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'Slut: A Documentary' Pulls Out Some 'It Gets Better' Realness For Survivors Of Sexual Bullying

Emily Lindin, like too many young girls, was bullied and shamed after being labeled the school “slut” during her preteen years. As an adult, she’d hear of the tragic stories of girls who’d committed suicide—Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, Audrie Pott—after experiencing the same kind of suffering. So, in 2013, Lindin decided to do something to help: She wanted to show girls that though they may feel isolated or trapped, they are not alone. She started publishing entries from the diary she kept in middle school online, calling it The UnSlut Project. It’s now evolved to include stories from women all over who’ve been slut-shamed or experienced sexual assault in any way. 

Lindin next teamed up with friend and filmmaker Jessica Caimi and successfully crowdfunded Slut: A Documentary. The film is in post-production and seeking funding so it can reach even more people. We recently spoke with Lindin about the website, the idea behind the documentary, and her goals to get adults to put an end to sexual bullying once and for all.

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Was there any one moment that inspired you to put together the documentary?

In the summer of 2013, I had been posting my middle school diaries online and collecting stories from other women who had survived sexual bullying for a few months. It occurred to me that I was going to run out of diary entries to post! And I really wanted the conversation to continue beyond my personal experience and the sharing of that experience online. I had never made a film before, but one of my best friends, Jessica Caimi, had experience. Putting together a documentary seemed like a great starting point for conversations to happen among people who had not yet discovered The UnSlut Project and who, in fact, might never have even thought about sexual bullying as an issue.

Have you come to see the Internet as a harbinger for good?

The Internet does amplify certain voices over others. And often those voices that we hear most loudly and most often are negative and hateful. That's one of the reasons I started The UnSlut Project: to create a little corner of the Internet where girls can find support and safety, and where people of all genders who have gone through some kind of sexual shaming can speak up and have their voices heard amid all the Internet noise.

What kinds of responses have you seen in regards to The UnSlut Project?

The best and most important responses I get are from young women and adolescent girls who write to let me know that reading my diary or reading the experiences that other women have shared through the project has really given them hope for their own lives. That's the primary reason I created this project, and hearing from them outweighs any negative responses. With that said, I have had a lot of people, mostly men as far as I can tell, get in touch with me for the purpose of telling me to stop what I'm doing. Sometimes their messages include death and rape threats, and I would be lying if I said that doesn't rattle me. But those responses only prove that the work we are doing with this project needs to be done! I tried to turn that negative energy into fuel to work even harder.

When you were feeling trapped and/or ashamed, where did for comfort or community?

Throwing myself into [the world of performing] allowed me to redefine myself in the eyes of my peers, but most importantly, in my own eyes. I was very, very lucky to have motivated parents who noticed something was wrong. They enrolled me in voice lessons and a choir that was not affiliated with my school, where most of the bullying happened. That community outside of school was invaluable to building my confidence.

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Who do you want to make sure sees your film?

Every parent, every teacher, and every policy maker. The film will be useful for adolescent viewers, but if we are going to change our cultural perceptions of female sexuality and the way we support sexual assault victims, it needs to be on an institutional level. And we as adults need to take responsibility for our role in making that change.

How can people tell this is a film not just for girls, but for boys too?

In addition to speaking to some female thought leaders, we also spoke to men. And we asked our experts, men and women, specifically about the role boys and men play in making change. For too long, conversations have centered around the idea that somehow we can teach our girls to behave in a certain way or to protect themselves, and that this is good enough. We need to [instead] raise boys from an early age to respect their female classmates as equals, and that includes issues having to do with sexuality.

What kind of impact would you expect or like the film to have across genders and within the LGBT community?

Issues having to do with sexual shame affect us all, and I hope the film calls people into the conversation no matter how they identify personally. There is an obvious parallel between LGBT youth who are bullied to the point of suicide and young women who take their own lives because of sexual bullying. In fact, I started The UnSlut Project with the It Gets Better project in mind. Especially when you don't have support from adults in your own life—perhaps your parents are part of the shaming problem—it can really help to hear from other adults that they have survived something similar, and that you, too, can overcome this.

If there's one thing you want people to walk away with after seeing Slut: A Documentary, what is it?

I want people to walk away with a sense of responsibility in their own lives. When it comes to making large-scale cultural change, the situation can often seem hopeless and it's easy to just throw our hands up and say well, that's the way things are. But if we don't change, then nothing changes. We need to start with ourselves, with our own assumptions about female sexuality and our own expectations of girls and women. We can work outward from there into our communities. Funding for Slut: A Documentary post-production costs ends on March 6th. Watch a preview below and check out the project here.

This interview has been edited for length.

Image c/o The UnSlut Project

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