there would maybe be a hundred people,” she said hours before this year’s SlutWalk—the second annual—on Friday.

There has been some criticism of the event’s use of the word “slut,” Jarvis acknowledged. “We’ve had many conversations amongst our team, and internationally as it was put into different languages,” she said. But, she explained: “The name was chosen for us.”

SlutWalk outreach coordinator Raisa Bhuiyan, co-founder Heather Jarvis, and communications coordinator Colleen Westendorf

There were fewer participants this year than last, but the crowd that gathered at Nathan Phillips Square was lively and eclectic. (Outfits ranged from sneakers and tank tops to bikinis to costumes, and some attendees went topless.) Women made up the majority of the crowd, but a healthy contingent of men were on hand, including two clad in nun’s habits with white-painted faces.

Led by a truck blasting tunes like En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” the mass of people snaked its way west on Queen Street before turning to march up University Avenue toward Queen’s Park. Trailing just behind the truck were a man and a woman on stilts who sporadically led everyone in chants like, “Yes Means Fuck Me; No Means Fuck You!” Many signs were on display, bearing words of wisdom that included, “I Look This Way For Me, Not You,” “A Dress Is Not A Yes,” and “Sisters Are Sluts 2” (yes, the last one was being carried by the nuns).

At Queen’s Park, several speakers took the stage—the previously mentioned multipurpose truck—and delivered impassioned speeches that ranged in tone from inspirational to indignant. A few paid tribute to the memory of Toronto sex workers’–rights activist Wendy Babcock, who took part in the event last year but passed away in August at the age of 32. There were also multiple shows of support for Cece McDonald, a Minneapolis transgendered woman facing a 41-month prison sentence for stabbing and killing a man after being harassed and slashed across the face.

The speeches weren’t limited to policy—everyone who took the mic offered recollections of their own experiences. Local artist and activist Morgan Page, who is transgendered, spoke of being labelled a “pretend-bian.” Later, Jules Kirouac, a 17-year-old, told her own frighteningly modern story: she attempted suicide, she said, after an ex-boyfriend posted a nude photo of her on Facebook.

Kim Crosby, a queer woman born in Trinidad and raised in Toronto, offered an earnest and provocative call to arms. She closed with her own variation on SlutWalk Toronto 2012’s theme, “My Body Is Not An Insult.”

“It is possible to protest misogyny with my legs spread wide open,” she said. “And I intend to do just that.”