The New Scarlet Letter

For the past seven years, I’ve been a member of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company – an ensemble of girls that meets weekly in downtown Manhattan to creatively explore girl-focused experiences through theater.  In 2012, we began developing our new play after realizing—frustratingly--the prevalence of the word “slut” in our conversations.

Every one of us had a close relationship with the word – we’d been called sluts or defined other girls as sluts.  A third of the group had experienced slut-shaming after an incident of sexual assault or aggression.  We all wanted to understand why it was so hard for us to be open about our sexuality without putting ourselves at “slut” risk.  And then Steubenville happened.  And the gang rapes in Delhi and Cairo.  Torrington happened.  Teens Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons took their lives after being assaulted and slut-shamed.  We knew we needed to address this issue head-on.  So, through debate and discussion, improvisation, reflective writing, and character development we created SLUT The Play.

SLUT follows the story of 16-year-old Joey Del Marco.  On a cold New York City night in January, Joey puts on her favorite dress, her highest heels, and meets up with her good guy friends George, Luke, and Tim for a little pre-gaming. They hang out, play video games, dance, and drink an entire bottle of Absolut. Everything is typical hazy fun--until they all squeeze into the back of a cab. SLUT explores Joey’s sexual assault and slut-shaming.

Through Joey’s story and those of girls in her community, audiences witness the damaging effects of slut culture.  Our goal with the play is to spark a conversation by giving a voice to girls who experience this reality, to create something live – something people can’t turn away from, mute, log off of, or shut down.  We wanted people to have to sit and really listen to living, breathing girls speak the truth about this issue.  Most importantly, we want to inspire a StopSlut Movement. We are determined to end the word by exposing its destructive impact.

Being part of this play and movement has helped me reflect on my own experiences with the word “slut.”  The first time I was called a slut I was in sixth grade. Even at twelve, this word had a profound impact on me--despite the fact that this was before I’d even come remotely close to any sexual experience.  My fellow sixth graders understood the effect “slut” would have on me: it was a word that would cut me.  As I got older and transitioned into high school and womanhood, the word mutated into a merciless and incurable virus that affects only female victims.  “Slut” really hits home when girls come into their sexuality.  It’s a unique word that punishes in ways other insults don’t – it directly impacts your self image making you feel worthless and inferior.

Slut-shaming, and the culture that feeds it, silences girls and women who express, embrace, and take control of their sexuality. It’s ironic, considering that the world rewards us for being sexy – we just can’t be too sexy or sexual).  While boys are basically encouraged (expected!) to express their sexuality whenever and wherever -- from school hallways to subway platforms to locker rooms and in every aspect of life -- the same expression of female sexuality results in the ultimate teen girl paradox: damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  In middle school and high school, girls learn pretty quickly that by putting their sexuality on display they gain power – but only superficially, because that same behavior is almost always, eventually, used against them by anyone and everyone.

Please help us spark this movement. SLUT premieres at The Lynn Redgrave Theater August 19, 2013 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Our goal is to spark a conversation around this issue and inspire audiences/communities to join in a StopSlut movement -- a campaign we've been building with Jennifer Baumgardner (Soapbox, Inc and The Feminist Press) and Lauren Hersh (Equality Now).

We're calling all writers, artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers and activists ages 12-22 to share their experiences and feelings around all things "slut." ALL participants will receive a FREE ticket to SLUT The Play and will be eligible to win over $250 in prizes via a raffle drawing. Entries are due August 12th, so spread the world and learn more at www.SLUTtheplay.com. Please contact Katie Canniello with any questions: Katie@TheArtsEffectNYC.com.


More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Feminism, Gender-based violence, Girls, Media, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexuality, Sexism, Social media, Discrimination, Music, Rape



Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart
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