Emily Lindin is the founder of The Unslut Project which promotes gender equality, sex positivity, and comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education for all ages.
You started the UnSlut Project after a personal experience with sexual bullying when you were young. What was the catalyst for you taking your voice and story into the public domain?
In late 2012, I visited my parents in New England and came across my old diaries. They took up an entire bookcase in my childhood bedroom! I hadn’t really thought much about that time in my life for over a decade at that point, because it was a difficult time and I really didn’t see any benefit in dredging it up again. But I took the diaries with me back to California, just in case I got up the guts to look through them at any point. When I heard about the death of Rehtaeh Parsons – who had taken her own life after being raped by her classmates and then sexually bullied because of it for over a year – I decided to get involved in the fight against what, by that time, was being called “slut shaming.” I am lucky enough to have never been the victim of a rape, but the part of her story that really resonated with me was that she was targeted as a “slut,” lost all her friends, and felt completely isolated. It’s not a rare experience, unfortunately – almost every woman I share my project with remembers who the school “slut” was at her own school, whether it was her, one of her friends, or someone she just heard rumors about. But what was rare for me was that I had my diaries, which were a valuable primary source. I realized that by sharing my voice from that time – as embarrassing as it would be! – I could reach girls who needed to know that they weren’t alone. I also wanted to reach adults who were attempting to help girls suffering from sexual bullying. My diary could provide first-person, unadulterated insight into what it’s like to be a middle school girl going through this. I was quite self-centered and took myself VERY seriously – and that especially comes across in something as personal as a diary! But I think that’s something a lot of us have in common at that age, and it’s an important part of understanding how a pre-teen or teenager could make the decision to commit suicide. They are dealing with heavy, fluctuating emotions for the first time and don’t have the experience or perspective to know that this will pass. Because as adults, we forget that every moment at that age seems to carry SUCH IMPORTANCE. At that age, we don’t have the perspective that things will get better. That’s what I hope my diary provides to girls who are feeling completely overwhelmed by sexual bullying.
You blogged your own private diary entries from the time in your life when you were being bullied. That is extremely brave, how does it feel to have such private thoughts online?
It’s absolutely bizarre! My diaries are posted on the online story-sharing platform Wattpad, where readers can comment upon specific entries and even specific lines of text – and then I can respond to them right there and others can jump in, so it often becomes a conversation about a specific experience in my past. Sometimes I even gain a new understanding of my own experiences this way, which is something very few other people, if any, have the chance to do. But as the project has grown into a community for girls and women of all ages to share their own experiences and find support, I have realized that it’s not nearly as brave for me to share my diary from over fifteen years ago it is for the girls who are reaching out and sharing the experiences they are currently going through. That’s because, as much as my adolescent experiences have shaped my personality and my perspective as an adult, I feel like a completely different person than I was at that time. So any judgment readers pass upon 11-year-old Emily doesn’t feel like a personal attack upon me and who I am now.
Do you think sexual bullying is more prevalent in the digital era?
I do think it’s more prevalent, especially since social media tools make it easy to gang up on someone and bombard them with messages or tweets, or even create Facebook pages for the sole purpose of bullying them. And it’s harder for a girl to escape the reputation of being a “slut” – even if she transfers to a new school or moves to a new city, her reputation is likely to follow her online. On a related note, the ubiquity of sexting means that it’s pretty common and easy for a photo that was taken for one person’s eyes only to be spread rapidly and to become fodder for sexual bullying. But with that said, I think it’s a misguided and dangerous approach for adults who grew up without social media to blame the Internet and cell phones, as if we are not responsible. It’s easy to say, “Oh, kids these days are so much worse than when WE were young!” But we have perpetuated this culture where today’s kids are growing up believing female sexuality is dirty and shameful. Sexting is not in itself the problem. It’s just a new way for teenagers to do what they’ve been doing forever, which is to experiment with and express their sexuality. The deeper problem is that we have a culture where it even makes sense that a girl should be ashamed of a naked photo of herself. In most cases, she sent the photo to a boyfriend she trusted.
The shame is not on HER for sharing her body – it is on whoever broke her trust and decided to share the picture without her consent, and on all of us for refusing to look critically at where this impulse to shame girls comes from – Emily Lindin, The UnSlut Project
You are in post-production of Slut: A Documentary Film. What is the documentary about and when can we expect to see it screened?
The film features the stories of women who have survived slut shaming in various ways and at different times throughout the United States and Canada. We also traveled to Nova Scotia to interview the family and friends of Rehtaeh Parsons, whose suicide inspired me to start The UnSlut Project in the first place. We interviewed expert academics and activists in the areas of bullying and sexuality in order to explore how we got here as a society and how we can move forward, working toward a future where the word “slut” doesn’t even make sense as an insult. We have created a brief, 8-minute version of the film, that we are screening as part of workshops and lectures. It is quite powerful. We hope to premiere the longer version at festivals in 2015 – to stay in the loop with updates, just sign up for our email list!