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SLUT The Play: Meet the Teenage Girls Who Are Putting an End to Slut Shaming

I’ve never left a theater feeling as angry as I did after seeing SLUT: The Play. 

Now playing downtown as part of the New York Fringe Festival, this brutally honest dissection of teenage slut shaming and victim blaming left me, and most of the audience, reeling. Its story is nothing new — having seen high-profile, real life performances in Steubenville, Nova Scotia, San Francisco, Cairo, Torrington, and, just last week, Ireland — but it burns every time it's told.

Credit: Anne Wermiel, N.Y. PostHigh school junior Joey Del Marco, played by actual high school junior Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, is a proud member of the "Slut Squad." Prancing around the stage in sports bras and lollipop shorts after dance team practice, these young women are attempting to redefine the word to mean a girl who owns her sexuality — just like the boys do.

Then one night Joey is pinned down and raped in the back of a cab. Or so she says; her friends, classmates, and their parents don’t believe her. "You know how Joey gets when she drinks," one Slut Squad member quips with a knowing nod towards the rest, and Joey's world collapses as they declare their allegiance to the accused. Mocked and discredited by almost everyone around her, Joey’s name becomes synonymous with the word she once spoke to flirt with power; "Joey Del Marcoing," the kids start to call it, when someone is acting like a real slut.

Conceived and performed by high schoolers in the Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company, SLUT: The Play is painful in its realism. The script drew inspiration from the girls' life experiences, and it shows. They constantly twirl their hair, practice pouting into unseen mirrors, and immortalize every careless moment as instagram snapshots to later be used as evidence against their character. Their language — spoken at a frantic pace and adorned with nearly poetic insertions of "bitch," "like," and "whore" — is torn straight from a high school hallway. Their stories of assault, confusion, and shame are too familiar to be false. The effect is devastating.

Despite their youth, the girls tackle these issues with a clarity of understanding and purpose that many adults lack. One of the most striking aspects of the production is Joey's recognition that what happened to her was neither inevitable nor excusable. Her decision to come forward is brave, and, unfortunately, rare in a society that continues to approach claims of rape with immediate suspicion and extenuation. 

Joey refuses to accept the notion that assuming she "wanted it" somehow absolves her rapists of responsibility. "These people think they’re mind-readers, and they’re not," she declares, voice cracking with the incredible disbelief that anyone could ever think differently.

But people do. The essence of this phrase, distilled so simply by a 16-year-old, continues to baffle adults who can’t wrap their heads around the fact that someone's outfit, level of drunkenness, or sexual history is never equivalent to consent.

Joey knows this, but as the typical evidence used to mitigate acts of sexual violation mounts against her (she was drinking, she bought condoms, the boys were her friends), her resolve falters. Doubt begins to take root. She came forward because she knew that what happened to her was wrong, but she starts to realize that much of the world won’t see it that way.

"I think she knows deep down that what happened to her was wrong," Bonjean-Alpart said, "but I think through a lot of the play she says 'I put myself in that situation, I acted slutty beforehand, if I wasn’t so bold with my sexuality this would not have happened.'"

The play also deftly considers the complicated relationship girls have with the word "slut." The Slut Squad ultimately fails in its attempt to reclaim it as a tool of empowerment, because they can’t assert their sexuality using a word inextricably bound to implications of dirtiness and shame.

Bonjean-Alpart agrees. "[A] lot of people try to own the word [slut] in order to own their sexuality. And I’ve always thought that there should be a way for girls to own their sexuality without having to own the word slut, which is a degrading word … When I think of the word slut now, automatically what pops into my head is sexual violence and sexual aggression. I really hate the word."

SLUT: The Play has already found fans in Gloria Steinem, Kathy Najimy, and powerful women at the forefront of the fight for gender equality.

It received a well-deserved standing ovation when I saw it, and as we left the darkness of the theater the audience consensus was simple: People need to see this.

The day after I went to SLUT: The play, the public shaming of #slanegirl started trending on Twitter.

So, yes. People do.

Join the StopSlut Movement

SLUT: The Play is creating an honest conversation about issues surrounding sexual violence. The team is actively involved with the StopSlut Movement and committed to creating Girls' Coalitions in New York high schools to provide "space to discuss — openly and honestly — personal experiences with sexuality, bullying and sexual aggression/assault."

Show your support for this play by joining the StopSlut Movement today. And let me know your thoughts about slut shaming and victim blaming on Twitter at @JulianneRoss.

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