It's easy to forget that
is a 15-year-old high-schooler, with high-school friends, high-school interests, and is—unfortunately—surrounded by high-school viewpoints. Going to international fashion shows and guest editing magazines isn't Tavi's only extracurricular activity; last month, she attended Chicago's "Slutwalk," a protest against rape-victim blaming. Tavi had plenty to say on the subject, and we gave her a little summer homework assignment to elucidate her own growing feminist awareness, high-school pressures, and why feminism and the fashion industry haven't yet matched strides.
How did you hear about Slutwalk? Are you involved in any other feminist organizations?
"I'd read about the Toronto one on blogs and such, and then my friend Jamie Keiles said she was gonna organize a Chicago one, and I was stoked. I went on the Walk For Choice back in February, I've gone to V-Day, but so far I've only attended organized events. I'd like to be a part of an organization at some point, but right now I'm more figuring out feminism on a personal level."
Middle and high school are particularly fertile breeding grounds for the irreverent, thoughtless uttering of hurtful language. No matter what age you are, "slut" is a word that gets thrown around too often. In your personal experience, does "slut" have as much power as Slutwalk attributes to it, or is it just another dirty word?
"Even as a stock-word for cruel high-schoolers, the effects and implications of 'slut' are much more complicated. People associate that word with a lack of self-respect and with guilt, and often don't even know a girl's sexual history before labeling her. I don't believe a woman's allegedly active sexual history, no matter how true, is worth judging her on. Seriously, there are so many more ways to be an asshole! Sexuality is already a really messed-up thing to deal with at a high-school age, and it's particularly frustrating when others invade your space to comment on your own very personal experience. Slutwalk isn't just about 'slut' as a cruel high-school word, it's about 'slut' as basis for victim-blaming. All those tiny things that 'slut' pays attention to, more than sexual history, become vital facts to those who remove blame from perpetrators of sexual assault—they want to know what the victim was wearing, how much she drank, which people she chose to hang out with, etc. That slur is about controlling how women do all of those things. Rape doesn't happen because women dress like sluts, drink too much, or go to a bad side of town. Rape happens because people rape other people. Slutwalk is about going to the root of sexual assault—and blaming the perpetrators, not the victims."
Part of the spectacle at Slutwalk was the crazy, no-holds-barred dress code. As someone who gets flack from classmates, do you think clothing is an effective way to send a message, or just an excuse for others to gawk and ridicule?
"I think it can be both. But part of Slutwalk was about not deciding that for other people—if a woman is wearing a short skirt, that doesn't mean it's for you, and it doesn't mean she's asking for anything. It's not your job to decide what that means."
A lot of women at Slutwalk went for blatantly "slutty" ensembles. Did you stick to your usual awesome grandma-grunge style?
"I wore a Meadham Kirchhoff slip with unicorns on it under a loose Beavis and Butthead tie-dye crop top. My hair was in milkmaid braids with a million barrettes. My friend said I looked more fairy-like than slutty, but since you were supposed to dress to the degree of sluttiness you're comfortable with, I guess I stuck more on the grandma side!"
The girls of your generation are the ones who will grow up experiencing the repercussions—negative and positive—of Slutwalk and the conversations it has already started across the country. In the aftermath of Slutwalk, do you feel optimistic about the future of post-feminism?
"I don't feel optimistic about 'post-feminism' because feminism isn't just the fighting we do while sexism is still around, it's also a lens through which to view the world that helps someone like me to sift through the bullshit that I, as a girl, am targeted with in a sexist world. That term implies the end of all that, which I don't think we're anywhere near. I think it's dangerously misinformed to decide we've made it, and can sit back and enjoy the number of women on SNL, success of Sarah Palin, or only the slut-empowerment side of Slutwalk. The tricky thing with so many of today's feminist issues is that we won't know when we've 'made it'; we won't get a nice, laminated declaration of success to announce how much less rape has been glorified in pop culture. Issues like voting and working were much more black-and-white, but just because those rights have been granted doesn't mean we're all done. Feminism is a movement, an evolution, a process, a discussion, and a conversation. I feel optimistic about the future of feminism with credit to Slutwalk, because it was a good way to show that feminism isn't a discussion reserved for women's history majors in power-suits at a university. It can be taken to the streets, it can be a really uniting and powerful experience, and it can serve as creative inspiration (did you see those outfits?!). It gave power to the young women there, to me and my friends from school, and helped us to realize that we can speak for ourselves. I think many people were taken aback by how aware these groups of young women are (like, are you really gonna try 'she was asking for it' on any of us now?). It was a reminder that feminism is still very much alive, both in the urgent need for feminists to keep fighting and in the spirit that was seen in so many people at Slutwalk to do so."
You recently wrote on your blog that the high-school level of cattiness in the fashion industry is part of the reason your focus is naturally moving in other directions. Do you think the world of fashion is behind the curve in terms of feminism, and can it ever catch up?
"It's definitely behind the curve—I would say most prominently in its beauty standards, but it's hard to say if it can catch up. Figuring out where the lack of body and racial diversity in the models hired in fashion is an endless blame game—editors! Stylists! Designers! I can't tell if the industry will change, which would require baby steps far more impactful than having a few pairs of boobs at Louis Vuitton for one season, or if the Internet and increase in other authorities in pop culture will slowly take away from the power of fashion magazines and designers, and we'll get more beauty diversity that way."
Despite its cultural importance and the controversy of the subject, Slutwalk was, after all, a good ol' fashioned get-together of like-minded folks. Can you describe the atmosphere? Did you have fun?
"I had lots of fun—it was the perfect start to summer, I was with friends and ran into even more from school. It was burning out, but we just ran through the fountain at the Daley Center in our minimal clothing. Mostly, though, I was able to walk down the street of a big city in revealing clothing and feel safe. Most women and girls will not tell you that they live in fear of sexual assault, but it's still ingrained in the rules we're taught—how to dress, how to commute, how to exist in a public environment. Slutwalk has a lot of layers to discuss, but more than anything, it's an anti-victim blaming campaign. A girl should be able to wear whatever slut outfit she would like and not get blame transferred to her from the perpetrator in the case of sexual assault. Many have pointed out that even though no one deserves rape, rapists still exist, and that there are still precautions you can take to avoid making yourself vulnerable. But we have a right to be vulnerable. Yes, those people exist, but I'm tired of society dismissing them while I have to live my life on a rape schedule. The slogan for Slutwalk was 'because we've had enough' for a reason."