It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Today’s badass is Emily Lindin.
Emily Lindin was the sixth grade slut.
Those days are well-behind Lindin, who now posts entire unedited entries from her middle school diary online as The UnSlut Project, an “It Gets Better”-esque effort to reach out to girls being bullied and harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual expression and let them know they are not alone. After the passing of Rehtaeh Parsons, the media fuckery during Steubenville, and the vast array of cases coming to light regarding the disappointing state of our sexual violence epidemic around the world, Lindin decided enough was enough and made the choice to speak out.
In her own words:
The UnSlut Project is inspired by my own experience. When I was eleven years old, I was branded a “slut” by my classmates and for the next few years of my life, I was bullied incessantly at school, after school, and online (this was 1997 in the days of AIM, and of course online bullying has only gotten worse).
During all this, I kept a regular diary. I decided to kick off The UnSlut Project by publishing these diary entries online, one at a time, without changing a word and with very limited commentary (except for changing all names, including my own). It’s my hope that, in addition to providing perspective to young girls, these entries can refresh adult readers’ memories by offering the unadulterated voice of an eleven year old who considered suicide multiple times and, thankfully, never went through with it.
I’m now a Harvard graduate, PhD candidate, and freelance writer and am quite happy, sex-positive, and fulfilled in all aspects of my life.
I wanted to talk to Lindin about what brought her to The UnSlut Project and how it feels to be vulnerable all over again.
Tell me about YOU! Who is “Emily Lindin?” How did she get to this point? What do you think were the experiences that moved you from a victim of bullying and harassment to an activist making such positive changes for girls around the world?
I am using a pen name to protect the identities of the other people I mention in my diaries, so forgive me if I answer this question rather vaguely.
My parents were one of the main reasons I got over this awful phase of my life – not because I confided in them (I never did) but because they encouraged me to pursue my academic work and my other talents. As I got to high school, I gained confidence because I was doing so well academically. Getting into a good college reinforced the idea that my hard work mattered so much more, in terms of the direction my life was headed, than anyone else’s opinion of me. During college and since, I have focused on doing what makes me happy and on trying to use my talents in the best ways I can. By discovering things I could be good at and concentrating on those things rather than on what other people thought of me, I was able to grow up and out of the phase represented in my middle school diaries.
When you were being harassed at school, who did you seek help from? How did that go?
I don’t think I ever sought help. I was too humiliated to bring up the subject.
I have an older sister who was a couple of years ahead of me in school, and while she knew what was going on, she and I weren’t close at the time. She was in a different group of friends and was not wrapped up in sexual activity, drinking, smoking, or any of that. I was actually just talking with her about The UnSlut Project and she said she had totally forgotten about all that drama and that she felt guilty she hadn’t realized how bad it was.
How does one become the “sixth-grade slut?”
For me, the event that triggered my reputation as a “slut” was engaging in uncomfortable, arguably coerced sexual behavior with my then-boyfriend. He told our group of friends, and the word spread quickly. These diaries tell the story of the events leading up to my sexual behavior, that behavior itself, and the aftermath.
One of the things that has struck me as I read through and type up my old diary entries is how involved in everyone else’s lives my peers and I were. Nowadays, for the most part (if you’re not a public figure), whom you choose to date and/or have sex with is your own business. But in middle school, it was understood to be EVERYBODY’S business.
You’re giving people the option to share their stories alongside yours. What parallels do you see between your own experiences and the experiences of girls functioning in a social media driven world?
There are many similarities, unfortunately. I have heard from countless women who say they feel like they could be reading their own middle school diaries. Hearing that gives me confidence that this project is necessary – my experience definitely wasn’t unique. As Amanda Hess pointed out in her article about The UnSlut Project on Slate, while social media can exacerbate this type of harassment, it can also serve as a positive outlet or offer perspective.
The UnSlut Project is, in a way, the opposite of cyber bullying. It’s turning social media as a harmful tool on its head.
The most rewarding part for me has been receiving messages from young women who are currently being bullied, who say that The UnSlut Project is helping them gain perspective. Reading through the disturbing stories of other women is often really difficult and sad for me, but when I hear from girls who are benefiting from this project, it makes me realize that our suffering can be turned into a positive thing for someone else.
What advice would you give to girls going through an experience like yours?
The people who are tormenting you do not define who you are. YOU define who you are – so go ahead and define it! Figure out what you’re good at and focus on that. If you’re pretty good at drawing, enroll in an art class at a nearby community college – you might make new friends with similar interests who don’t know about your reputation at school, you’ll be building your resume for college applications, and you’ll have an outlet for your anxiety. Learn what you can at school, and keep your mind set on the future: soon, you’ll leave these narrow-minded people behind and none of them will matter in your life at all.