Our Fringe Festival play in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling and ongoing battle it represents.
In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, which gives employers the right to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate on religious grounds, Democrats and Republicans alike are jockeying for position in what the liberal media has deemed a “war on women.”
It’s a pithy phrase, easily reproducible for November campaign slogans, but meaningless when compared to the actual experience of being a woman in America. We see who stands both to benefit from and to protect our bodies on a legislative level, but we wonder how to fight for ownership of our bodies in the workplace, in our homes and on the street.
As women writers, artists and directors of “Slut Club,” a one-act play premiering at the Minnesota Fringe Festival at the end of this month, we have found ourselves on one side of — if not a war, with all the grandiose and abstract connotations — at least a quiet battle. As our show’s opening night grows closer and its audience wider, we find ourselves witness to significant linguistic policing as a result of the title and subject matter of our work.
This is a battle that, to us, seems just as dangerous as whatever “war” is happening in Washington, because it directly affects our work, our reputations and our safety.
After inviting hundreds of people to “join” Slut Club as an event on Facebook, we’ve been alarmed by the commentary aimed at the women and men who plan on attending. These comments, often not from people who plan on attending themselves, range from LOLs to inquiries about membership to mild disgust to encouragement. Men in particular tend toward the latter, and seem interested in appropriating the play for their own jokes, discomfort and self-interest.
But we did not write this play for men. We wrote it for women who, like us, feel powerless in a country that routinely strips them of power — politically, economically and socially. After discussing the Supreme Court ruling and subsequent commentary, we realized that the title of our play is provocative not only because of the unsettling word, but its combination with “club,” a word associated with community, order and accomplishment. Among women, these words are presented in opposition to one another. You can either be a slut, or you can abandon your sex and join the PTA.
The commenters are likely harmless, but their language echoes past experiences of assault, discrimination and objectification. They inspire fear that we will be stripped of the agency we have created for ourselves, despite and because of the fact none was offered, and fear that people will project narratives onto our bodies that are as limiting and damaging as any legislative pronouncement.
The definition of “slut” is a woman with many sexual partners. It is historically derogatory, but to be a woman with many sexual partners is not an inherently harmful or undesired status. The term is an insult only because of a long-standing effort to subtly and not-so-subtly police the behavior of women. Why does the sexual behavior of women incite a “war” in 2014?
Unlike war, women having sex (with many partners, or with one) is not destructive. The real destruction comes from those who project their ideology onto women’s bodies, who use tired images, dogmatic rhetoric and legislation to diminish and control our sexuality. But our bodies and our words are ours. They are not yours. We will remain sexually active and safely use contraception because we are human, and we will protect on another from those who think we are not.
This is the conversation we’re having. We urge you to join it, whoever you are. Because you are who we’re talking about when we talk about sluts. We’re talking about people.
Sally Franson and Lara Avery are Minneapolis writers.
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