“Teachers Would Make Students Feel Ashamed for Their Choices”

Maureen Halushak
by


As part of Project 97, FLARE spoke with three young women who founded a movement to address sexually-charged bullying at their Toronto high school. Meet Kerin John, Erin Dixon and Andy Villanueva of Project Slut, Toronto.

Project Slut is a group that we started two years ago at our downtown Toronto high school, Central Tech. We realized that there were a lot of problems at school involving sexual bullying among students. And teachers would often make certain students feel ashamed for their wardrobe choices.

Sexual bullying consists of sexual harassment, slut shaming, name-calling and spreading rumours. Some students were spreading photos of girls in sexual situations; some teachers made comments saying female students and LGBTQ students shouldn’t be wearing certain things to school, or should be ashamed of their outfits. (At that time, our school had a dress code that said students should dress in a respectful way—but what it really seemed to mean was that girls should not show skin.) The teachers’ comments made us wonder: if these same students were sexually harassed, how would they be able to approach their teachers for support?

So we decided to take ownership of the word “slut,” so that it could no longer be used to stain women, or hurt them, or make them feel like they are dirty or not worth dating. One of the most important things about taking back the word is that it gives women more power, more agency. That’s why we called our initiative Project Slut.

One of the first things we did as Project Slut was work with our teachers and principal to eliminate our dress code. The intention of a strict dress code can be seen as protecting women, but it contributes to rape culture because it implies that a woman has to present herself in a traditional way in order to be respected. It sends the message to other students that it’s okay to blame women for being harassed or assaulted.

After Central Tech’s dress code was eliminated, it was a good feeling to know that we made a difference. We got a lot of feedback from students who said they were happy to be able to wear what they wanted without being shamed. And we opened up a conversation about slut shaming and victim blaming at our school. Most students don’t feel comfortable talking about these issues, and we wanted teachers to start fostering a dialogue.

We have also realized that there isn’t a lot of sex education taught during the transition between middle school and high school. We put condoms on bananas; teachers told us not to have sex; we were shown really gross photos of STIs, that’s it. There was very little discussion around sexual harassment and bullying.

Our next objective is to change the education system. It’s important to add consent to the curriculum. We go from middle school to high school and then university, with little to no conversation about it. Most of what we know about sex is from the internet. We need to get our education from credible sources, not on our own.​

As told to Rachel Browne. This interview has been edited and condensed.

This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.

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