Sex Education's Maeve Herself On That Vagina Shaming Episode

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Sex Education’s “Episode 5.”
“It’s just a vagina, get over it,” Sex Education star Emma Mackey said with a laugh ahead of her Netflix coming-of-age comedy’s premiere. The British actress, who plays breakout cool girl Maeve Wiley, is talking about the streaming series’ fifth episode, in which a revenge porn plot takes multiple twists before ending with a Spartacus-style show of feminist group protest. While all of this is already a complex way to handle televised teendom in the digital age, Sex Ed still pushes one major boundary: It actually shows the much-texted-about “vagina” (it's technically a vulva) in question, in all its body-haired glory.
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Hence Mackey's reaction. While it would have been easy to sensationalize “Episode 5’s” body shaming installment — and its explicit full-frontal female nudity — Sex Education instead veers towards the emotionally illuminating. It makes for one of the most moving and memorable episodes of season 1.
“We all spoke about it between us. We found it really empowering,” Mackey's recalls of filming “Episode 5.” After all, the rampant vulva bullying of the installment is completely denounced by the end of the hour. We learn mean girl Ruby (Mimi Keene), whose faceless nude photo has been sent to her entire school as punishment for “bitchy” behavior, is actually being blackmailed by her best friend Olivia (Simone Ashley), whom Ruby perpetually demoralizes. The faceless image may not reveal Ruby’s identity, but the threat is that the owner of the vulva — which is the victim of mean spirited “Chewbacca” “guinea pig” comparisons— will be unveiled if a mea culpa does not occur.
Olivia eventually apologizes for her cruel scheme, and when students begin speculating Ruby is the nude girl in question, Olivia jumps up and claims it’s “her vagina.” Then Maeve — whom Ruby repeatedly bullies and even attempts to suggest is the possessor of the widely-seen vulva — and then Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood) and then essentially every other girl at Moordale High echoes the statement. Even Maeve’s boyfriend Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) says it’s his vagina.
“It’s just a body part, and we should all get on with it really and look after ourselves,” Mackey, who was surprised by just how potent and touching the Spartacus riff was, said of the storyline. The actress is so nonplussed by Sex Education’s nudity that she forgot the series even shows female genitals in the first place since she wasn’t a part of the scene. “When we watched it back, it was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a real vagina,’" she said. "But it’s not anything anyone’s not seen before.”
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That's why the performer hopes the landmark episode changes how viewers at home feel about their own bodies.
“There are lots of young women who feel like they have an ugly vagina or their vagina is wrong and it has to look a certain way … There’s this whole generation of young women who feel like they’re not adequate enough,” Mackey began. “I just find it so sad, and I really hope … this show will open conversations around topics like that.”
Similarly, Mackey hopes another portion of “Episode 5” changes fans' views on the people around them: the true origin story of Maeve’s cruel “Cock Biter” nickname. While many of her peers allege that Maeve bit a fellow student’s penis during fellatio years prior — and accuse Maeve of many other meant-to-be-demeaning sex acts — that unsurprisingly isn’t the case. Instead, Maeve finally tells leading man Otis that Simon Furthassle (whom viewers never see) attempted to kiss her at someone’s 14th birthday party. Maeve said no, so he retaliated by saying she “bit his dick.” The hurtful rumors only escalated from there.
“When I read it, it [was] not even that surprising. It’s such a classic recurring theme in high school dramas,” McKay, who mentioned she was also bullied as a teen, revealed. “I knew that you back Maeve from the get-go … [so] you see through the mean girls’ bullshit.”
While Ruby is one of those leading b.s.-peddling “mean girls,” Maeve still decides to help her. As Maeve tells Otis, “This kind of thing sticks. And it hurts, and no one deserves to be shamed, not even Ruby.” All of a sudden, Otis is ready to go all-in on getting to the bottom of Ruby’s revenge porn problem. Within minutes, everyone figures out Olivia is the culprit.
“The fact that Maeve is able to put her differences aside and wanted to help Ruby, her nemesis in a way, is a really beautiful thing,” Mackey said, adding that she hopes the moment of “true camaraderie” reminds young viewers that the rumors they hear about people “might not always be true.”
If you can’t tell, leather jacket-wearing, nose ring-having Maeve isn’t the totally terrifying badass she wants everyone to believe she is. “She is an extremely selfless person, and she cares about people,” Mackey said of her lovable character. “It doesn’t matter how scary she tries to be. Actually, she’s a bit of a softie, and in the end she just wants love like everyone else.”
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