TEDx Toronto is coming up this Friday and one of SlutWalk Toronto’s founders, Heather Jarvis, will be one of the speakers around the theme of Alchemy: “the seemingly magical process of taking ordinary, common elements, usually of little value, and combining them to make something extraordinary of great value.” Heather Jarvis is a queer, sex- and body-positive feminist with a strong background in gender studies, social work and community activism.
I wanted to talk with Heather about the whole TEDx process and what she thinks being part of TEDx means for SlutWalk, a movement that has grown and evolved since it was started just over a year ago. We started out talking about what it’s like to get the TEDx call.
“I was really shocked and blown away,” said Jarvis, “I’ve known about TED Talks and TEDx events for some time now and I love them…it was really a far-fetched dream that I would be involved someday.”
For at least the last month Jarvis has been busy workshopping her ideas with the TEDx team, turning her talk concept into “a more personalized story” that she’s hoping will be engaging for audience members who don’t have a background discussing issues around slut-shaming and that will challenge all attendees to reflect on the issues after the talk.
Here’s her TEDx intro video:
The whole process has caused her to reflect on how SlutWalk has moved forward over the past year and how it’s been impacted by the media, particularly though spreading the misconception that SlutWalk is a women’s only event where attendees are encouraged to dress promiscuously (it’s open to all genders and people are invited to wear whatever they want).
“We’ve always encouraged people to be as they’re comfortable, dress as they’re comfortable, attend as they’re comfortable,” said Jarvis.
There have also been issues getting across how SlutWalks around the world relate to each other and address similar issues from diverse perspectives.
“Sometimes when people have discussion around SlutWalk it can be really Northern-centric or Western-centric, but SlutWalks have taken place in many countries and it can’t really be summed up in one voice. It really was people in these other cities saying: ‘We have these same problems here, we want to do a SlutWalk’,” Jarvis said, noting that it’s been really important to her and the other founders to facilitate local grassroots organizing, including allowing for other names in other languages.
At times this decentralized approach means challenges balancing priorities. Jarvis told me, “It is non-hierarchical and it’s really a collective effort but we do find responsibility, so when things are happening that are really problematic we call that out. How do we support other cities and also hold other cities accountable when we see something problematic?”
One issue I was particularly curious about was Jarvis’ opinion on whether we need to or can reclaim the word “slut”. The difficulty reclaiming an historically negative term like “slut” is something that’s been discussed widely in the feminist blogosphere, including in a panel post by a few Gender Focus contributors. SlutWalk Vancouver went through a vote earlier this year on whether or not to rename (they eventually voted to keep the name after substantial and often difficult discussion).
Jarvis said they did talk about reappropriation of language at their first Toronto rally, but that they definitely weren’t the first to suggest that the word “slut” could be reclaimed. But ultimately, she said, it’s about individuals choosing the type of engagement that works for them.
“It’s about respecting one person’s engagement with this language and healing and dealing with oppression. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. We recognize re-appropriation is an option and it’s not horrible and not wrong and they shouldn’t be told they’re not a right woman, not a right activist because they’re choosing to engage in the way it works for them,” said Jarvis.
So what comes after TEDx?
“I’m not sure exactly,” Jarvis replied, “Ever since it started I’m not really sure what it means going forward. I feel like I haven’t even caught my breath yet in terms of what’s next, but I do think it’s really significant to have a conversation like this about issues like slut shaming and victim blaming on a platform like TEDx, where you don’t often see that happen.”