Powerful New Documentary ‘Unslut’ Combats Slut-Shaming Through Personal Stories

unslut-documentary

By now most of us are familiar with slut-shaming, victim blaming and how there is undue burden on women when it comes to rape and sexual assault. There is a dangerous cultural argument that “she was asking for it” when a girl is raped and she happens to be drunk or wearing clothing of a revealing nature.

Or the many many stories we continually hear about girls in schools across the country who have been told they need to change their outfits because they are “too distracting” for the boys, instead of teaching boys from a young age that a girl wearing a certain item of clothing is NOT your cue to act in a sexual or violent manner.

At what point does the lightbulb go on in our collective consciences when it comes to the real issue behind rape? Rape culture is the pervasiveness of sexual assault and media images, social ideas and cultural practices that normalize and trivialize sexual violence, blaming the victims for their abuse.

This awful trend has to stop. We spoke with filmmaker Emily Linden about her new documentary ‘Unslut’ which aims to break down misconceptions and share valuable insights through a series of person interviews. Some of the people featured in this documentary may be familiar. There is Samantha-Gailey-Geimer the woman who at age 13 was sexually assaulted by filmmaker Roman Polanski, and the family of Retaeh Parsons, the Canadian girl who committed suicide after being subjected to sexual humiliation and cyber-bullying.

We want to contribute to the generation that seeks change the way women are treated when it comes to sexual crimes, sexual violence and rape. This documentary will be part of that, and we encourage you to read on and find out more!

Emily-Linden

How did the idea for this film come about? 

At the end of the summer of 2013, I had been posting my diary entries online and collecting stories from other women for a few months, and it occurred to me that I needed to reach a broader audience in order to really make widespread change. People who participated in the feminist blogosphere were on board with The UnSlut Project, but it felt a bit like preaching to the choir. I imagined how my husband and I often just flip through documentaries on platforms like Netflix, and how we often choose something completely new or foreign to us – so I knew a documentary would be a great way to reach people who might never even have thought about “slut” shaming or its effects.

The word “slut” is something we are all familiar with, but what may not be as familiar is the long-term damaging consequences of it. Can you expand on this? 

Slut shaming is about much more than the word “slut” – sometimes it doesn’t even involve that word at all. But “slut” is a useful place to start, because it’s a uniquely gendered, derogatory, and specifically sexual label. Most girls are taught from a very young age that their sexuality (or lack of it) determines their “purity,” marriageability, and flat-out worth as a person.

They’re taught this indirectly, through media consumption, but also directly, by abstinence education programs, religious leaders, and often parents. So when their peers tell them they are a “slut,” and they take on the weight of that label, it often means they lose their sense of self-worth completely. It can lead to a lifelong lack of sexual satisfaction, dangerous sexual choices, self-harm, and even suicide.

Why is slut-shaming tied into victim-blaming when it comes to sexual assault and rape?

Many people in this world don’t understand what rape is; they believe it is a sexual act about desire, rather than a violent act about control. So “slut” shaming becomes a way to blame the victim of a rape for what has happened to her, by claiming that she was “asking for it” by dressing in a typically sexy way, flirting, or otherwise “tempting” the rapist. Of course, this is bogus.

But it means that a rape victim who is brave enough to come forward will likely face defense attorneys who dig through her sexual history, trying to prove that because she has had sex for pleasure in the past, it is impossible to rape her now. Girls and women who have been labeled “sluts” are at higher risk for sexual assault, since many men believe that a “slut” wants to have sex with everyone, all the time, and has no right to refuse it.

unslut-documentary

You spoke to the family of Rehtaeh Parsons who tragically took her own life. What did you learn from them? 

Spending the week talking with Leah Parsons and Glen Canning was heart-wrenching, but honestly very inspiring. Rehtaeh’s parents have decided to use their immense personal tragedy to help other girls in Rehtaeh’s position, and I admire them so much for that. I also learned that it’s short-sighted and harmful to immediately blame the parents when something like this happens. They brought Rehtaeh to counseling, they helped her transfer schools multiple times, they hospitalized her for a period, doing what they thought was best to help her. But she was failed by so many overlapping systems and people that it became clear we need large-scale, cultural and institutional change.

Rehtaeh-Parsons

You also interviewed the woman who was sexually assaulted by Roman Polanski as a minor, yet she was still blamed despite being under-aged. What was something that shocked you about her story?

What surprised me most about talking to Sam was just how much she has taken control of her own narrative as an adult. She does not define herself as a victim, nor does she see Roman as a monster; she has forgiven him and the media figures who “slut” shamed her as a child. I am proud to call Sam a friend and it’s so exciting to have her as a part of this film.

roman-polanski-rape Samantha-Gailey-Geimer

We’ve seen how the billion-dollar sporting industry protects its footballers who commit these heinous acts, as well as colleges in the documentary ‘The Hunting Ground’. What message do you hope ‘UnSlut’ will bring to this wider conversation? 

Our film focuses on the personal aspect of “slut” shaming and encourages viewers to take immediate steps in their own lives to work against it. We address how the film overlaps with institutionalized rape culture, but our message is that we all need to start with ourselves – our own histories, assumptions, biases, and reactions to stories we hear or read about in the news. It sounds simple, but it’s actually incredibly difficult to honestly address our own thoughts behavior. For instance, I “slut” shamed other women up until I was in my mid-twenties, and I was never challenged to reconsider my participation – my behavior was completely normalized. This is what needs to change.

There is so much shame surrounding women when it comes to sexuality, what do you think it will take for this to change?

We need to talk about it more in the media, with our spouses, with our friends, and especially with our kids, in an age-appropriate way. Comprehensive sex education programs are becoming more popular, and they need to completely replace programs that use shame to promote abstinence while really depriving children of the education they deserve and need. The assumption that we all carry this weight of sexual shame informs many of our country’s policies related to abortion access and women’s health in general. If we just refuse to carry that weight and make our comfort known, we’ll see change on a larger scale, as well.

What can everyday men and women to do contribute change to this issue?

We can begin to recognize and challenge “slut” shaming when we see it. Speaking up among friends can be one of the most awkward things in the world, but I suggest non-confrontationally asking, “What do you mean by that word, ‘slut’?” It can start a conversation and enlighten someone who has been casually “slut” shaming without much thought. Use media stories as conversation starters with young people to help them to think critically about this issue.

And if you’re comfortable, share your own experience with “slut” shaming and how you overcame it in your life with people close to you or through The UnSlut Project. So many of us have gone through this, and the more we talk about it and explain how it affected us, the more humanity we bring to the issue.

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  1. Pingback: This Genius Woman Created An App Designed To Take The Slut-Shaming Out Of Virtual Dating

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