“Nobody Deserves It”: Crowd-funded Documentary Takes on Slut-Shaming

Despite some mild incursions by feminism, much of society likes to keep female sexuality corralled between two policed boundaries. On the one hand lies prude, on the other slut. Or to state it again without the slang, women are encouraged to to be sexual but not too sexual, available but not too available. What are the consequences for straying? Scorn, derision, invisibility, or maybe far worse.

In recent years, there has been a rash of disturbing incidents in which rape victims whose violation was caught on videotape were themselves bullied viciously, to the point of suicide, depression, or total exclusion. From Steubenville to Maryville and Torrington, the online aspect of these cases only amplifies and reflects what young women have long experienced.

Emily Lindin, a PhD student in California, found herself shaken up every time she read one of these stories because they reminded her of her own early adolescence. One victim, Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia, took her own life, and her parents’ subsequent blog posts and Facebook tribute went viral and led to a change in Canadian law. This particular tragedy happened around the time Lindin was home visiting her parents in Massachusetts. She opened a box of her old diaries and found evidence of the slut-shaming and bullying she endured and then perpetrated. An example of what she found:

When I came back to the computer, the chat box was back and this time it said, “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet, you stupid slut?” I know it sounds stupid, but I felt like the chat box could see me through the computer screen.

Lindin (a pen name) began to publish a version of her diary (with the other names changed, too) piece by piece on Wattpad. Soon enough, she tells Flavorwire, “adolescent girls were commenting on a specific line or story, saying they could relate.” From this, the UnSlut Project online community was born.

Now Lindin and her creative partner Jessica Caimi have turned the community into a crowd-funded film, Slut: A Documentary that focuses on several instances of slut-shaming. She decided to make the film while browsing through Netflix documentaries with her husband, realizing that people who don’t know anything about bullying and slut-shaming might be reached through the medium. “I am a believer  in the idea that if you want to make any sort of large-scale cultural change, you have to call people in and demonstrate that it’s a problem,” she says.

After raising the funds on Kickstarter, Lindin and her co-filmmaker traveled around the country, interviewing Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents and several other women, including Samantha Gailey Geimer, Roman Polanski’s underage rape victim. According to Lindin, the women all come from different backgrounds, culturally and socioeconomically, and coped with their slut-shaming experiences in totally different ways.

The idea is to give “diverse women a voice” in speaking to a common experience, reaching as wide an audience as possible (something that the recent SlutWalk movement was criticized for failing to do).

Part of the value of both the online project and the documentary comes from that restoration of agency to people who have experienced slut-shaming. Part of the process of slut-shaming involves objectifying and silencing victims. Leora Tanenbaum, author of Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation explains it further in a review of a play that is also called SLUT:

“But if her peers decide she has crossed an invisible, constantly shifting boundary and has become too ‘slutty,’ she loses all credibility. Even if she was coerced into sex, her identity and reputation are taken from her. Indeed, the power to tell her own story is wrested from her.

Lindin’s project aims to restore that storytelling power, not unlike Tanebaum’s book, the play SLUT, Slutwalks, and even Kathleen Hanna’s notorious scrawling of the word across her stomach. There’s a powerful tradition of reclaiming the term. But it’s needed in particular today, because for young girls on the Internet, there’s a more all-encompassing lens of scrutiny. That’s one thing Geimer told the filmmakers, Lindin said. Back then, after the Polanski allegations surfaced, she and her mother were shamed by the media, but many of her classmates weren’t clued in.

Now, the Internet means home, and even new schools can’t provide a refuge. Lindin says she sees a kinship between her project and others that use the power of storytelling to erode sex-related stigma, from rape to abortion. “The idea that we have to justify people who ‘deserve’ to have an abortion versus people who don’t has such a parallel with slut-shaming,” says Lindin. “Many women will say they didn’t even deserve that ‘slut’ label because they were a virgin, but that that creates this other woman who does deserve it. Nobody deserves it.”

The outpouring of support for the project’s various crowd-funding stages shows that Lindin has tapped into a powerful current. The film is currently funding its final post-production costs through Seed & Spark, and it will be distributed via T.U.G.G, which allows audiences to bring movies to local theaters. “It happened because people want it to happen,” says Lindin. “We didn’t need permission from a production company.”