Let's Make the Word "Slut" Obsolete

emily lindin of the unslut project

If you don’t know the name Rehtaeh Parsons, Emily Lindin is going to make sure you do. In 2013, Lindin heard about the case of 17-year-old Parsons, a Nova Scotian teenager who committed suicide after enduring months of slut-shaming and sexual bullying from her peers after a photo of her being raped was posted online. The story moved Lindin to found The UnSlut Project, a movement for women to share their stories of slut-shaming and promote gender equality, sex positivity, and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education.

Lindin first began the project by posting her middle school diary entries on Tumblr, which detailed the slut-shaming she endured when she was an 11-year-old girl crushing on a fellow classmate. She eventually moved her posts to Wattpad and from there a community grew where people disclosed their own stories of bullying and felt as though they were not alone.

I recently spoke with Lindin to discuss The UnSlut Project as well as Slut: A Documentary Film, a movie that is aiming to meeet a critical crowdfunding deadline by March 6.

 

ARIANA VIVES: I was wondering if you could share some of the responses you’ve received from posting your diary. Have you encountered many people who were surprised to see how candidly you spoke about sex at that age, and alternately, were people surprised to read about a middle school girl being bullied in such a way?

EMILY LINDIN: Yes, and I think that’s really surprising to a lot of people. But the truth is I started puberty when I was ten. I had breasts really early and I was also interested in boys really early. It is surprising I was so young, but 15 years later it should be a lot less surprising. Preteens who have constant access to the Internet are still going through similar things because kids are curious at that age. When you’re going through puberty and you start noticing you’re sexually attracted to people, if you don’t have any information about what that means, you don’t have anything to really go on. I think that was was a limitation in my life and one of the reasons I started experimenting so young, and with abstinence education, a lot of kids don’t have research so they have to figure it out for themselves.

In talking to women who have been slut-shamed, do you observe any common threads among their stories? Did you find similar stories between older women and teens today?

It’s changed a lot. The woman we interviewed who went through this in the 1970s, her name is Samantha Gailey Geimer. She’s probably the most famous victim of sexual shaming because the person who sexually assaulted her was Roman Polanski. She went through this public slut shaming when she was thirteen years old, and she points out this was before 24-hour news and the Internet and social media. Even though it affected her really deeply, she was able to turn it off if she wanted to, she didn’t have to interact with that media constantly.

Nowadays, in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, she transferred schools many times all around the Halifax area, and she wasn’t able to escape the reputation because the photo had been taken and photos nowadays are so easy to share. It also brought to light how the police and adults in general are way behind the teenagers and preteens who are going through this. Rehtaeh’s dad told me that months after she’d been raped, months after the picture of the rape was spreading around school and ruining her life, the police told him, “Well we can’t find a picture, so there’s no proof.” And Rehtaeh’s little sister pulled it up on her phone in a matter of seconds and said, “Here’s your picture, do you want it?”

It’s gotten harder for girls to escape being labeled “slut,” but one common thread is the isolation of it. I started The UnSlut Project so there could be a support system for girls who feel they can’t confide in their parents or administrators in their school because it’s not taken seriously as a kind of bullying. One thing I was hoping to accomplish with my diaries is not just reaching girls who are going through it, but offering that perspective to adults who are trying to help girls who are going through it because it’s so hard to remember what it was like to be in middle school or high school. You don’t really remember just how upsetting and how dramatic and how intense everything is, how it could actually lead you to completely give up hope on your life.

It seems that a woman or a girl doesn’t really have to do anything to be called a slut.

Yeah, that is completely true. It’s one of the trickiest things. Often people ask me, “What advice do you have for girls to avoid being labeled a slut?” And the truth is that there’s nothing to do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you—you have no control over it. The people who have control are the people who decide you’re a slut at any point in your life, and it could be for nothing you’ve done at all. As long as, in our culture, being an “out of control” seuxal woman who’s owning her sexuality—as long as someone perceives you to be that, that can be a source of ruining your reputation and something that you need to be shamed for. As long that’s the case, then the word “slut” holds all this power, and the reputation of being a slut holds all this power. It’s really a deeply ingrained problem that will take a long time to undo.

One of the things I find so valuable about the UnSlut Project is how it’s opening a dialogue about teenage sexuality that I feel a lot of adults are afraid to touch on. At 11, 12, or 13, many girls may not have firsthand experience with sex and intimacy, but they know what the words mean. They look it up online or they talk to their friends or they’ve had “the talk” with their parents. What are some ways adults can have healthy, productive conversations about sexuality with teenagers to ensure they make informed decisions about sex and their bodies?

As a girl right now, and when I was that age as well, you can’t really win. You’re taught that you must be sexual in a very specific way, and there’s a lot of pressure to have a boyfriend and to be sexaully desirable. If you watch any kind of media and you absorb that and you learn that behavior and perform it, you’re shamed for it. All of a sudden you’re wrong and something is wrong with you. But if you go your own way and don’t really buy into that during your adolescence, you could be isolated for that as well.

One thing I am in favor of is teaching media literacy. It’s hard for some parents to do that, especially if they don’t have a background themselves, but it’s important to include it in curricula in school because you can’t take away kids’ phones forever, and you can’t control what your kids are consuming. Kids are always one step ahead of their parents in terms of how to access things online, so it’s really important to teach critical thinking skills. One thing that’s tricky, especially when it comes to comprehensive sex education is that in certain parts of the country teachers can be fired for trying to teach children sex education. Teachers really need support from the school system as well as parents. It’s something we all have to be on board for.

You’ve said that you want to see a future where the word “slut” doesn’t make sense as an insult. What would the word “slut” mean? Should it be reclaimed by women, such as by those who’ve participated SlutWalks?

I know someone who likes to be called a slut when they’re having sex, and that’s fine. It’s taboo, and if that turns you on, by all means go for it. In terms of a large scale cultural movement, though, Slutwalks from what I seen often are misinterpreted because not everyone gets it. Right now where we are, unfortunately the majority of people who’ve seen photos of Slutwalks and who overhear people use the word “slut” in what the person thinks is a positive way aren’t on board with the reframing of the word “slut.” To most of the population, it’s still a negative word with its traditional meaning in tact. Leora Tanenbaum, who is one of the experts we interviewed for the film, wrote a book called Slut: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation. She is against reclaiming the word “slut,” and I tend to agree with her. With that said, it’s about more than just the word. I’m not pro-censorship, so when I envision a future, it’s where “slut” is a historical relic along the lines of the word “floozy” or something. A word that you hear and you kinda chuckle and say, “Wow, the word makes no sense in our world anymore.”  

When you first started publishing your diary entries, was a documentary always the next step in the project? What do you envision as the future of The UnSlut Project? Do you plan to have continued community building online, perhaps branch out into student advocacy in schools or start chapters?

I love the idea of starting chapters, and I have been thinking about that. To answer the first part of your question, I didn’t think about a documentary at all. When I started posting my diary entries online, I thought that was all it was going to be. When other women started reading my stories, it became apparent that I touched on something people really wanted to talk about. I thought of the idea to make a film in July 2013 because I realized I had a limited amount of entries, and I didn’t want to conversation to stop. I didn’t want it to be this moment in time where this quirky girl posted her middle school diaries for some reason online. I wanted to it to be an ongoing thing where people who never would’ve thought about slut shaming were called into the conversation. Rather than just preaching to the choir, in order to make large-scale cultural change I thought a documentary would be a great way to reach people who haven’t really thought about it at all.

In terms of the future of The UnSlut Project, this fall is going to be really eventful because we’re going to be releasing the documentary alongside my book, which is a diary/memoir. The scaffolding of the book is my diary entries but there’s extended commentary bolstered with memoir-style writing, and that’s coming out in October as well. My hope is that using the book and screenings of the film I can start having these community conversations all over North America. Hopefully, in the long term, there’s no need for the project anymore.

Any final thoughts you’d like to leave Bitch’s readers with?

Until last spring when people were asking how my diary’s been received, aside from people shocked at how young I was, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and it still has been. But since the Elliot Rodgers shooting, I wrote a mainstream op-ed for CNN and was on CNN talking about it. That was a turning point, all of a sudden an audience who wasn’t on board with the message heard about the UnSlut Project. Since then, for the past year or so, I’ve been getting regular rape and death threats. I think it’s important to mention that because when I’m encouraging other women to share their stories as part of the project, I always encourage them to be anonymous if they think at all there’s a risk that someone could identify themselves in a story and retaliate against them. It really breaks my heart that’s the state of things right now, but it proves the project needs to exist.

Related Reading: Samantha Geimer Reflects on Roman, Rape, and Media.

Ariana Vives is Bitch's new media intern. 

by Ariana Vives
View profile »

Ariana Vives is a former Bitch new media intern. She finally got into The Walking Dead and hopes some good will come from this.

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

0 Comments Have Been Posted

Add new comment