The Unslut Project Hopes to Put an End to Slut-Shaming

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Have you ever been called a slut? Harder question: Have you ever called another woman a slut? If you’re a woman—especially a woman who at one point was a teenage girl and went to high school—it’s pretty likely that if you’re being honest, you can say yes to one or both of those questions. It’s called slut-shaming, and Emily Lindin, creator of The Unslut Project, is on a mission to make it stop.

Lindin founded The Unslut Project after learning about the suicide of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons in 2013. Before her death, Rehtaeh Parson was cyber-bullied and slut-shamed by her peers for months. And what made her a “slut,” anyway? A photo of her rape was posted and shared online and at school. (Two 20-year-old-men have pled guilty to child pornography charges in her case.)

The story is sadly not unique. (I highly recommend reading Rolling Stone’s excellent piece from 2013 called “Sexting, Shame, and Suicide” for an in-depth look at the repercussions of cyber-bullying and slut-shaming on young girls.) Through The Unslut Project, Lindin has created a safe space for women and teens to share their stories of slut-shaming and find age-appropriate sexual education resources. She actually started the project by posting her middle-school diary entries on Tumblr, which included details of her own experiences with slut-shaming, starting when she was only 11.

Lately, when it comes to the topic of slut-shaming, it seems that Amber Rose and her Instagram get all the attention. But it’s important to remember why The Unslut Project is so vital: when it comes to slut-shaming, not all of us react by posting a photo in sexy lingerie. Especially not when you’re a teenage girl, getting bullied and threatened and made fun of by your peers, both in person and online. As we can see through just the one example of Rehtaeh Parsons, it’s clear how serious the damage can be on self-esteem and self-worth.

I also know firsthand how intense the impact sexual bullying and slut-shaming can be on a teenager, because it happened to me. Yep, I’m a former “slut”—and I am frequently reminded by stories like Rehtaeh Parsons that it’s beyond time for slut-shaming to stop. Once you become a “slut,” it doesn’t matter if the stories are true or not. Some of the stories about me were wildly false, like the rumor that I “pulled a train” with guys from the football team, which led some girls (yes, girls!) to follow me down the hall for weeks my sophomore year, yelling, “Choo! Choo!” and laughing. When I would keep walking and not react, that’s when the final taunt would come, hurled at my back: “Slut!”

It didn’t matter that I had to ask a friend what the hell pulling a train was. Prior to this, a story about me had been true, so of course after admitting that one, anything else was fair game. And yes, as a girl you have to “admit” a sexual experience, but of course, for the guy involved, he could brag about it with no consequences.

Back when I was a “slut,” I was lucky. I had a mother I felt safe confiding in about what was happening (both the bullying and any actual sexual experiences) and she reminded me every day to walk into school with my head held high. I had (some) friends that stuck by my side and didn’t judge me. As an adult, though, I don’t blame any of my girlfriends that weren’t such good friends to me during this time—if I hadn’t been the one with the slut label, I might have stayed as far away as possible too. The “slut” reputation can be contagious.

Today, if someone called me a slut, I would just shrug. Because to me, that insult doesn’t even make sense. It’s yet another example of the “boys will be boys” mentality. As Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie so perfectly put it, “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” And that’s just bullshit. (In case you forgot, Queen Bey will remind you why.)

Along with The Unslut Project, Lindin has just raised the funds for Slut: A Documentary Film, which includes stories from women who overcame sexual shaming and bullying. You can read Lindin’s interview with Bitch Magazine here, and in the meantime, let’s all try to erase the word “slut” from our vocabulary. We deserve better, ladies—and the teenage girls dealing with bullying right now especially do.

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Writer. I don’t always drink beers as big as my head, but when I do, I take a picture of it.

For more of my writing, visit alisonhamm.com.

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