Emily Lindin is the Founder of The Unslut Project, an online storytelling platform that promotes gender equality, sex positivity, and comprehensive sex education for all ages. Emily started The Unslut Project by publishing her own diary entries from ages 11-14 documenting her feelings and experiences after being labeled the school “slut.” The Unslut Project quickly grew into a blog, bringing together narratives across all genders, ages, and identities from all over the world. Emily has further expanded her work by releasing a memoir, Unslut, and directing Unslut: A Documentary Film.
Rachel: You started The Unslut Project by publishing your own diary entries, which eventually turned into a blog, and has further transformed into a book and film. When you published those first entries, did you have a vision for where you wanted this project to go?
Emily: I had a vision, but it wasn’t what ended up happening and I’m really glad about that. I had just started writing my dissertation for my PhD in Music History, which ended up being unrelated to where I ended up putting my time and energy. I thought that The Unlsut Project would just be a blog of my diary entries and some commentary from my present day self that would perhaps reach a handful of girls, who could relate, and help them. But almost immediately after I put my diaries online, unsolicited, I started hearing from girls and women all over the world who had seen them, who could relate. It became clear almost immediately that it needed to be more than just my story. There’s a temptation to hold up survivor stories that have happy endings, and easy trajectories to trace that end up at those happy endings, as examples of what everyone can do to overcome sexual assault or sexual harassment. But my story couldn’t be seen as a stand in for everyone’s. It became clear to me that I wanted to share not just my own experience, but as many people’s experiences as I could. Since I now had a stage, a platform online to do that, I felt compelled to. It was an obligation to create an ongoing project that’s not just about me and what I know personally, but about everyone who wants to speak up about what they’ve gone through.
Rachel: I think that really speaks to the power of storytelling.
Emily: It does. I strongly believe that one way we can use all of these new media tools that we have now with the internet is to share our experiences and demonstrate just how widespread this problem is. I think that’s one of the most powerful tools we have to change our society at large.
Rachel: I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at the Amber Rose Slutwalk in Los Angeles earlier this month, where you discussed the limiting narratives of sexual assault that we see in the media, that often do not represent the wide range of identities and experiences of survivors. Why do you think that is and what can we do to change that?
Emily: It’s really imperative for all of us who have any type of privilege, and by that privilege, I mean, people will want to see us as typical victims, as fitting into a narrative. We have white privilege, many of us have cisgendered privilege, we have straight privilege, and men have male privilege, and they can use that to help amplify our stories and we can use that to help amplify each other’s stories. The first part of the question is where that privilege comes from, and really, it’s centuries of mythologies about what it means to be an “ideal woman,” and I put ideal firmly in quotation marks. Part of that in our country is being the type of woman that people want to take care of, or that people see as needing protection. I don’t agree with that, but I’ve noticed that when I tell my story, as I move through the world every day, men will treat me as someone who’s worth protecting, or worth seeing as a victim. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with that, but given that’s the way the world is right now, I can use that. And that’s a decision I really encourage all women to make as we decide how we’re going to reshape the narrative. Notice how people treat you, notice when people want to listen to you, and then be strategic about how to share other people’s stories by using whatever privilege you have.
Rachel: What is one piece of advice that you would give to your 11 year old self, the girl who first wrote those diary entries?
Emily: Other people’s opinions of you do not equal you. When you’re that age, and actually for a lot of us into adulthood, it’s really easy to let other people’s ideas about who you are and who you should be override your own, or fill in that space where you could build your own. I would tell my younger self to focus on what I was good at, what I enjoyed doing, what made me feel powerful and important and talented, and to spend my time and energy there instead of worrying about how to impress people who were set against me. Or, how to try to convince other people that I was worth more than what they were telling me I was worth, because none of that matters if you’ve internalized a sense of yourself as just a slut, which I had. So, that’s what I would encourage myself to do sooner, and in fact it’s what I encourage girls now who ask me how to overcome this type of thing. What I encourage them to do is to spend their time on whatever they enjoy doing, what makes them feel good, what builds their self esteem, and eventually if they’re able to change their own opinions of themselves, others will follow. Even if they don’t, it won’t matter, because they won’t have internalized that sense that all their worth is what their peers are telling them they’re worth.
Rachel: What do you want the state of women to look like?
Emily: I would like the state of women to be thought of as the state of humans. I would like women to be seen as part of humanity instead of as a subgroup that needs to be legislated around or protected or defended. I would like that type of protection and defense to just be a thing of the past, completely unnecessary. I see that happening and I’m very hopeful. I see people recognizing that women’s issues are everyone’s issues and I would like that to catch on. I would like women to be seen as capable of making our own decisions when it comes to our bodies, in all ways. When it comes to the ways we spend our lives, whether we want to be a mother or not, whether we want to be a wife, whom we want to love, whom we want to spend time with, the career we want to have…I would like all of those decisions to be given the same weight and importance as they are for men. As I said, I see us making progress towards that and I’m hopeful.