In fall 1997, sixth-grader Emily Lindin (a pseudonym) was branded a “slut” by classmates in her suburban Boston middle school, and consequently endured several years of constant bullying and sexual harassment. Uncomfortable about confiding in her parents and other adults in her life, Lindin began keeping a diary chronicling her experiences and emotional turmoil. That journal is reproduced in Unslut: A Diary and a Memoir, due from Zest Books on December 29, which also includes the author’s new, parallel commentary offering an adult perspective on her adolescent ordeals and observations. Now 29 and living in the San Francisco area, Lindin is a Harvard graduate who recently earned her Ph.D. in music history.
Unslut grew out of an online initiative The Unslut Project, which the author launched on Wattpad in spring 2013 to post her middle-school diary entries, in hopes of providing some perspective and support to girls who have endured or are enduring sexual bullying and “ ‘slut’-shaming.” Soon after its debut, Lindin expanded The Unslut Project into a supportive online community to enable others to share their own stories. To further extend the initiative’s reach, she also created an Unslut Project documentary film earlier this year.
Linden was inspired to share her personal account of sexual bullying, online and subsequently in Unslut, several years ago, while visiting her childhood home, where the spiral-bound notebooks that comprised her diary were still stacked in her bedroom. “It’s funny – I hadn’t really thought about those notebooks for about 15 years, but I picked them up and began reading them.” she recalled. “I had recently read a news story about Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Halifax who was targeted as a ‘slut’ after being gang-raped by classmates, and eventually ended her own life.”
Aware that other teens’ experiences with sexual bullying and assault had also led to suicide, Lindin decided to go public with her own story. “Their tragic stories really rattled me – it seemed like a very sick trend,” she said. “I realized that what I went through was similar – in fact I too had considered suicide – and I felt an obligation to share my diary, as a primary source, to show that, despite what I experienced, I made it through, and am now a happy, successful woman. The realization that my story might be able to help others definitely outweighed any discomfort I felt sharing it.”
Moving from Blog to the Page
Daniel Harmon, publishing director of Zest Books, discovered Emily’s blog while exploring the Wattpad site after the company contacted him about the possibility of having some of its authors promote their work on the site. “We began talking with interest about Emily’s work in-house, and Wattpad suggested we get in touch with her, and we did,” he said. “Emily has a very supportive and engaged readership online, and her project was well matched to our YA publishing program. We often seek out interesting stories about teens growing up today, and to find someone whose voice is so authentic and true, and who can write so vividly about trying to figure out how to make it through hard times, was a dream for us.”
When Harmon contacted Lindin, he was pleased to learn that Zest Books and the author did, in fact, have a “shared purpose and a similar vision for a book based on her diaries.” Since Lindin had, in transcribing her handwritten diaries for her blog, already changed the names of places and people to protect their privacy and avoid humiliating anyone, selecting the diary entries for Unslut, as well as and the editorial process, was “surprisingly straightforward,” according to Harmon.
“We wanted the content of Emily’s diary entries to appear in their entirety and made few changes, aside from a few basic edits for consistency and clarity,” he said. “We retained her middle-school syntax, and we both agreed that the inclusion of her present-day comments was an opportunity, not only to provide information that she as a preteen and teen was reluctant to talk about, but to instill a message of hope and a sense of relief to what would otherwise be a very dark story.”
Lindin emphasized that maintaining the integrity of her original diaries was immensely important to her (“I didn’t want to edit even for grammar if I could avoid it”), but said that having the chance to add her commentary was very rewarding. “I was so nervous when I first posted my diary online,” she recalled, “since I was not there to take readers by the hand and guide them through the entries. My annotations in the book let me give readers a hopeful perspective, encouragement, and reassurance that what they are going through is not their fault.”
As pleased as she has been at the widespread positive reaction – and readers’ contributions – to The Unslut Project online, Lindin is gratified that her diary will soon be available in book form. “I think that being let into the most private workings of someone’s mind and life somehow feels more intimate in a book that you can physically hold in your hands,” she said. “I’m hoping that Unslut will be read by teens and adults in tandem, and will start a conversation.”
Lindin added that, on a broader scale, she hopes that The Unslut Project “will help prove that personal story sharing can really change our culture. My dream is that the project contributes to the undoing of the mythology of ‘slut’ vs. ‘good girl,’ and that on a societal level, eventually the word ‘slut’ won’t make any sense as an insult.”
Unslut: A Diary and a Memoir by Emily Lindin. Zest Books, $14.99 Dec. ISBN 978-1-942186-00-7