Radio — Project Slut: Young women challenging rape culture, slut shaming, and high school dress codes

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Andy Villanueva and Kerin Bethel-John. They are members of Project Slut, a collective of young women who set out to abolish the dress code in their high school and won, and who now have their sights set on transforming school dress codes across the entire Toronto District School Board.

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It is no surprise to anyone who pays close attention to the voices of young women that high schools are, generally speaking, hotbeds of rape culture and slut shaming (where “rape culture” points towards a diverse collection of practices endemic to everyday life and the social world more broadly in North America that condone, facilitate, excuse, and tolerate sexual violence; and “slut shaming” is the practice of demeaning and attacking women for their presumed or actual sexual activity, or for aspects of their appearance or behaviour that are treated as somehow linked to sexual activity). When they were Grade 10 students, Villenueva, Bethel-John, and another friend got together to form Project Slut to challenge rape culture and slut shaming in their school. They faced hostility, dismissal, and resistance. But not only did they persist in their efforts, they underwent an inspiring example of the kind of learning that comes from taking action — learning about the systems they were facing; learning about strategy and tactics; learning based on acting, reflecting, and acting again.

In their later years in high school, their organizing focused on efforts to get their school to abolish its dress code. The code restricted the clothing choices of young women much more than those of young men, and it created institutional space in which teachers publicly shamed young women about their appearance, and thereby facilitated a broader environment of slut shaming and rape culture. Moreover, the dress code not only facilitated the policing and shaming of women, but also was used to target gender non-conforming students, young Black men, and other students as well.

And Project Slut not only challenged the dress code in their school; they defeated it. Now Villanueva and Bethel-John are attending post-secondary institutions, but they are committed to taking the campaign school board-wide in Toronto, and are ramping up to begin that fight in the fall.

To learn more about Project Slut, click here. Also, check out their new video and petition for their campaign focused on the school board.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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