Teasing is a part of everyone’s past. For some it can be shaken off and thought of as a piece of their adolescence, but for some it was a nightmare they wouldn’t wish on anyone. For Emily Lindin, it was just that. Being attacked for things she’d never done, but that were rather assumed of her – Emily was more than teased, she was harassed and made to feel so low, that ending her life was often a thought. Instead of giving in though, she took to writing in a diary. She wrote down every moment, every feeling, every ounce of pain was poured onto those pages.
Fast forward to a grown up Emily, a strong woman who thought that her words and experience could help others. With that, her diary was published and The UnSlut Project was born. When it comes to the Project she says, “I’m not about reclaiming the word ‘slut’ OR getting rid of it all together. I’m about undoing the entire ‘concept’ of a slut – the idea that women can be categorized according to some undefined parameters of acceptable sexuality. I want ‘slut’ to lose its power as an insult, so it seems ridiculous and archaic.”
With that, we sat down with Emily to find out where she was back in the day, and take a look at how far she’s come.
Kendra: You started dealing with being called a slut before many even start puberty and really comprehend what sex and promiscuity even is. Do you think that’s because of the school you went to, the parenting your classmates were receiving, pop culture…?
Emily Lindin: Some people are surprised to learn that I grew up in an affluent New England town and attended one of the best public schools in the country. My parents raised my siblings and I as strict Catholics, but they also both have advanced degrees and were incredibly motivated in terms of parenting, setting rules, etc. I didn’t feel comfortable confiding in them about what was going on, but I credit a lot of my success after middle school to my parents’ empathy and effort to help me pursue my talents outside of that toxic school environment where I was being bullied, as well as the guidance counselors and wonderful academic resources I had access to. It happened to me, there, and I think that shows that it can happen to anyone, anywhere – and most people are not as lucky as I happened to have been.
Kendra: The bullying was nonstop for you as it even followed you home online. Other than keeping a diary, how did you make it out of that period in your life?
Emily: I didn’t do this deliberately, but looking back it’s clear that I was able to build my self-esteem by focusing on what I was good at doing and what I enjoyed. It was singing and performing in my case, and again, I was very lucky to have parents with the means and motivation to enroll me in voice lessons and bring me to musical theater camps. I redefined myself, *for* myself, and eventually, I noticed that other people thought of me differently, as well.
Kendra: I ask because you wound up publishing your diary after you read about some teens who’d taken their own lives due to the same kind of bullying you once lived with. Did you ever come close to that point?
Emily: Yes, I did. I never made a serious suicide attempt, but one winter, I would frequently go sit in the basement with hardly any clothes on for hours, hoping that I would freeze to death. I thought about dying a lot, but I also harmed myself by cutting.
Kendra: Have you ever confronted those kids who made your life a living hell?
Emily: I changed all of their names when I published my diaries, because the intention was never to humiliate them or get any kind of revenge. But a handful of them have read my book and contacted me about it to apologize, hash things out, and reconnect. It’s been very healing and I’m grateful to them for that!
Kendra: Now onto slut shaming on a grander scale. Of course we have to talk about the double standard that always comes up when it comes to slut shaming in that men get out of it with a pass. Like if they have a lot of partners they’re cool, but a woman is deemed a horrible person. On a personal level, why do you think that is?
Emily: On a personal level, I think it’s just as much because we don’t allow men space to be emotional as it is because we don’t allow women space to be sexual. If we could acknowledge to ourselves, our friend circles, and more publicly that people of all genders have sex for all different reasons, I think there would be a lot less pressure for guys to brag about casual sex in a way that is cruel or to “slut” shame women for enjoying it.
Kendra: Do you think we’ll ever reach a point where we’re 100% equal in terms of respect and treatment on a gender level?
Emily: No. To be 100% equal, women would have to rescind men’s right to vote or own property, and force them to become rape slaves to elderly women when they are young boys.
And that would have to go on for thousands of years, until that power structure became so much a part of our culture that men would have to spend inordinate amounts of time, money, and energy to convince the women in charge that they should be able to make health decisions about their own bodies. But I think we women can be generous, and decide to start with a clean slate from this point in history. And given the amount of progress we’ve seen just over the last hundred years in this country, I am hopeful.
Kendra: In the few years you’ve been doing The UnSlut Project, what has been one story you’ve heard from someone you’ve worked with that’ll stay with you until your final day on earth?
Emily: There are too many of them to list, and for all different reasons. In addition to speaking with people in person, I read every story that is submitted on The UnSlut Project website and I hear from people every day who just want to share what they’ve gone through. The reason I don’t want to provide just one is because the idea behind making this project is that no one story can stand in for *all* of our stories. There are many common themes, and we can find solidarity in those, but the details of our personal stories matter.
Kendra: What’s coming up for The UnSlut Project in the coming months, in 2017?
Emily: My diary has recently been turned into a play, to be performed by middle school students, by a wonderful Canadian playwright, and we’ll be making an official announcement about that soon!
Kendra: How can people get involved with your Project?
Emily: People can share their own experiences at unslutproject.com, get a Define “Slut” shirt (those are real conversation starters!), host a film screening and/or a workshop at their school or community – and most importantly, people can decide to start standing up against the “slut” shaming they see in their own lives. I also hope people will connect with me on The UnSlut Project’s Facebook page or at @EmilyLindin on Twitter and Instagram.