Emily Lindin On Confronting Sexual Bullying And Creating Slut: A Documentary Film

Emily Lindin has battled slut-shaming for decades — first in her personal life, and now in her career as a feminist advocate and founder of The UnSlut Project. In 2013, Lindin published her middle school diaries online, revealing her own intimate and painful experiences with slut-shaming to raise awareness about sexual bullying. Since then, Lindin has become a vocal anti-slut-shaming activist, spreading her message around the country through speaking engagements, media appearances, and the UnSlut community, a space where girls dealing with slut-shaming can freely share stories, advice, and self-care suggestions.

Lindin’s successful Kickstarter campaign to take her message to a wider audience resulted in the recently wrapped Slut: A Documentary Film, which she co-directed with Jessica Caimi. The narrative delves into the social phenomenon of sexual bullying as well as four individual stories of women who have suffered from its consequences. We asked Lindin what she thinks of the word “slut,” how she manages to have meaningful sexual experiences as an adult in spite of her trauma, and what filming her documentary was like.

First of all, I want to mention that the way you’ve harnessed your experiences with sexual bullying for good is incredibly inspiring. Has speaking out and sharing intimate details from your diaries been cathartic? 

Yes, it’s definitely been cathartic and it’s changed who I am as an adult. I have to say, though, it’s quite bizarre to not only have your middle school diaries out in the open, but to have people commenting upon them. I love how certain entries start huge conversations on Wattpad (and I really enjoy being a part of those conversations!), but it’s also just a strange experience to have the way I chose to write about certain events over fifteen years ago sorted through and picked apart.

On the heels of the recent release of Leora Tanenbaum’s book, I Am Not A Slut: Slut Shaming In The Age Of The Internet, many mainstream feminists have spoken out against the feminist tactic of reclaiming or repurposing the word “slut.” As you’ve seen the damage the word can do in a young girl’s life firsthand, what is your view of this debate? Do you think the word should never be used, even as a subversive act, or do you think there are other options?

I agree with Leora that reclaiming the term is misguided. I understand the impulse, but right now the meaning of the word is so loaded and harmful in the eyes of the majority of people in this world, that in an attempt to reclaim it, we often do more harm than good. With that said, I think people can use the word in their personal lives all they like – I know women who find it really sexy to be called a “slut” by their partners in the bedroom, and of course, that’s fine and good.

How do you think online slut-shaming differs today than when you experienced it?

When I experienced online sexual bullying, AOL Instant Messenger was a new tool. I hated the feeling of being attacked within my home, but I could just walk away from my parents’ computer and the attack stopped. Someone had made a webpage with the purpose of “slut” shaming me, but links weren’t so easily sharable so I doubt many of my classmates ever saw it. Nowadays, targets of “slut” shaming are often inundated with harassment. In person, in their email inboxes, on Twitter, on Facebook, through text messages, and on and on. Since the online world is so intertwined with the “real” world, it’s not an option to just turn off your computer to escape it. You still have your phone, you still need to be connected to your social network for support.

What was the process of filming Slut: A Documentary Film like? Is there a story or two you can share about anything that particularly impacted you?

The process of filming was really intense. Every interview we did was so moving, and I felt incredibly honored to be able to speak to these brave women who wanted to share their stories. Most media sources have focused on the story of Rehtaeh Parsons, whose family and friends spoke to us about her rape, “slut” shaming, and eventual suicide. Her story was what inspired me to start The UnSlut Project in the first place, and it is really a worst-case scenario when it comes to the repercussions of “slut” shaming. Speaking with her parents inspired me to continue to work as hard as I can to make sure what happened to her never happens to another girl. We also spoke to a woman named Allyson Pereira, who willingly sent a photo of her breasts to her high school ex-boyfriend after he promised to take her back. He spread the photo around and her life completely fell apart – simply because she had succumbed to the pressure to embody what she and many girls have been taught their entire lives is “sexy” and desirable, she lost all her friends and even her teachers turned against her.

How were you able to develop healthy attitudes about sex after dealing with sexual bullying?

I was lucky in that by the time I actually became sexually active, I was able to undo my reputation. Throughout middle school, I had believed everyone when they said I was a “slut,” and that’s how I had defined myself. But during high school, I had one boyfriend for all four years and we had sex for the first time together and really got comfortable with our bodies, which was a really great experience for me. By the time I went to college, I was comfortable having casual sex and figuring out what would work for me. I’m not sure how healthy it all was mentally – it varied from relationship to relationship – but it meant that by the time I met my now-husband, I knew what I liked, what I definitely did NOT like, and I respected myself as a sexual person.

What is your advice to young women attempting to have a positive relationship with sex after experiencing sexual bullying?

My advice is to communicate and to be honest with yourself. Some potential partners won’t want to communicate about sex – that’s a huge red flag that you should not move forward with them. If you can talk openly about your insecurities and what your hopes are for your sexual future, that’s a great sign that the sex you have with that partner will be fun, safe, and pleasurable. If you don’t feel like you are ready to think critically and talk openly about your sex life, take some more time.

What’s the status of your campaign to help finish your documentary? What’s next for the film and for The UnSlut Project?

We surpassed our crowdfunding goal for post-production! In addition to our 375 Kickstarter backers who helped us fund production, we now have 460 new backers on the platform Seed & Spark, which we used for this most recent campaign. It’s wonderful to have so many people from all over the world on board! So we’re diving right into post-production and plan to have the film ready by the end of the year. We’ll be using the platform Tugg.com, which allows for crowd-sourced screenings in venues all over the world, whether they’re theaters, community centers, and or even living rooms! My diary/memoir will be released by Zest Books in December, so we hope to align the book tour with a screening tour and start a lot of community-based conversations.