Graphite, India ink, collage on paper
Left Panel: 46 5/8” x 22” / Middle Panel: 56 ¼ x 22” / Right Panel: 46 ¾” x 22”
Collection of the Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto Scarborough
I met my first girlfriend at a Take Back the Night march in 1994, when I was a college student. I dropped out of school because I wanted to major in dismantling the patriarchy and writing poetry. I’ve held almost every sign in this mural – though not lately, maybe not for a decade. In fall 2016 I published a novel about rape culture called The Best Kind of People
At home after a lengthy tour, I tell my partner I’m tired of talking about the rape book. That’s what we call my new novel in private. It’s tiring when young men approach me before the reading, asking, He’s innocent, right? The girls were lying?
It catches me off guard at first, and then I get used to it, the way your book never belongs to you after publication. You can’t control the way it’s read. It’s no longer yours. I wrote a plot line about men’s rights activists that I think is clearly satirical. Serious young feminist men email me to tell me the MRAs came off too sympathetic.
In every city, I’m asked how it came to be that I wrote such a timely book. Like rape is a new subject. My first published poem twenty-two years ago was about rape. About sitting up all night in Old Montreal with a weathered female detective, while my girlfriend at the time described her assailant; it was all I could think about.
At the ceremony for our country’s most important literary prize, the two female jurists come up to tell me how important my book was to them, their daughters. The male jurists do not. When the women walk away, I know I will not win the prize, and I’m right.
A woman accuses an MFA department head of rape. He claims they had a relationship. She says they didn’t, that there was an assault. There wasn’t enough evidence. Almost a hundred of the nation’s writers write a letter to support him.
People talk about student protest these days as though students are going bananas silencing everyone, when it is clear they’re just trying to speak freely and finally address the issues that have been brewing for decades. They don’t accept that sexual assault is an inevitable aspect of their education, or the ways universities falter in the face of rape accusations, with patterns of institutional malaise and systemic victim-blaming, trying to silence those who speak out.
Writers are often asked about their ideal reader. Who are you writing for? When I get mail from young women reading the book in university classrooms, using it to talk about rape culture, I picture them cracking the spine, writing reviews, and I feel less tired, less burnt-out – that’s who I’m writing for. Their work causes those in power to be afraid, to rethink long-held beliefs, to create change.
- Zoe Whittall, 2017
ABOUT THE WRITER
Zoe Whittall is the author of 7 books, including her recent Giller-shortlisted novel The Best Kind of People, a national bestseller, soon to be made into a feature film by Sarah Polley.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Heidi Cho is a multidisciplinary artist based in Toronto. She self-publishes comics and zines about being a queer Korean navigating family and mental health. Her work has appeared in C Magazine, Shameless, and Peak Magazine. She has interned with FAG Feminist Art Gallery, as well as Red Dress Productions. She is currently working on a graphic novel about intergenerational trauma and healing.
Mandi Gray attempts to intersect empirical research, activism, art, and humour to critically examine and discuss issues of sexual violence in her work. Gray’s writing about her own sexual assault and subsequent legal battles has appeared in NOW Magazine and the Toronto Star. She is currently producing a feature-length documentary film titled Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial. In her spare time, Mandi works on her PhD in the Department of Sociology at York University.
Deirdre Logue holds a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and an MFA from Kent State University. Recent solo exhibitions of her award-winning work have taken place at Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art (Winnipeg), the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto; artist-in-residency), Open Space (Victoria), Oakville Galleries, the Images Festival (Toronto), the Berlin International Film Festival, Beyond/In Western New York (Buffalo), YYZ (Toronto), and articule (Montreal).
Logue has contributed over twenty-five years to working with artist-run organizations dedicated to media arts exhibition and distribution. She was a founding member of Media City, the executive director of the Images Festival, executive director of the CFMDC, and is currently the development director at Vtape. Logue has been dedicated to working at the Independent Imaging Retreat (the Film Farm) in Mount Forest, Ontario, since 1997 and directs the FAG Feminist Art Gallery with her partner/collaborator Allyson Mitchell.
Allyson Mitchell is a maximalist artist working in sculpture, performance, installation, and film. Her practice melds feminism and pop culture to investigate contemporary ideas about sexuality, politics, and the body. These articulations have resulted in a coven of lesbian feminist Sasquatch monsters, a room-sized vagina dentata, an army of genius Holly Hobbies, and a woodland utopia library of political knowledge.
Mitchell’s works have exhibited in galleries and festivals across Canada, the U.S., and Europe, including Tate Modern (London), the Textile Museum of Canada (Toronto), the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (Toronto), Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts (San Francisco), Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), the British Film Institute, Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto).
Her most recent collaboration with artist Deirdre Logue includes KillJoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House in Toronto, London, and Los Angeles. The two just completed an artist-in-residency program at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where they completed new video and sculptural work for the travelling exhibition I’m Not Myself at All. Mitchell is an associate professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at York University and runs the FAG Feminist Art Gallery with her partner Deirdre Logue.
Morgan Sea is a cartoonist from the Canadian Prairies. Her practice often blends fantasy and queer theory to create trans feminist comics, zines, and new media endeavours. Past projects include producing forty episodes of Tranzister Radio, a monthly radio show celebrating trans activism and cultural production. Sea studied video and performance art at Concordia University and ACAD. She lives in Toronto with her girlfriend and their three cats, while studying comics in a master’s program at OCAD University.