Monthly Archives: August 2013

The UnSlut Project interview: Emily Lindin and Jessica Caimi talk slut shaming, bullying and their documentary film

Emily Lindin (founder of UnSlut Project) and Jessica Caimi are looking for funding to film a documentary about slut shaming in schools, the media, communities and culture. Emily revealed her experience of being slut shamed when she published her teenage diaries online. The UnSlut project offers advice to teens and is a space where we can share stories of sexual bullying. I got chatting to Emily and Jessica to find out more about Slut: A Documentary Film, the UnSlut Project and why slut shaming is so harmful.
 
 
What does Slut: A Documentary Film aim to achieve?
 
By revealing the dangerous realities of sexual bullying and slut shaming right here in the United States and Canada, Slut: A Documentary Film will inspire self-awareness in its viewers, encourage community participation in working toward solutions, and we hope contribute to a change in our societal perception of female sexuality.
 
What role does the media play in sexual bullying?
 
Sexual bullying and slut shaming is ingrained in our cultural subconscious, to the point that many people don’t even notice it. Many media sources spread information in a language and tone that further propagate this often mindless sexual bullying. One instance that’s gotten a lot of attention is this clip from a CNN news report:
 
 
In this clip, reporters discuss the Steubenville sentencing from the perspective of the young men involved, now convicted rapists. Almost nothing is said of the rape victim herself. Why are the men the focus of the story? It is as if the reporters assume that the young woman involved should be held responsible for her own rape. The media plays into sexual bullying just as subconsciously as a person walking down the street might eye a woman wearing shorts.
 
What role do parents and communities play in encouraging young teens to slut shame each other?
 
Young women live in a world of constant sexual judgment. They’re bombarded with media that encourages them to wonder:Am I as pretty as the girl on the magazine? Is my skin as clear as Beyonce’s? Am I fatter than the girl sitting next to me in Math class? Does the boy sitting behind me think that my butt looks good in these new designer jeans?
 
Very quickly, this attitude turns into bullying.
 
She is wearing a short skirt today — what a slut!
I heard that she went to third base with that boy last weekend — she is a total slut!
That girl is so beautiful; she has the entire baseball team chasing her — SLUT!
 
Parents and communities, much like the media, do very little to address this mindset in young women. Instead, they constantly reinforce the importance of the issue by focusing on the physical appearance of young women. To deal with this pressure, most girls turn to their peers, who are also trapped in a downward spiral of judgment and confusion. Unlike with other types of bullying, with slut shaming there is no knowledgeable third party, no outside source of reason, to help young women cope.
 
Beyond Slut: A Documentary Film, we hope that The UnSlut Project will fill in this gaping hole of support in young women’s lives by fostering a sense of awareness and creating a safe space for issues like these to be discussed.
 
Where are you hoping to show Slut – in schools, on TV, on YouTube?
 
EVERYWHERE! We are hoping to start with the documentary at a few film festivals, then move outward from there. It is very important to us that the film is seen by as many eyes as possible.
 
Emily’s experiences led her to found The UnSlut Project. Was there anything specifically that gave you both the idea to make a documentary?
 
We both agreed that a film was a powerful way to show how Emily’s experiences were not by any means unique. In fact, we believe that most women experience some form of slut shaming at some point in their lives. We thought a film was the best way to highlight the widespread nature of this problem as quickly and profoundly as possible.
 
Moreover, there is a negative visual pattern and tone in our current culture that revolves around female sexuality. We thought it would be powerful to see that pattern emerge visually, then to show how we could counteract and CHANGE culture for the better. Making a film allows us to do that.
 
Do you think sexual bullying isn’t tackled as well as physical and verbal bullying or is it condoned by society in a way that physical violence isn’t?
 
Sexual bullying often is physical and verbal in nature, but it’s often overlooked in a way that other types of bullying are not due to the Puritanical American way of dealing with all things sex related. In America, sex is taboo. It is not a suitable subject for most dinner tables. If a young girl is sexually harassed at school, she might not discuss that as readily with her parents or otherwise trusted adults in her community because of the inherent shame attached to anything sexual.
 
Cyberbullying tends to get media attention. Do you think slut shaming was as bad before social media?
 
Slut shaming and a negative connotation attached to female sexuality has existed in many, many cultures throughout history in some form – when you think about it, the entire Judeo-Christian tradition blames Eve for being such a temptress for Adam and ruining everything. But social media exaggerates this idea. On the one hand, it is much easier to call someone a SLUT on their Facebook wall, than it is to call them a SLUT to their face in person. On the other hand, social media is public, so it brings this issue to light in a really vast way.
 
Do you consider the treatment of unmarried mothers in previous decades or the current stigma against teen moms and sex workers to be slut shaming (or related to slut shaming)?
 
Yes. Absolutely. There is an inherent negativity attached to females having sex outside of marriage (and becoming an unwed mother is proof that you’ve done so), or providing a sexual service to a willing participant no matter what the circumstances or the personal choices of the women involved.
 
Do you think slut shaming is a ‘leveler’ – that unlike some issues, it affects even the most privileged women and there’s no way a woman can protect herself from it?
 
Almost every part of a human’s identity can be changed in a few simple steps. Move to a new town, change your name, clothes, interests, activities, and you might be known in entirely new circles by entirely new people.
 
However, even if she manages to change all of those things, a woman who identifies as a woman is always a woman. Of course, men who are born as women undergo serious medical procedures to correct their physical sex. But every cis-gendered woman, regardless of race, economic status, or creed, is always judged as a woman and hence is always vulnerable to sexual shame.
 
Some people who have been reading her diary entries have commented that Emily herself is a white woman born into a privileged family, so her experience is quite limited. “Slut: A Documentary” will give us a chance to expand the voice of The UnSlut Project so that it doesn’t just represent Emily and women with similar experiences to hers, but so that it encompasses as many different perspectives as possible.
 
Obviously school bullying can be very traumatic. Do you think slut shaming by adults or slut shaming that occurs in professional spaces is any different or less damaging than school bullying?
 
Slut shaming is always hurtful. There are no exceptions.
 
What books/sites/blogs do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about sexual bullying?
 
We first recommend visiting our site, of course, and becoming involved in a growing community: theunslutproject.com. The stories women have shared there demonstrate just how widespread this issue is.
 
Beyond that, we recommend “Slut: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation” by Leora Tenanbaum, who will be featured in our film. 
 
How can we get involved with Slut: A Documentary Film and The UnSlut Project?
 
 
Visit our Kickstarter page and make a donation! Any amount helps – we’re not just saying that! – and if we don’t make our goal, we won’t get ANY of the funds, so please spread the word to help us reach $18,000. Visit our website and get involved with the community by sharing your story or leaving a comment in any of our forums!
 
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You can find Emily Lindin on Twitter at @UnSlutProject.

 

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Mainstream feminist campaigns don’t help the most marginalised women

The feminist campaigns that get media attention are the ones which need that attention least. Yes, banknotes and creating a database of women experts are good ideas. But these projects’ impacts on women’s lives are minimal. The most vulnerable or stigmatised women (migrants, abuse victims, women of colour, queer women, disabled women and sex workers) are unlikely to benefit.

The Women’s Room started out with the idea that paper qualifications don’t define what makes an expert but now it seems more focused on middle class women with degrees proving that, er, they’ve got degrees. Putting a woman’s face on a banknote will not help a black woman not lose out on a promotion because she wears her natural hair to work instead of breaking it off with relaxers that burn her scalp. Not shaving will not help a schoolgirl concentrate on her studies without being bullied and slut shamed by classmates and the media just because she has a child. Boycotting The Sun doesn’t help a trans woman go to a job interview not worrying that she’ll be discriminated on sight. And a database of female experts doesn’t benefit working class women.

No attention is being drawn to the issues faced by the most vulnerable and stigmatised. Instead most popular feminist campaigns are vehicles for cis straight white middle class women to get attention while doing a symbolic activism that won’t really change anything. As for Lose the lads’ mags and No more page 3, they will not prevent violence and abuse. These campaigns only succeed in problematising models and sex workers, effectively blaming them and the modelling and adult industries for rape.

The projects which deserve media attention the most are those which help save lives: campaigns that deal with abuse, LGBTQ rights and sex workers’ rights (because homophobia-and racism- result in murder and laws dealing with sex work often endanger sex workers and make them easier targets for murderers and abusers). But bar equal marriage – and of course marriage is socially acceptable so that perhaps explains it – these issues never get the kind of attention from the mainstream media that mainstream feminists’ projects do. Which is odd because some sex worker activists and LGBTQ activists identify as feminists. Some allies even regard their position as stemming from or required by their feminism. So why the media silence?

Could it be because whores and lesbos aren’t as accepted as educated middle class women? The kind of women who remind you of your mum. The kind of women you want your daughter to emulate. These famous feminists are sometimes transphobic or whorephobic and very anti pornography and anti sex work (Burchill, Bindel, Moran and Banyard to name a few UK ones.) It’s conservative. It’s acceptable.

As for Lose the lads’ mags and No more page 3 – well. Yep, the patriarchy likes its pornography. But patriarchal ideas (‘the patriarchy’ is a bit of a useless concept here) rely on women being sexually repressed and passive. That’s the foundation that the sexual double standard, slut shaming, victim blaming, whorephobia and rape apologism are built on. These two campaigns soothe the anxieties of conservative men and bolster patriarchal, sexist and religion based ideas about women. Good Women Against Porn is socially acceptable to ‘the patriarchy’ (and to women). Queer Women Want Rights or Women Who Have Jobs In Sex Industry Want Not To Be Discriminated Or Endangered Just For Working In Said Jobs? Not so much.

The fact that the campaigns for civil partnerships and equal marriage got lots of media attention probably owe something to marriage being acceptable. Gay people had been seen as hypersexual and promiscuous and the seeking of marriage ‘tamed’ LGBTQ people.

I’m not trying to dismiss the LGBTQ community’s organization and decades of activism here. And I’m aware of the fact that feminists vastly outnumber trans and sex worker activists. The amount of media attention cannot solely be explained by how socially acceptable something is – hey, the SlutWalks got lots of attention though probably because young girls reclaiming ‘slut’ was seen by editors as clickbait because of its shock factor. I’m just saying that, even accounting for the difference in numbers, the success of largely symbolic feminist campaigns over ones which try to effect real legal change is a result of social acceptability. Feminists sometimes criticise the Slut Walks for not achieving change or not doing so in the ‘right’ way. But the Slut Walks do address victim blaming and slut shaming – issues which affect all women, even cis middle class white ones. Compared to the change that will be effected by banknotes, databases and wrapping up porn mags, I think the Slut Walks come out on top.

Even the media’s ‘discovery’ of social media bullying was in relation to one of the popular feminist campaigns. Social media bullying causes teens to commit suicide and has existed for years. Lots of activists get bullied on social media. Trans and sex worker activists get bullied by feminists on social media. They get threatened with death and rape. But apparently rape threats and social media bullying were only discovered after an activist who fit the mainstream-acceptable good woman ideal started getting them.

Able bodied cis straight middle class non migrant white women in acceptable jobs aren’t the most oppressed. They are oppressors, second only to same-status men in terms of power.Mainstream popular feminism has an annoying tendency to assume that men are oppressors in any given situation. But a middle class cis white woman can oppress more than a disabled, coloured or trans man can. The same mainstream media that promotes ‘acceptable’ feminist campaigns by ‘good’ women outs sex workers and promotes transphobia.

I support The Women’s Room and I wish half the banknotes had women on them. (Are there any disabled or coloured people on banknotes? Just wondering). And I do question why I shave and why hairlessness is a beauty ideal – is it related to prepubescence or sexual ignorance (virginity)? Should I take my husband’s name or swear off PIV sex because it’s unfeminist? These are all legitimate feminist concerns. They’re first world and largely middle class Western concerns for women who don’t have any real problems like discrimination and poverty – but that doesn’t stop them being feminist issues. I’m glad that they’re getting media attention. I just wish that disabled, trans, coloured or sex working women could be allowed the media spotlight once. Just for one day. If mainstream feminism continues to support and publicise symbolic campaigns over those which seek legal changes that will save lives, feminism has little reason to exist and no future.

The Marriage Tax Allowance is expensive discrimination: Don’t Judge My Family!

The Marriage Tax Allowance will give around £3 per week to married couples while discriminating against cohabiting couples and single parents. But the poorest families such as unemployed parents won’t benefit – and neither will families where both the parents work. Only couples who adhere to the breadwinner and home maker model will receive the allowance.  The Don’t Judge My Family campaigners believe Cameron is trying to appease those in his party who aren’t happy about equal marriage. I caught up with them to find out more. (The interview below was a collaborative effort by Lisa Mitchell and the other campaigners).

In an era where homophobia and race discrimination are unacceptable, do you think there’s any excuse for discriminating against cohabiting couples and divorced or single parents?

At Don’t Judge my Family we don’t think so. Love is evident in families of all shapes and sizes and this proposal will not help the 1 in 4 children growing up in single parent households, widowers, victims of domestic abuse or people who simply don’t choose marriage.We have some case studies on our website from families who don’t think the government should be judging them and their families. Advocates of the marriage tax allowance keep mistaking correlation for causality when they tell us that children do better in married families and it is that they are concerned about. The Institute of Fiscal Studies just released a statement on marriage tax allowance that states that parental education and wealth have a much greater impact on kids than whether their parents are married.

Is there a danger that blatant, open Government discrimination against certain family forms will lead to increased stigma against these families, e.g. teen or lone parents who are already stigmatised?

Definitely.  By introducing the marriage tax allowance the government are legitimising one sort of family over another. They’d be better off using this money to try and help all families, particularly the most vulnerable who won’t benefit at all from this proposal.

Will this tax allowance help children in poverty?

The simple answer is no. We are working alongside the Child Poverty Action Group amongst others and are concerned at the amount of money being spent on a tax allowance that won’t even touch some of the most vulnerable children and families in our society. You can see the letter we wrote for the Times on this issue, on our website. Children in poverty are being affected by some huge cuts to their support networks, the latest spending review announced another 11.5 billion in cuts, and the government are somehow managing to find half a billion to reward  a lifestyle choice.  The Institute of Fiscal studies have said that this policy is symbolic and even Tim Loughton, a strong advocate of the policy, has said its less about the impact of the tax allowance and more about the signal it sends.

Is it a form of social engineering/an agenda to push us into marriage and eradicate non married families?

Many of our petition signers have expressed this worry about social engineering, and have told us that they don’t think the government have any role in legitimising one form of relationship over another. To be honest we think the agenda for this policy is mainly to keep the Conservative Party together rather than keeping families together. It’s something that David Cameron is throwing to the right of his party to appease them after some of the issues they’ve been unhappy about recently.

Is it moral or ethical to marry because of money and is it moral for the government to encourage this kind of behaviour instead of encouraging responsible and ethical life decisions?

We’re not sure about moral or ethical but it certainly isn’t very romantic. We’ve had a lot of supporters saying they feel it cheapens they’re relationship because they married for love not money. Don’t Judge My Family certainly don’t think the government should be in the business of encouraging any kind of lifestyle over another when it comes to this issue.

Does marrying for money blur the lines between marriage and sex work?

We don’t think anyone will or indeed should marry for money. Some of our petition signers have expressed concerns over the origins of marriage being in property and whether this proposal is harking back to it.  More however have asked why something like £3 a week would incentivise anyone to get married.

How does the allowance affect those who have fled abusive marriages and what message, if any, does it send about domestic violence?

It doesn’t send a hopeful message to those who have fled abusive marriages or other domestic violence survivors. Particularly since domestic violence services have borne the brunt of austerity over the past few years. It’ s sort of like saying, we have no money to support you as a vulnerable woman but if you stay with your husband you can have a cut of this half a billion we’ve put aside to promote marriage. It’s pretty shocking.

What message, if any, does the allowance send about rape survivors who keep their rapist’s babies or men/women whose children were abandoned by ‘deadbeat mums/dads’? Or people whose spouses left them for new partners?

We don’t think the government should be judging  any decision made about relationships but particularly not rape survivors. Again, it is just the wrong message to be sending to anyone who is unmarried either by choice or by circumstance, and let’s remember this policy is all about the message. The government should not be advocating one lifestyle choice over another, especially at such a cost.  I grew up without my Dad around, and it’s upsetting to hear from those who are supposed to be representing you in parliament that your family lacks something, I can imagine others feel the same.

Do you think the tax allowance discriminates against people who might want to marry but cannot, such as under-18s who can’t legally marry without parental permission and those who can’t afford it? Do you think young and poor families would benefit from the allowance if they were allowed to have it?

I think there are better ways to help younger and poorer families than a tax allowance. From what Don’t Judge My Family have seen this tax break will have no impact, even for the couples who are to receive it. The policy will discriminate against those who can’t get married for financial reasons. Studies show that those who tend to enter into marriage tend to be better off to start with, it goes back to this money not effectively targeting those who might need help the most.

 

What does the Don’t Judge My Family campaign hope to achieve and how can we support it?

We essentially hope to stop the proposal being entered into law whilst raising awareness of the issue. You can support it by signing our petition over at www.dontjudge.org.uk and by engaging with the debate on social media

 

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What the Marriage Tax Allowance means for us

This is exactly the kind of social engineering which Charles Murray, A H Halsey and other early 90s IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) right-wing “academics” called for. They believed social engineering in favour of marriage would eventually destroy lone mother families. These now discredited “academics” hoped for this destruction because they believed lone mothers and their children are an “underclass”. David Popenoe, Murray, Halsey, Patricia Morgan and Dennis and Erdos believed that lone mothers’ daughters are sluts and their sons are criminals and deadbeat dads or “idle thieving bastards” as Murray puts it.  David Cameron has resurrected the long-debunked myths around non married parents to glorify marriage. The only difference is that he’s not openly attacking female lone parents and has kept the discrimination gender neutral. But the breadwinner-home maker model he supports looks suspiciously sexist as it’ll mostly be female parents who are home makers as it’s seen as more acceptable for mothers to be home makers than fathers.

Existing marriage laws problematise the Allowance: a 14 year old couple with a child will likely be poor and benefit the most from the Allowance but because the marriage age is 16 they can’t marry so won’t benefit. The same goes for 17 year olds whose parents won’t permit them to marry. The Allowance discriminates against polyamorous parents as only the two who are married will be able to have the Allowance. But it doesn’t discriminate against swingers. The poorest parents are the unemployed and disabled but if both parents are unemployed or disabled they won’t be entitled, meaning that the Allowance fails to help those who would benefit most. The Don’t Judge My Family campaign raise the point that most beneficiaries will have grown up children.

This issue also begs the question if why the taxpayer should subsidise others’ lifestyle choices and whether effectively penalising mothers for working while the DWP forces disabled people into work and makes jobseekers’ lives a living hell is a logical move.

This Allowance is a waste of half a billion pounds and is an exercise in discrimination and marriage supremacy. In Britain discrimination is illegal and therefore shouldn’t be encouraged by government. The risk of already stigmatised families being subjected to increased stigma is very real.

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