Unslut is one of my choices for Feminist February, and you can see why. Emily Lindin kept a diary while in middle school, which documented the sexual bullying she suffered. In her 20’s, she decided to publish these diaries as a blog, with commentary, to share her story, and to help girls currently going through the same thing.
When Emily Lindin was eleven years old, she was branded a “slut” by the rest of her classmates. For the next few years of her life, she was bullied incessantly at school, after school, and online. At the time, Emily didn’t feel comfortable confiding in her parents or in the other adults in her life. But she did keep a diary.
UnSlut presents that diary, word for word, with split-page commentary to provide context and perspective. This unique diary and memoir sheds light on the important issues of sexual bullying, slut-shaming, and the murky mores of adolescent sexual development. Readers will see themselves in Emily’s story—whether as the bully, the shamed, or the passive bystander. This book also includes advice and commentary from a variety of distinguished experts.
I just signed up for a 3 month trial for Audible, so I downloaded Unslut for free. I’ve never been a fan of audiobooks before, but I can see the allure of “reading” while stuck in traffic on my way to and from work, so I may continue with it. In any case, I’m so glad I chose to read Unslut as part of Feminist February. It’s a story so many of us women know – girl meets boy, girl does “things” (or “it”) with boy (or maybe she doesn’t, he calls her “frigid”), boy spreads rumour, peers join in. Suddenly there’s a half-naked picture of you on Facebook, and you’re receiving messages that tell you to kill yourself.
That’s pretty much what happened to Emily Lindin, except the messages came over AIM. In the late 1990’s, access to the internet was restricted by old-fashioned dial-up connections, and social media was in its infancy. Unslut is an attempt to shine a light on the sexual bullying that girls suffer, that we as grown women suffered (and perhaps still do, in a way), that our daughters may suffer. The Unslut Project allows women to share their stories, so I’m taking the opportunity to share my own here.
I was born in 1991, the year of Nevermind, so I was a teenager in the mid-00’s. Our culture was inspired by US reality shows. We aspired to be blonde and thin and tanned like Mischa Barton and Paris Hilton. We ended up with orange hands and uneven highlights and constant hunger. We fantasised about spending our long summer holidays in California or Italy, when really we were lucky to get a weekend in Clacton. I grew up in a working-class family in London, the eldest of three, and by the time I went to secondary school, we lived in Hertfordshire, which some say is affluent, and others say is a shithole. In January 2004, I was the new girl at the worst school in the area. I’d come from Essex, where I spent the later part of my childhood. By 10, I had started my period and grown breasts, and, by 12, I was wearing make-up and had highlighted my hair. By thirteen, I’d lost my virginity to someone a lot older than me; by fourteen, I was regularly having casual sex, usually while intoxicated. At fifteen, I was raped, and didn’t recognise it for what it was. At 11, Emily Lindin let her then-boyfriend put his hands down her knickers, and she was branded a slut.
Did I experience sexual bullying? No, I don’t believe I did. Certainly not to the extent that Emily describes. I was a sexually active teenager, and I’m sure I had a reputation, but it didn’t bother me. I found it empowering. I definitely went for the “cool girl” stereotype as a teenager (cringe). I was the cool girl who wore stripey colourful socks, could handle her booze, and let the guys “dick slap” her (yuck). I could be “one of the lads”, “not like other girls”, but I also had big breasts and was willing to do almost anything. I probably had the reputation of being easy, because I was. I used alcohol, drugs, and sex to escape an abusive home life, to escape my own head. I put myself in those situations, and I blamed nobody but myself. I was a product of my upbringing, society in the mid-00’s, internalised sexism.
So no, I wasn’t sexually bullied, because I was too wrapped up in my own life to notice if I was. But I did see many girls go through a similar thing to Emily, and, even as a teenager, I knew it was wrong. When we were about 16, a friend (we’ll call her Sally) had a boyfriend (we’ll call him Adam) who was known for cheating. They were together for a couple of years, but throughout, he would constantly cheat on her, and he tried it on with me several times. He’d join us on Friday nights out, and wait until I was drunk before making a move. He’d lean in for a kiss and I’d always push him away, and, thankfully, he never pushed me further than that. But he did have a fling with a girl who was a few years younger than us (we’ll call her Danielle), while he was still dating Sally. Danielle, thirteen and naive, sent Adam pictures of herself in her underwear. Sally found them on his phone, and, enraged, sent them to her own phone, and then proceeded to share them around school. Adam protested his innocence – he hadn’t asked for those pictures! She’d just sent them! Danielle was a slut! And that’s how she became known.
Most of us knew that Adam probably had asked for those pictures, and sent some himself, because he’d sent pictures to some of us, Sally’s friends, in the past. But Sally didn’t want to hear it. She wanted to keep her boyfriend, so she shamed Danielle, recruiting school-friends to send nasty messages. I never participated, and defended Danielle against Sally and her tirade (I also had a reputation for being “scary”, simply because I regularly spoke out). I wish I’d stood up harder for her. I can’t remember what happened to Danielle. When I left school, I barely glanced back. I hope she made it out okay.
In Some Girls Do, the novel I’m currently writing, protagonist Jess goes off with a guy she’s been involved with before, with the intention to have sex. But, having drunk too much wine, she feels a bit sick, her head is spinning, and doesn’t want to go through with it. She’s too drunk to consent, she’s too drunk to say no, but the guy goes ahead anyway. Then he takes a picture of her, semi-conscious, skirt pulled up, knickers around her ankles. He sends it to a friend, and soon enough it ends up on social media. And so begins the sexual bullying of Jess.
The story is somewhat based on my own experience, but the guy didn’t take a photo of me (that I know of), and this was before the rise of social media. We had MySpace and MSN, but this was 2006, and not everyone had a smartphone. Some Girls Do is my story, brought into the present.
I wanted to read Unslut in part as research for Some Girls Do, but also because sexual bullying is a real issue that affects so much teenagers. (If you haven’t watched Audrie & Daisy yet, you can catch it on Netflix.) I really respect what Emily Lindin has done by publishing her diaries. Unslut is an honest, unapologetic look into life as a preteen in the late 90’s. It was particularly interesting to listen to as an audiobook, and I feel it only made it more captivating.
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If you want to sign up to be a beta reader for Some Girls Do when the time comes, pop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.