Emily Lindin is the founder of the UnSlut Project, which was inspired by her own experience. When she was eleven years old, she was branded a “slut” by her classmates and was bullied at school, after school, and online. During all this, she kept a regular diary. The UnSlut Project began as Emily’s own middle school diary entries, published one at a time, without changing a word and with limited commentary. Now, it has expanded to include the collected stories of many women who have suffered slut shaming and sexual bullying but have overcome it in various ways. Oh, and she’s also a smart cookie: Emily is a Harvard graduate and PhD candidate. Not. Too. Shabby.
Slut-shaming is scarily becoming a normal part of young girls’ lives — from individual instances of bullying to sexual “education” approaches. Why do you think this is becoming such a trend?
Slut shaming has been around for thousands of years across most societies in the world – we’re just hearing about it more now because of the ubiquity of news and social media. So rather than thinking of it as a scary trend, I think of it as an entrenched ideology that is coming to light more and more – and in this case, visibility is a good thing! It makes it harder for people to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t happen. I’m glad we’re talking about it as much as we have been over the past year or so.
How can we empower these girls (and women, boys & men) to combat slut-shaming?
I encourage people of all genders to start on a personal level. That means really questioning their own assumptions about sexuality, and female sexuality in particular. The cases of slut shaming that make the news are usually pretty obvious and vicious, and we might read about them or watch coverage of them on TV and say, “How can that type of thing happen?” Well, the truth is, that type of thing can happen because nobody spoke up. The people who could have intervened all along the way – parents, teachers, community leaders, friends, coaches, everyone – might have had private prejudices that prevented them from doing anything. If you believe, deep down, that a girl who dresses a certain way has to expect a certain type of harassment, that person refusing to speak up could be YOU. Sexual bullies do not grow up in a vacuum – they absorb and reflect the behavior they see and the messages they hear. The most horrific examples are only able to occur because of our culture, which fosters slut shaming on a smaller, less noticeable scale. And we’re all responsible for contributing to that culture. When girls and boys witness the adults in their lives thinking critically about their assumptions and starting open conversations about sexuality, they will feel empowered to do the same.
You have personal experience with being called a teen slut and bravely published your adolescent journal detailing your bullying. You also encourage others to share their stories. How have these narratives been received?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The UnSlut Project was originally just going to be a blog of my diary entries and nothing more. But women started sending their own stories to me, wanting to talk about what they had gone through and contribute somehow. So it became collaborative, and it’s grown from there. Honestly, I can count the number of negative responses I’ve gotten on one hand. They have been VERY negative and mean, but in that way they have just proven that my project needs to exist! For the most part, people have been very excited to finally be able to speak up about this issue.
Tell us about your upcoming film, “Slut: A Documentary Film”!
Well, we are just wrapping up shooting this weekend and are about to start post-production! All the interviews we’ve filmed so far have been very inspiring and I’m so excited to see what the film will turn into. I decided to make a documentary when I realized the UnSlut Project’s message needed to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise seek it out – and a film is the best way to do that. The film’s director, Jessica, and I used Kickstarter to crowdfund nearly $20,000 in August and we got right to work. The film will feature interviews with sexologists, psychologists, media figures, and other experts on slut shaming and sexuality generally, as well as the stories of girls and women who have been the targets. For instance, this weekend we are interviewing Samantha Geimer, who was raped by director Roman Polanski when she was just 13 years old and subsequently slut shamed in the media. We also recently returned from a heartbreaking trip to Nova Scotia, where we talked to the parents and friends of Rehtaeh Parsons, who committed suicide a year ago after being raped and slut shamed by her classmates. I update the UnSlut blog with information about the film’s progression regularly.
Who is your number one feminist role model?
I have a lot of feminist role models, but it’s important to me to define my own path and goals. My number one role model in life generally is my mother, who is the kindest, most open-hearted woman I know. I admire her for raising three very different children, having a successful career that she loves, and being open to changing her mind about a lot of important, progressive issues as an adult.