Photo credit: Janet Donovan

Before I saw this play, I hadn’t put much thought into what that word meant,” House of Cards creator Beau Willimon told Hollywood in the Potomac when we asked him what the word slut meant to him. Willimon joined Glamour Editor Cindi Leive; Sherelle Hessell Gordon, Executive Director of DC Rape Crisis Center; and Senators Warner and Gillibrand at the DC Premiere of SLUT held at The Warner Theatre.

The play SLUT, is a powerful examination of the issues surrounding sex and women and why the word slut is so polarizing and bullying and demeaning and has a damaging ripple effect.  It is based on real life stories. “The extraordinary thing about Slut: The Play,” Beau added,  “is that it forces you to think about what it means and the power it wields, often times in a destructive way. Taking responsibility for the language we use and seeing how we can, even unintentionally, be contributing to a rape culture by using this sort of language in a casual way is something that the play opened my eyes up to.” 


“Told from the perspective of 15-17-year-old girls, SLUT boldly explores sex, sexuality, and rape in the lives teenagers.  Written by Katie Cappiello and developed by The Arts Effect in collaboration with New York City high school students, the play follows the journey of Joey Del Marco, a sixteen-year-old girl who is raped by three friends during a night out. Through Joey’s story and those in her community, audiences witness the damaging  impact of slut culture and the importance of being heard.  In 2013, SLUT debuted to sold-out audiences at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre in NYC and has since toured to great acclaim in locales as diverse as LA and Fargo, North Dakota. The hope is to spark conversation and ultimately affect change – culturally and through the legislature.” The Producers

Beau Michael 2

 Michael Kelly and Beau Willimon – Photo credit: Oliver Contreras

“Nicky Donen, who is the wife of Josh Donen – one of the executive producers on the show – encouraged me to come this play,” he added, explaining why he was attending the one night showing in Washington. “She had seen it and started to support the Stop Slut movement. We had tackled sexual assault in the military in season two of House of Cards, so she thought this would be of interest to me. I saw a performance in New York, it blew my mind, I wanted to help out.”  In terms of House of Cards itself, he added: “We treat the women the same way we do the men. I don’t have any kid gloves, we’re not putting anyone up on a pedestal. We’re not trying to reduce anyone to their gender, everyone is equally venal and power-hungry. Then, I enlisted Michael.”


Michael is Michael Kelly who plays Chief of Staff on House of Cards and is a friendly fixture on the DC circuit. “Beau started to tell me about it. I was like, ‘Aw man. I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son,’ and it instantly hit home for me. I was like, ‘I’m in!’ He’s like, ‘I’m in!’  More people are reporting the name calling today, but it’s still not enough. It’s because there’s not this open dialogue about it. That’s what concerns me about my daughter … it’s like they’re born and you want to protect, protect, protect. You know that this thing is there and you know there is something you can do about it. It seems pretty simple, it’s about educating. It really hits home when you have kids.”


Jennifer Baumgardner is the executive director of The Feminist Press, the publisher of Slut: The Play and the book.  We asked her what the word slut meant to her. “When I grew up slut was just this word that we would call people to be mean, but it was also sort of a joke. I’ve come to realize that slut is a word you use to say that somebody is worth nothing. You can do anything to them, they’re valueless. They’re scapegoated, and I feel like news stories over the last few years have helped me understand this, but so has this play. If a girl is called a slut, it doesn’t matter what was done to her or how degraded she was, by friends, often. It’s OK because she was a slut, therefore, she deserved it. It always meant sleeping around, but it never really meant that. It could be used against you even if you’d had sex with one person or never had sex at all, but somebody hated you. You developed early and you had big boobs. Now that I’ve talked to a lot of women, including much older women in their 80s and 90s about their experiences when they were young, that word slut was always used against women and in order to scapegoat them for things that weren’t their fault.”


Jennifer Baumgardner

We wondered if the word slut is used commonly today.  “Are you kidding? It’s way more rampant because it’s also used in jest among friends. Slut! A way that girls indicate that they’re kind of being edgy. Also, that they’re acknowledging that we’re a much more sexually open society right now, so girls do have sex. You can be 15 and be like,’I’m proud of my sexuality, I’m going to call myself a slut.’ It’s used in all these different ways, but I think what hasn’t changed is that slut is a term that’s used to degrade women and girls’ sexuality, and used to justify harassment and rape.”

We asked Baumgardner if women use the word in reverse with men. Do they call men sluts? “There’s a total sexual double standard,” she said. “They might call a guy a man whore, but it’s not meant to demean them. There’s a sexual double standard. When a guy wants to have sex, I think they’re perceived as always needing or wanting to have sex. If God forbid you’re a guy that doesn’t want to do to it, your manhood gets questioned. They almost have the reverse problem. What they do to degrade guys is they call them fags. Even kids that are extremely un-homophobic, they degrade their manhood. Katie Cappiello and Meg MacInerny have always created space for girls to come and use theater to tell the truth about their lives. SLUT grew out of that, this play grew out of girls actually, just talking about what’s happened to them.”


SLUT follows the journey of 16-year-old Joey Del Marco who is raped by three of her friends during a night out in NYC.  Through Joey’s story and those of girls in her community, audiences witness the damaging impact of slut culture and the importance of being heard. The play was developed by The Arts Effect in collaboration with high school students over two years of weekly creative sessions, written by Katie Cappiello, directed by Katie Cappiello & Meg McInerney, and featuring the teen members of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company.

Beau, Michael, Cast

Michael Kelly and Beau Willimon with the cast   –  Photo credit: Oliver Contreras

Hollywood on the Potomac asked McInerney what the word slut meant to her. “To me, the word slut cuts down women the deepest. It’s a way of taking away their dignity. It’s a way of silencing them. It’s a way of dirtying and degrading their sexuality.  I have to tell you that I have students that have been called sluts for no reason at all, just because someone wants to deem them worthless. It doesn’t always have to do with sexuality. I think it often has to do with sexism. I look at my students. I look at myself, when I was a teenager, when boys explored their sexuality, embraced it, enjoyed it. They were bad ass. They were studs. They were the guys that everyone revered. When girls did it, they were sluts, no question about it. That’s the double standard that we really try to address in this play.  That’s going on currently in high school. There’s this instinct to own it, try to reclaim it, but that doesn’t really work. I think the important thing for us to do is absolutely yes, when someone calls one of the girls a slut or we hear that word out in the world, we address it. It’s not about attacking people. It’s not about shouting at them, or screaming at them or preaching to them. It’s about starting a conversation. Asking why. Why call this girl, why call this woman a slut, a whore? “


So what does the school do about it?  “Not enough. The school system’s doing next to nothing about it. That’s a real problem. Actually my parents are educators. I appreciate what administrators are up against, but this is an issue that is touching the lives of every middle school and high school student out there, and no one wants to say it. It’s hard for people to accept that teenagers are engaging this way. I think it makes them very uncomfortable, but they spend the majority of their time at school. So if they can’t have that conversation in the safety of their school building, where are they going to have it? Because they’re not having it at home.”

So how did you come up with the idea of doing this play? ” I run a theater company that I started about 8 years ago with my awesome business partner. We bring girls together and use theater as a way for the girls to explore their world, confront the challenges that they face and about 3 years ago, the girls were back from winter break. We were sitting around, having a catch up, hearing what they’ve been doing, and started noticing … our radar went up. We started noticing that the word slut was being used in every sentence. It was bizarre. Well, it seemed bizarre to us. Maybe it was just the first time we were listening for it. The girls were using the word to describe themselves; they were using the word to degrade other girls. They were using the word to describe what people said to them, after consensual sexual experiences and then also experiences with sexual assault. We knew that this word in this culture is having such an impact on our girls. It’s definitely having an impact on all young people out there, not just girls.”


“The play is not just about the word, the play is actually about sexual assault among teenage girls which is an epidemic problem,” concluded Beau Willimon. “One in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime in the United States. For 16-19 year-olds, that’s four times greater a likelihood than the general population. That means high schools and college are not safe places for young women. One of the reasons they’re not safe is because of our slut-shaming culture, re-victimization of survivors and people that report. The play is going to tackle that head-on. Slut is just one of the many ways that we shame or re-victimize people. Twenty percent of the women that you went to college with were sexually assaulted or the target of a sexual assault. Very few reported it or told their friends about it.”

“The fact that you said no one talked about it or you didn’t know about it is precisely the problem. People aren’t communicating about it, talking about it openly. That’s what this play encourages – open honest discussion about sex, sexual assault, sexuality among our youth,” added Michael Kelly.

Slider photos by Oliver Contreras