Sham­ing and blam­ing

Girls Like That tack­les teen tor­men­tors

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin


Slut! Grow­ing Up Fe­male With a Bad Rep­u­ta­tion, Le­ora Ta­nen­baum ex­plores the so­ci­o­log­i­cal rea­sons be­hind why and how some teenage girls are sin­gled out, la­beled, and tor­mented by their peers for their per­ceived sex­ual be­hav­ior. Of­ten, the tar­get is on the fringes of so­cial ac­cept­abil­ity and hit pu­berty early, turn­ing boys’ heads, to the cha­grin of more pop­u­lar girls. Whether or not she is ac­tu­ally sex­u­ally ac­tive is not al­ways rel­e­vant — what mat­ters is mak­ing her feel ter­ri­ble about her­self.

Slut! was pub­lished by HarperCollins in 2000, be­fore smart­phones, so­cial me­dia, sex­ting, and vi­ral videos. Girls Like That, a Bri­tish play by Evan Placey, pre­miered in 2013 and takes into ac­count the new wave of what is com­monly re­ferred to as slut sham­ing. A boy at school sends out a naked pic­ture of Scar­lett, who had been con­sid­ered awk­ward by her so-called girl­friends un­til she sud­denly grew breasts.

Girls Like That opens at the Greer Gar­son Theatre at Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign on Fri­day, Oct. 28. Though the school’s web­site notes that the play is not suit­able for chil­dren, Girls Like That was named Best Play for Young Au­di­ences at the Writ­ers Guild of Great Bri­tain Awards. The SFUAD pro­duc­tion is di­rected by a new performing arts depart­ment fac­ulty mem­ber, Shad Willing­ham, and has an allfe­male cast of 25 ac­tors. The play is writ­ten largely in di­rect ad­dress and evinces a clear moral stance that judges the girls harshly for their treat­ment of Scar­lett. Willing­ham and the cast ad­justed some of the stag­ing and di­a­logue to make the tone of the play less preachy, and they Amer­i­can­ized the Bri­tish slang.

“We were quite lib­eral with that,” Willing­ham said. “We didn’t want it to be too re­moved to be rel­e­vant to our au­di­ence. The ac­tors are not play­ing Bri­tish school­girls. If there was some­thing Amer­i­can teenagers just wouldn’t say, we changed it.”

Willing­ham told Pasatiempo that the cast had nu­mer­ous dis­cus­sions about the play’s themes, and he was quite shocked to learn about some of their high school ex­pe­ri­ences. “There were girls who had been bul­lied and girls who ad­mit­ted to bul­ly­ing. Most of all, what they re­al­ized was that at some time or an­other they had all been part of the prob­lem. It seems that girls treat each other in a very spe­cific way, a way that mostly boys do not. You think a girl

is your friend, but she might be talk­ing about you be­hind your back in a very catty or hurt­ful way. Gen­er­ally, guys won’t be friends with some­one they would talk that way about.” He at­trib­uted the sever­ity of mod­ern bul­ly­ing to tech­nol­ogy, where cru­elty is in­stan­ta­neous. “It used to be that if you wanted to in­sult some­one, you had to do it to their face. Now you can write what­ever you want on­line, and you don’t have to see the per­son’s re­ac­tion. You can re­move your­self from the im­pact — on them, but on you as well.”

Girls Like That is staged like a mu­si­cal, with sev­eral out­ra­geous dance num­bers set to songs by Bey­oncé and Katy Perry, among other con­tem­po­rary fe­male pop artists. The cast func­tions some­thing like a cho­rus, with dif­fer­ent cliques of girls — re­ferred to as squads — tak­ing var­i­ous stances on Scar­lett. Some are jeal­ous of her body, while oth­ers feel qui­etly bad about what is hap­pen­ing, and still oth­ers be­lieve she de­serves ev­ery­thing she gets. The boys in their or­bit are re­spon­si­ble for ini­tially re­leas­ing the photo and ridi­cul­ing Scar­lett while con­grat­u­lat­ing Rus­sell, the stu­dent who took the pic­ture and en­gaged in locker-room talk about her with his bud­dies. The girls, how­ever, are the ones who os­tra­cize and scorn her, of­fer­ing her no loy­alty or pro­tec­tion de­spite hav­ing known her since kinder­garten.

Through­out the play, young women step for­ward from his­tor­i­cal time pe­ri­ods and de­liver mono­logues about ex­pe­ri­ences with sex­ism. Among them is a flap­per in the 1920s who stands up to her brother when he tries to force her to leave a party and a hip­pie chick in the 1960s who works for abor­tion rights. A 1980s aer­o­bics-lov­ing teen has a cov­eted in­tern­ship at a law firm; when an at­tor­ney puts his hands on her, she gives him chap­ter and verse on sex­ual-ha­rass­ment law in a voice drip­ping with South­ern­style sweet­ness. Mod­ern girls, the mono­logues im­ply, ex­cuse boys and turn on each other in­stead of stand­ing up for them­selves and band­ing to­gether against a com­mon en­emy.

“I think we as a so­ci­ety let boys off the hook, and the play is ex­em­plary of that,” said Willing­ham, who is fifty years old. “I think that men of the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion will grow up treat­ing women in a much more eq­ui­table way than men of my gen­er­a­tion do, or than men of Don­ald Trump’s gen­er­a­tion do — and that’s be­cause we’re evolv­ing as a cul­ture. How­ever, and I’ve thought about this a lot lately, I don’t know how a boy is sup­posed to know the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing gen­uinely at­tracted to some­one and want­ing to pur­sue that at­trac­tion and only pur­su­ing a girl by virtue of what he can see, be­fore he re­ally knows her. Tech­ni­cally, that’s ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion. As a man, it’s chal­leng­ing for me to com­pletely wrap my mind around it. It used to be you would just let a girl know through signs and sig­nals that you wanted to go out with her. You asked her to a dance. I’m not say­ing boys are vic­tims, but it seems like a labyrinth. There must be an­swers to th­ese ques­tions, but who is teach­ing them? Not Don­ald Trump.”

The is­sue of how the Repub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent of the United States talks about and treats women has in­formed many of the cast’s dis­cus­sions dur­ing re­hearsals. “The as­sault al­le­ga­tions against Trump are not what the play is about, but the cast is def­i­nitely an­gry,” Willing­ham said. “They got re­ally an­gry when he was talk­ing about Miss Uni­verse, and what is re­ally driv­ing us right now in terms of pol­i­tics is the way he talks about Hil­lary Clin­ton’s mar­riage. This gen­er­a­tion doesn’t seem to think that con­sen­sual sex and sex­u­al­ity or how many times some­one gets mar­ried is any­one’s busi­ness. Now you can come out as gay or trans in high school and not au­to­mat­i­cally lose all your friends. It’s very dif­fer­ent than when I grew up. But now here is this old white man telling women how they should take care of their bod­ies, how much they should weigh, how they should be mar­ried, how to live their lives.”

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