Undoing the culture of sexual shaming

Documentary 'UnSlut' to screen in Palo Alto

In 2013, a 17-year-old Canadian high school student, Rehtaeh Parsons, killed herself after being gang-raped by her classmates and subsequently bullied, shamed and blamed by her peers. Parsons is only one of the many teenage girls who have attempted or considered suicide after being unable to escape sexual bullying both in online platforms and in person. "UnSlut: A Documentary Film" tells the stories of these girls and women who have experienced sexual shaming, and aims to inspire and motivate the public to speak up about the dangerous consequences of sexual bullying, "slut"-shaming and all forms of gender-based discrimination.

The film emerged as part of the UnSlut Project, an organization founded by Emily Lindin, who was sexually bullied during middle school after her boyfriend and his friends spread false rumors about her being a "slut." Years after the traumatic experience, in April 2013, Lindin began posting her middle school diary entries on Wattpad, an online story-sharing platform. Her diary entries illustrated the emotional turmoil caused by sexual shaming, turmoil which in Lindin's case led her to consider suicide at the age of 11. A huge number of girls and women who read Lindin's diary entries reached out to her, expressing that they wanted to share their similar stories as well, Lindin said, and this is how the project expanded.

Lindin defines slut shaming as "implying that a girl or woman should feel inferior or guilty for her real or perceived sexual behavior." Her goal is to reach out to girls and women who have experienced sexual shaming and bullying in various forms.

"(I) write the word slut shaming (as) 'slut' shaming because I don't buy into everything that's packed into the meaning of 'slut'," Lindin said. "I believe in undoing the meaning behind the word. So that's where 'unslut' comes from -- undoing everything that's packed into it and all the assumptions that allow that word to continue to make sense as an insult."

A special sneak peek from the documentary will be screened on Wednesday, July 22, at 6 p.m. at the Gateway Palo Alto, in an event hosted by the new-media channel viiv.tv. This will be an almost-complete version of the documentary, lacking only three minutes of animation that is intended to portray potentially triggering scenes such as rape or suicide. The screening of the 40-minute documentary will be followed by a panel discussion.

According to Lindin, what is unique about the Palo Alto event is that it will allow for a casual conversation more intimate than that at a film festival or premiere. At this "community get-together," viewers will have a chance to hang out with Lindin and share any questions or comments they might have about the UnSlut project.

"The idea is (to) work with leaders in the community to steer the conversation afterwards and have the panel discussion because we want people to try to think of solutions for issues as they apply specifically to the community where the screening happens," Lindin said.

The project uses a platform called Tugg to crowd-source screenings, more of which will be held in the following months, starting with those in San Antonio and Boston in September. Lindin's annotated middle school diary, "UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir," will also be released in December.

Lindin said she is excited to discuss these very important issues with Palo Alto community members at the event on Wednesday.

"(The UnSlut project) demonstrates... how a teenager in India could be going through a similar experience as a woman who is in her sixties in the Midwest that has never spoken about the shame that she feels for decades," Lindin added. "(Sexual shaming) is so broad that it means that really any woman can be targeted at any time."

Sevde Kaldiroglu is an editorial intern at Palo Alto Weekly.

What: "UnSlut: A Documentary Film" screening

When: Wednesday, July 22, at 6 p.m.

Where: Gateway Palo Alto, 1870 University Ave., Palo Alto

Cost: $25

Info: popcornscreening.viiv.tv

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