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 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 an 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


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9 people like this
Posted by Rob Daley
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 21, 2015 at 11:43 am

There's something about this that doesn't add up. The lead describes an incident that almost everyone would find unjust, i.e., a girl was gang-raped and then blamed for the crime others committed against her. But then the a bit of bait-and-switch seems to happen. Rather than staying on protecting victims of rape and bullying, the focus shifts to opposing "feeling inferior or guilty for [one's] real or perceived sexual behavior." But some "real" sexual behavior *should* make one feel guilty, shouldn't it? Like the behavior of the classmates who raped Ms. Parsons? Maybe we and our Canadian neighbors could make a start by taking a good hard look at the hypersexualized adult culture that we've developed and have carelessly allowed to seep down to younger and younger children, such that Ms. Parsons' young attackers could even conceive of their crime, and the equally outrageous way they hounded their victim to her death. Shaming has its place in human society; it always has, and always will. Adults should see that it gets pointed at the perpetrators, not the victims. Ms. Lindin should stay on that target.

6 people like this
Posted by PornKillsLove
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 21, 2015 at 11:51 am

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by NotAllShameIsBad
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 21, 2015 at 11:52 am

"Slut shaming" as described is a terrible form of bullying.

However, the concept of shaming a person when HE or she has broken cultural and moral norms is not necessarily in itself a bad thing.

Let me be more specific. Prior to the 60's having a child out of wedlock was a shameful event. Granted, the girl/woman bore the brunt of the shaming (which I feel was wrong), but not all boys avoided it. And the families had to step up to providing the care and support. Else the baby was given up for adoption.

By sometime in the 70's this had changed. A young/unmarried generally teen-aged woman who had a baby was accepted by the community and the fathers avoided personal and financial responsibility.

- I am not talking about a grown, mature single woman who decides to have a baby. and has the money and means to take care of herself and a child.
- I am not talking about teenagers who happen to be sexually active, nor how many partners they have.

What I am talking about is RESPONSIBILITY - anyone who cannot or will not take responsibility for raising a child, who engages in consensual sexual activity that results in pregnancy. The result is either: an unwanted child likely raised in poverty even on government assistance, a child having to be given up for adoption, or an unnecessary abortion.

THAT IS SHAMEFUL and it ought to be treated as such.

3 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Jul 21, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Blaming/shaming the woman is a long ingrained cultural norm. It has been a staple of the Big Three religion systems since thebook of Genesis.

1 person likes this
Posted by Shame & Shamelessness
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2015 at 3:36 pm

As a mother raising a tween daughter, I am sympathetic to this film. When I got to the word "bully," however, I had to stop and wonder about some shame-less sexual behavior that has seemed like bullying. I live in an apartment complex where you would not expect to hear residents having loud sex at unexpected times of day, like when young children are playing nearby and when families are gathered together. Here, there was a female who was so loud you could hear her from the next building. Although she seemed sexually liberated, she also seemed to be aggressively blasting her sexuality to everyone in the vicinity. At the core of bullying is the feeling of contempt, and it's hard not to wonder if she felt contempt for everyone living around her--perhaps especially towards families with young children who had to suddenly deal with the situation every time it occurred. The woman, herself, did not appear to have children. The area of the complex did not seem family friendly in the way that a certain area of a high school might not seem safe when it's a bully's stomping ground. A little dose of shame, rather than shamelessness, might have spared residents from that woman's sexual bullying.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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