the ch!cktionary

I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.

For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.

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irregular features
Ask Lena: Reader Questions Answered
Anatomy of an Outfit
Bad Feminist Confessions
Freelance Friday: Career Advice for Young Writers
Hate Mail
Gratuitous Photos Of My Bulldog
Notes & Snapshots from Abroad
Recent Tweets @lenachen

Der Spiegel hat einen Artikel über mich veröffentlicht! Aber nicht so schnell …

Der Spiegel, one of the largest European newsmagazines, published an article about the American abstinence movement and feminist reaction to it. I’m pretty excited that I scored a mention/photo in a German publication, because all things German have become awesome since I’ve begun learning the language.

Unfortunately, my German abilities remain pretty rudimentary, so I’ve had a hard time translating … but they’re not so rudimentary that I didn’t realize that the piece is actually somewhat reactionary. Yeah, what a disappointment.

I was reading along happily until I got to the paragraph about me, which includes a reference to my “ultrakurzen Minirock” that excites the boys on campus. That means “ultra-short miniskirt”. Wait … why are they talking about my clothing choices? And where are these ultra-short miniskirts, because Cambridge, Massachusetts is sure as hell not the ideal place to wear them. (I may have been deluded about this my freshman year, but I — and my hemlines — have long since grown up.)

This is kind of like that time when The New York Times wrote a piece that featured me alongside the then-president of Harvard’s abstinence club. While the writer refrained from physically describing the other girl, the main subject of the article, this was what he wrote about me:

Chen was a small Asian woman in a miniskirt and stilettos…

This is after I already corrected the fact-checker prior to publication, telling him specifically that I was not actually wearing a miniskirt and stilettos. But whatever, I have sex so naturally, I also walk around naked in impractical footwear! Let’s just gloss over the fact that I was actually wearing a dress and shoes with a wide heel. The truth would detract from reinforcing the image of the sexually available woman. And while we’re at it, why not exoticize me a bit? I’m small! I’m compact! I fit in your handbag! It doesn’t matter what the other girl looks like; let’s check out the chick who’ll let dudes bang her.

Anyway, it gets better:

[Chen] ate every crumb of everything, including a ginger cake with cream-cheese frosting and raspberry compote. Fredell, when the dessert menu came, paused at the prospect of a “chocolate explosion,” said, “I may as well — I mean, carpe diem, right?” And then reconsidered — she really wasn’t that hungry.

I’m amazed at what passes for news. The fact that this food-sex analogy is so contrived is a testament to how stupid the virgin-whore dichotomy really is.

But I guess the German liberal media is just like the American liberal media: not incredibly progressive after all. While articles like the ones above approach sex more positively than Fox News, they still can’t help but think of female sexuality as a binary, something that can be neatly categorized in boxes labeled “virgin” and “whore”. I may have sex and openly write and talk about it, but that doesn’t make me representative of all sexually active women any more than it makes me conform to some tired vixen trope. And while I do hope that these types of stereotypical depictions decrease, I’m not terribly optimistic. After all, this is the explanation I received from the writer when I complained to The New York Times:

Lena is right that i described her outfit to draw a distinction from [the other girl], and it is also true that her outfit was distinct from [the other girl’s]. Whether her dress was short or not is subject to interpretation, she is right, but I think almost everyone would agree that indeed it was very short and that her high heels were very high.

Which is why I’m not even going to bother fact-checking Der Spiegel.