Sasithon Pooviriyakul, with cast member Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart

These High School Students Are Talking About Slut Shaming And Rape Culture In A Whole New Way

Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem have already praised 'SLUT: The Play.'

Throughout history, the word "slut" has been lobbed at women in order to shame them and make them feel bad about their sexuality. Even if you love the word or hope to reclaim it, every woman will probably be called a slut at one point or another. And the odds of this name-calling happening in high school are particularly high, because, well, it's high school.

Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney of The Arts Effect wanted to find out what high school girls really felt about this word, and sat them down for a conversation that turned into the inpiration for "SLUT: The Play."

"SLUT: The Book,” which Cappiello and McInerney edited, is being released February 10, features the play and more information about the word and it's place society. Meanwhile, a high school production of “SLUT: The Play” is happening tomorrow and Sunday at The New School in New York City. MTV spoke with Cappiello and McInerney, plus teens Amari Rose Leigh and Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, the stars of the production.

Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney Interview

MTV: Can you tell us how “SLUT: The Play” came to be, and its connection with The Arts Effect?

KATIE CAPPIELLO: The Arts Effect is a company Meg and I run. We bring the girls together every week and as we started developing “SLUT,” the catalyst of the whole play was a conversation the girls were having about sex and boys and their sexuality. We kept finding that the word “slut” was popping up constantly. The girls would be using the word “slut” to talk about one another. They’d be using the word “slut” to chastise themselves. If they were jealous of a girl at their school, she was “such a slut.”

As we started to unpack the word and the weight it had, the girls started coming forward with stories of being slut-shamed, not only for instances of consensual sex, but also their own experiences with sexual assault. We knew this was something we wanted to tackle and we thought theater was the best way to do that.

MEG MCINERNEY: Every storyline you see in “SLUT” is based on real life. It’s experiences that happened to the girls or their friends or what we saw in the news. We really spent a long time on this, making sure we were showing different perspectives and showing how rape culture affects everybody.

MTV: In addition to "SLUT: The Play," what else does the book "SLUT" offer readers?

MCINERNEY: We really see the book as a guidebook people can use. We’ve included about 20 stories from teens, boys and girls, who share their own personal experiences with slut-shaming and rape culture. Then we have essays by renowned writers who also lend their perspective. And we end the book with an activism guide.

MTV: The play is getting rave reviews from Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton. What do you want audience members and readers to take away from this play?

MCINERNEY: Our goal with the play is to tell the truth. We want to present the reality in an uncensored way of what it’s like to be a teenage girl. We hope it starts conversation and gets people to think. We hope people see how we’re all affected by rape culture.

CAPPIELLO: People would tell us one of the most powerful parts of the play is the part with Tim, the boy in the cab [where the assault takes places] who doesn’t do anything because he’s paralyzed, feels that he can’t protect this girl. He doesn’t know what he can do and he’s afraid of what will come at him if he does anything. We want to inspire bystander intervention, whether it’s bystander intervention when you see something that could turn into a rape or sexual assault scenario, or a bystander intervention when you see someone being bullied.

MTV: What is the StopSlut movement, and how can people get involved?

MCINERNEY: The StopSlut movement started after people would see our show and not leave. They were so engaged in conversation around the characters and the topics being brought up. We decided we needed to create a space where we could continue this conversation.

CAPPIELLO: If you go to StopSlut.org, you can see the ways to get involved, like bringing a workshop to your school or the play to your community.

MTV: How do you recommend we use the arts to tackle important subjects like rape culture and slut-shaming?

MCINERNEY: It gives permission for people to share their own personal stories. Once you have these characters sharing their truth in safe way, then sometimes we have audience members sharing their stories. It’s extremely cathartic and that’s how change starts.

Sasithon Pooviriyakul, with cast members Amari Rose Leigh & Marcela Barry

Amari Rose Leigh Interview

MTV: Did reading this play change or expand your thoughts on issues like slut-shaming and rape culture?

LEIGH: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been involved with Katie and Meg, so early on I was quite aware of these things. They introduced the word “feminist” to me when I was 12-years-old. We kind of wrote this play together when we were all freshmen, sophomores in high school. The word [slut] was something we were encountering more and more, from boys, from girls, from really everyone. I think this play does a good job of showing all sides to the story. The only way we can really fix things is by educating people and sharing our truth with people.

MTV: The media is paying more attention to assault on college campuses, but not so much to assault on high schoolers. How can young people join you in fighting slut-shaming and rape culture, particularly when it affects high school students?

LEIGH: No one wants to think their 16-year-old daughter is having these mature experiences. I think how people can join the movement is to come to the play, to talk about the play. We can see changes if we’re open and honest about what we’re experiencing. I know a lot of people have found parts of the play disturbing, and I think that’s why the play touches people. The play is unapologetic and truthful. You see some girls who want to have sex, you see some girls who drink, but the play doesn’t say, “You should be this way or you should be that way.” The play knows this is the world we live in, so let’s talk about it.

MTV: What do you think needs to be done to put an end to rape culture?

LEIGH: That’s such a tricky question. I don’t know if you can put an end to it because it’s so embedded. I think it all goes back to having a conversation. "SLUT: The Play" is really in-your-face. We did this thing in New York City where we had these T-shirts that said “SLUT: The Play” and we handed out fliers to people on the street. This was on the streets of progressive, liberal New York City, and we got a huge array of reactions. Some people loved it and some people were upset and said, “I don’t know why you’re wearing that” and called us sluts. I think we need to talk about this, and I think we need to have everyone in the conversation. That means boys, that means girls. The only way we can actually come up with a solution is if everyone is a part of creating the solution. We want to expand this play and go all around the country and hopefully, eventually, the world.

Barbara Katz, with cast members Alice Stewart, Casey Odesser, Vikki Eugenis, Danielle Cohen, Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart

Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart Interview

MTV: Why was it important for you to be part of this production?

WINNIFRED BONJEAN-ALPART: I was involved with the Arts Effect and we were throwing around ideas and our meeting times were about discussion and debate. The idea of slut-shaming and sexual-shaming came up. Obviously, sex when you’re in tenth grade is a stigmatized conversation topic, but at the same time it’s pretty much the only thing anyone — including myself — wants to talk about.

MTV: Did reading this play change or expand your thoughts on issues like slut-shaming and rape culture?

BONJEAN-ALPART: Once we were able to break it down — and part of that was Katie writing the script – I was able to understand a lot more. My ideas about slut-shaming and rape culture that weren’t totally fleshed out became so much more nuanced. I was a lot more understanding about the issue and a lot of my opinions changed. I wasn’t huge on calling other girls sluts before, but it was definitely a word I threw around pretty causally. I never totally acknowledged it for what it was. After creating the play, and especially acting as the lead who experiences sexual assault, I wasn’t able to disassociate it from sexual violence.

MTV: The media is paying more attention to assault on college campuses, but not so much to assault on high schoolers. How can young people join you in fighting slut-shaming and rape culture, particularly when it affects high school students?

BONJEAN-ALPART: Everyone talks about sexual assault on college campuses because you have this idea that those are adults. But it all starts in high school and, honestly, middle school. I think what we need to be doing is educating sixth and seventh graders about rape culture. In high school, people are starting to have sex and drink. The rule of thumb is “Don’t do it,” so you’re going to do it anyway, but then you’re not prepared. It’s about conversation and it’s about conversation really early.

MTV: What do you think needs to be done to put an end to rape culture?

BONJEAN-ALPART: I think it all comes back to a society that continues to function off the marginalization of women. I think, as I said before, it starts really young, having conversations about sex and healthy behavior and violence and assault and things that happen. I think that’s as close as we’re going to get to confronting the issue now.