Introduction

Emily Lindin kept a diary through her middle school years where she experienced the unfortunate and all-too-common effects of ‘slut shaming.’  Years later, upon hearing about girls across the United States who had committed suicide at the same cause, Lindin decided to revisit her diaries and publish them verbatim online.  This was the beginning of something called “The UnSlut Project;” essentially an open group dedicated to “working to undo the dangerous ‘slut’ shaming and sexual bullying in our schools, communities, media, and culture.”  Lindin then decided to go back through these diaries again and make comments on what she had written as a teenager, attempting to fill in the cracks for readers, providing some sage reflection on her past experiences.  This reflection was published with the title UnSlut.

In the memoir, the author revisits her sixth to eighth grade diaries to communicate the harmful effects of slut shaming in a way that will be easily understood by adults and teenagers alike.  UnSlut was penned under the name Emily Lindin and published by Zest Books in San Fransisco, CA in 2015.  The book is 272 pages long, which includes the afterword, important resources for parents or teens who may be struggling, the editor’s note, and photocopies of selected excerpts from her handwritten diaries. 

Throughout her diary and commentary, Lindin identifies the harmful effects that slut shaming had on her— She was made to think that this was a reputation she had brought on herself, when in reality she did nothing to warrant such a title.  She effectively supports these claims with personal experience and successfully communicates the damage slut shaming can incur.  Ultimately she came to believe she was guilty of the very behaviors she was accused of, which contributed to her poor social reputation and the often-unwanted advances of boys in her class.

Summary of the Content

Lindin began her diaries in 1997, during her sixth grade school year, the year that she attributes to the incident that branded her with the reputation of “slut” that would stick with her for years to come.  Within the first-hand diary entries and reflections, she  inserts comments from her more knowledgable, experienced, adult point-of-view.  As the diary entries progress through middle school, the reader follows along Lindin’s peer interactions and is provided a window to her thoughts and reactions to these occurrences.  The commentary from her older self provides comic relief, fills gaps of understanding, and most importantly reflects on what Lindin has learned since she left this community and reputation behind. 

Evaluation

This week’s theme, sexuality, ties to UnSlut in many ways.  Just looking at the headings, “purity and promiscuity” presents a grand theme in Emily Lindin’s life, as does “sexual violence”.  As I perused this week’s materials, several of the readings closely parallel events and situations in UnSlut.  John Oliver’s “Sex Ed PSA” video highlights the woefully unhelpful sex ed programs offered at some schools.  Hlavka’s research paper “Normalizing Sex Violence” eerily echos some diary entries Lindin made that referenced how it is natural for men to be sexual aggressors: ““They don’t mean to be cruel, but it’s just natural— they got sick of her poser-slut act, and now it’s just annoying” (p. 176).  Women often described men as “unable to control their sexual desires,” a concept that is brought to attention several times in Lindin’s UnSlut. 

In and of itself, the book is fascinating and entertaining.  The on-and-off dating, passing notes, phone calls to the house, and AOL Instant Messenger reminded me a lot of my own sixth grade and middle school experiences, which I fortunately remember as much more tame than those of Emily Lindin.  Because the writing is so relatable, I found myself wondering what the experiences of my classmates had been like, if I had ever been bullied, and if I had ever been the one doing the bullying.  Lindin and I are quite similar in that we both grew up in well-off, privileged areas and never had to worry too much about anything other than our own petty drama.  Her description in “Eighth Grade” of the boys’ meeting spot “at the stone wall” (p. 163) that the girls so cleverly infiltrated, sounded so similar to the brick wall outside of our old meeting spot behind the neighborhood 7-11. 

At points it can be difficult to truly understand the intensity of the bullying and stress that Lindin felt herself, because as most of the writing is from the perspective of her middle-school self, it seems to me that she plays down the emotional and social stress that they had on her at the time.  For example, she talks very little about cutting in relation to the amount of time she spends describing positive romantic encounters with different boys.  It did not occur to me until far into the book that she probably did not record every encounter she had ever had with “Chris Walker,” which would explain some of her further actions. 

The value of this book lies in the fact that it was first written and then later reflected on by the same individual, providing insight on the short and long-term effects of slut shaming and, in fact, all kinds of bullying.  However, I believe its limitations stem from exactly the same structure: it seems only natural that as Lindin authored the original commentary, she might have downplayed experiences, downplayed her part in those experiences, and downplayed how they affected her, all in order to cope… perhaps without even knowing it.  Lindin’s comments throughout her old diary seem calm and level-headed, but as she says in her work, at some points the memories tied to what she had written in her diaries caused her to become so emotional that she would have to put down her work for months at a time.  This sort of reaction causes me to wonder how distanced her comments actually are, for the audience must remember that this is the same person who experienced the trauma years before. 

Conclusion

I have never needed to be told twice that slut shaming is distressing and wrong, but this book certainly convinced me of it many times over.  I was shocked by a lot of the issues that Lindin faced, and quite disturbed that she never found it in her to confide in any of the adults in her life.  UnSlut was understandable and relatable, which made it that much harder to read about the awful things that had taken place and to be reminded that although I was not exposed to it at the time, the same sexual harassment was most likely happening in my middle school as well. 

In my experience, it seems that most sexual experimentation and casual rifts between friends (that seem to suddenly involve the whole school) take place in that awkward age when children feel as though they are growing up, but still are not old enough to drive themselves places or preoccupy one another with anything more than just “hanging around,” as Lindin realizes herself in the first comment on page 47.  I feel as though this book would best resonate with seventh grade students, as sixth is too young for the language and sexuality and eighth may be too late to get the message across.  In a perfect world, the book would be introduced to students in a school setting such as the “Family Life Education” (FLE) courses offered between grades 5-10 in Fairfax County.  Girls and boys could be separated so as to diminish embarrassment, increase peer discussion, understand the book as a community, and comprehend it with the assistance of a teacher and/or counselor.  I suspect that the boys would have a harder time taking the book seriously because it looks as though it is produced for girls and it is written by a girl.  To be more effective for them, I would suggest the same diary, but with narration/comments from adult versions of the key players in Lindin’s middle school life, namely Tyler, Matt, Jacob, and Steven.  Lastly I believe the book would be highly informative for parents of a middle schooler of any gender, if for no other reason than to expose them to the culture and how little children sometimes share with their parents.
_________________________________________________________________

Lindin, Emily, and Amanda Hess. UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir. San Fransisco, CA: Zest, 2015. Print.

Advertisements