When Emily Lindin was 11, her classmates branded her a “slut.” They bullied her – online, at school, after school. She didn’t tell her family. She didn’t tell her teachers. But Lindin kept a diary, and there she confided her truths, her secrets, what she thought of the accusations hurled at her.
Years later, Lindin found and reread her diary. The secondhand fury and frustration with how she’d been treated motivated her to transcribe it and upload it, in its entirety, unedited, online.
“Originally, I thought I’d just put my diary entries up online as a quirky blog and, perhaps, someone would find it who needed to know that she wasn’t alone.”
From the diary began The UnSlut Project – a foundation that “promotes gender equality, sex positivity, and comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education for all ages.” It doubles as a charity and a website where those who have been “slut” shamed can share their stories. After all, Lindin’s story was just one of many, and she came from a place of more privilege than many.
“One of my biggest concerns in sharing my story was that it would overpower or minimize the experiences of other women who didn’t have all the advantages that I happened to have. I include all the stories shared on The UnSlut Project on one big page not just so they are difficult to trace – many submitters want to remain anonymous – but so that they are easily searchable for readers who are looking for a story they can relate to. Rather than recommend specific shared stories, I would advise people looking for solidarity to do a simple search for the terms that most resonate with them and read the stories related to those terms. We have submissions from all over the world, from many races, ages, and walks of life. Even if we share the common thread of ‘slut’ shaming, every story is different and those differences MATTER.”
Lindin refers to the word ‘slut’ in quotes, and the UnSlut Project sells shirts that challenge those around the wearer to “Define ‘slut.’” After all, “slut” is a word with no real definition, an insult hurled at women to make them feel bad about their sexuality – no matter what their sexuality entails.
“One choice I made in this book that I hope other authors will emulate, writing for young adults and otherwise, is to always put the word ‘slut’ firmly within quotation marks when writing out the term ‘slut’ shaming. Never slut shaming or worse, ‘slut shaming’ – the shame is not questionable, but ‘slut’ as a term does not deserve to live outside of those quotation marks.”
Lindin added enough content to the physical UnSlut book for her original diary entries to remain online in their entirety, unedited and raw. Some of the content added is expanding on her thoughts, or reflections on what those around her might have been going through – but in some cases, Lindin talked to the people she had written about, those who she didn’t talk to and those who attacked her as a teen.
“For instance, the girl whose name I changed to Steph had been the one who bullied me the most. She had made a screen name DieEmilyLindin from which to send me hateful messages, and it hurt all the more because we had been best friends. She read my diary online and reached out on Facebook to apologize, and that gave me the chance to reconnect with her and to talk about how we both had experienced those events. The purpose of sharing my diary had never been to call anyone out or to humiliate them as adults, of course – hence the name changes – but having the chance to talk through the past with Steph and others who reached out, including ‘Jenna’ and ‘Tyler,’ provided me with a lot more information that I could incorporate into telling a fuller story.”
In the opening to UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir, Lindin describes her 11-year-old self as being the protagonist of her own story; it’s one of the reasons she’s “so glad” she had the chance to speak with those who tormented her in middle school.
“Imagining ourselves as the protagonists in our own stories has become even easier and more common with social media. I was inspired by the novels I read as a child, but nowadays kids grow up documenting their lives and representing themselves in particular ways to the outside world – and they have an unlimited audience, unlike when I wrote in my diary. Even though it was, in some ways, helpful to imagine myself as the star of my own story, it also detracted from my ability to feel empathy for others. I didn’t have the perspective to imagine that they, too, were the protagonists in their own stories – they were not simply supporting characters in mine. That’s something that we all need to keep in mind as we move through the world, and the sooner we can make it a habit, the healthier and happier we will all be.”
The ability to empathize with others is one of the reasons Lindin keeps “slut” in quotations, one of the reasons she works so hard to amplify the voices of others on her website, and it’s something she hopes authors will keep in mind when writing YA, fictional or otherwise.
“[T]heir messages – even unintended ones! – can be in shaping young women’s perceptions of themselves and the possibilities for what they can achieve throughout their lives. Female protagonists that are dependent upon the help of men to be successful or who need to be rescued or who are defined by stereotypically feminine qualities without multiple layers are worse than useless – they are dangerous. It’s a real responsibility to create content that will influence young minds, and it’s heartening to see how many authors take that seriously.”
UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir hits shelves on December 29 from Zest Books.
“When you read UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir, I’ll be right there with you – the margins are filled with the commentary I have written as an adult, returning to my diary over a decade later. I hope that the experience of reading along with me encourages you to envision yourself as an adult, too, looking back on what you’re living through now, from many years in the future. It’s impossible for you to have that perspective, of course, and that’s one of the reasons adolescence can be so hard. But know that eventually, if you persevere, you WILL have that perspective. You’ll be able to look back and laugh, cringe, roll your eyes, or even cry a little about what you’re experiencing right now. That doesn’t mean that this time in your life is unimportant, by any means. But what is important about it is not the way your classmates talk about you, or the way you look in the clothes you wear, or what other people tell you you’re worth. What is important is the way you choose your priorities, the kindness you show, and the way you define yourself as a person. You have that power, and as you grow older, it will become easier and more intuitive to recognize and exercise that power.”
For more on Emily Lindin and the Unslut Project, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.