When I heard about The Unslut Project, a tumblr account which aims to combat slut shaming by posting the entries of a preteen’s diary, I was intrigued. There is something so exciting about other people’s diaries. The secrets hidden in their pages. The stories that slowly unfold over individual entries. The biased, earnest narration and unabashed honesty. The UnSlut Project has all of it and more. Writing under the pseudonym of Emily Lindin, The UnSlut Project’s author is sharing her 6th-grade experience with slut shaming. Save for name changes and her present day musing on the events she experienced, the entries are unedited. They make for a fascinating read; a muddled combination of amusing, frustrating, and disturbing retellings that highlight the destructive nature of slut shaming.
For those of us who have already escaped the gossip filled halls of junior high, Emily’s entries may now seem childish or irrelevant. Reading through the entries, however, I was amazed at how similar her story is to my own preteen experience. I found they actively inspired a mix of pleasant nostalgia and gut wrenching regret. I could see myself in her; feel the excitement of the first school dance, remember the long walk past my crush’s locker, and recall my own painful drama, however childish. There are so many universal themes in the enteries (betrayal, lust, hope) and characters (the best friend, the boyfriend’s jerk pals, the other girl) that I can identify in my own life.
Unfortunately much of that universality is also the focus of The UnSlut Project. The date of her initial entries, the year when Emily became the class “slut,” was over 15 years ago. Slut shaming still exists; Emily’s story is just as relevant today as it was in 1997. Replace her Hanson posters with Justin Bieber’s pixie face and replace phone calls with Facebook chat, and you’ve got a modern preteen. This is what motivated Emily to start the site. She took time out of her busy schedule (PhD candidate!) to answer some questions about the Project.
Can you explain The UnSlut Project for our readers who are new to it?
The UnSlut Project aims to draw attention to the dangerous trend of sexual bullying, often called “slut shaming,” which extends beyond the school bullying environment to entire communities, the media, and our culture. By sharing their stories and perspectives, women who have survived this type of harassment themselves can offer hope to young women who feel trapped, ashamed, and as if they have no one to turn to. Sharing my own diary was the most honest way to kickstart the sharing process, which I hope will extend to women around the world.
What motivated you to start sharing your stories?
The recent suicides of Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, Felicia Garcia, and others demonstrate the tragic hopelessness sexual bullying can create for young women. When I heard their stories, I remembered my own experience as a middle school student and realized how helpful it would have been for me if The UnSlut Project had existed at that time. It’s particularly difficult for girls to confide in adults they might otherwise turn to for support when it comes to sexual bullying; a girl’s parents, teachers, religious leaders, etc. might be just as likelyto take part in the shaming as her peers at school. So I wanted to create a space where girls could turn to for reassurance that they can overcome what can be an incredibly isolating experience.
What goals did you have in mind when you started?
Ultimately, I’d like “slut shaming” to become obsolete. If our culture didn’t promote an underlying fear and hatred of sexualized women, whether that sexualization is consensual, coerced, or forced, then sexual bullying wouldn’t exist. That’s a long-term goal that will take a lot of effort on the part of cultural and political leaders. In the near future, I’d like The UnSlut Project to play a role in the prevention of any more suicides or suicide attempts by young women suffering from this particularly devastating type of harassment.
How does it feel to be sharing your private thoughts? Do the entries still hold meaning for you, or can you distance yourself from them?
When I discovered my old diaries from middle school at my parents’ house, I was afraid to read them. I have been able to relegate my painful middle school memories to a distant corner of my mind, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dredge up those experiences. I was surprised, once I decided to start reading, that the voice of the girl in the diaries wasn’t really relatable to me anymore. I read about the experiences as if they were happening to someone else, with distance and even a bit of humour in some cases.
I really enjoy reading both your past and present voices—how has re-reading and sharing your experiences changed how you you think of them?
I added the commentary in brackets to stress the perspectiveaspect of The UnSlut Project. I want to draw the clear line between the girl who suffered so much 15 years ago and the woman I am now. The most recent entry I posted, the one in which the sexual event that led to my bullying occurred, was surprisingly painful for me to read. I had always remembered the event as entirely consensual and I always felt that whatever the consequences were, I was entirely to blame for them. This understanding of the events definitely added to the shame I felt at the time. But when I read the entry, revisiting the event for the first time in over 15 years, it became clear to me as an adult that the encounter was somewhat coerced; I wasn’t raped or assaulted, by any means, but I also wasn’t an active participant. It was strange to realize that I had warped the event in my memory.
What kinds of reactions have you encountered so far?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive response on Twitter and Tumblr so far! I have been typing up my diary entries for months, but I only launched this project over the past week and already the interest it has garnered has been really encouraging. I’d like the public aspect of The UnSlut Project to continue to grow so it can reach the girls who need it, as well as (I hope) influence the opinions of as many adults as possible, so they can support young women on a personal level. Since the point of this project is to undo the shaming aspect of female sexuality, it might seem strange that I’ve decided to use a pen name. That decision has nothing to do with wanting to protect my own identity; I am proud to have come through such a difficult period in my life and, if I were the only one whose reputation were involved, I would take full credit for this project. However, I want to protect the identities of the other people who are mentioned in my diaries. If my name becomes public, they are likely to be identified as well. And although they might have acted cruelly as pre-teenagers, most of them have grown into admirable people and I don’t want to cause them any embarrassment, guilt, or pain.
I’m sure a lot of readers will see their current or past selves in your writing. Do you have any advice for our readers dealing with slut shaming and harassment?
Yes. There was a time in my life (coming up in the diary entries) when I used to cut my arms and hope I would bleed to death, or sit in my parents’ basement in the winter and think about the possibility of freezing to death. As a preteen, it was impossible to have perspective about all the wonderful things to come in my life. I felt trapped and could not see beyond the constant harassment I endured at school, after school, and online. I’m now a Harvard graduate, PhD candidate, and freelance writer with a wonderful, supportive, live-in boyfriend, a great relationship with my parents, and many close friends whom I trust. It got better for me and for many other women; I want to provide that hope to girls currently being sexually bullied.
How long until you run out of entries? Does this project conclude when you run out of entries?
Oh, I have years worth of entries! I just posted the entry in which the sexual event that caused all the bullying occurs, so the horrible part is just about to begin. But even when I do eventually run out of entries, this project will continue in the entries of other women.
Emily updates the Tumblr account regularly, but you can subscribe to her twitter if you don’t use Tumblr. If you are interested in helping her cause, you can go to http://unslutproject.tumblr.com and contribute your own story or perspective by clicking on “Share YOUR Story.” Thank you to Emily for corresponding with me and for sharing your story!