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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Rather than summarize the entire debate, I’m going to quote directly from Maya Dusenbery’s post about the controversial “Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception?” website:

I helped create the “Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception?” website which is part of this year’s Back Up Your Birth Control campaign. While most folks seem to like it, some have criticized the site as “condescending, sexist, and slut-shaming.” This criticism, it appears, stems mainly from the reasons that focus on women who need EC because they’ve had unprotected and/or drunk sex.

Now, I know that this is a provocative site that not everyone is going to think is as funny as I do. And maybe some folks object to using humor at all in a campaign about unintended pregnancy. I can respect that. But can we talk about slut-shaming for a sec? Because that’s a serious charge—and one that I absolutely 100% reject.

Sometimes women have drunk sex. Sometimes they don’t use any birth control. Sometimes they aren’t sure if they did. Sometimes they fuck up their birth control. Sometimes they are knowingly “irresponsible.” This may not speak to every single woman’s experience, but it is not some sexist stereotype dreamed up out of thin air.

It is simply a real thing that happens in the world. In fact, many of the reasons featured on the site are humorous variations on experiences my colleagues and I have actually had.

It is not sexist to acknowledge that this happens. And it is not slut-shaming to remind women that they should use EC if this happens and they don’t want to become pregnant.

But you know what sounds more than a little bit slut-shame-y to me? Writing a whole post being outraged that this campaign would dare imply that you might be one of those “drunken sluts” who does that kind of thing. Being deeply insulted because you think the site portrays young women as “flippant, self-centered and irresponsible” while you see yourself as a responsible young person who is “organizing for social justice.”

Believe it or not, it is possible to be a woman who spends a lot of time organizing for social justice AND ALSO watches bad tv marathons and has had drunk, unprotected sex. I have done it. And acting as if these are two mutually exclusive categories of women and claiming that we shouldn’t acknowledge the experiences of the latter—that to do so is, in fact, automatically sexist—is pretty much just a spruced-up, self-righteous “feminist” version of slut-shaming in my book.
 
I don’t claim to “represent the feminist movement”. But my feminism is about truth-telling. Even when the truths aren’t that pretty. Even when they support uncomfortable stereotypes. Even when they don’t reflect every other woman’s truth.

Now, first of all, I get it. I totally, 100% understand why some people are upset. In fact, I would say that I probably understand more than most folks why such a website is upsetting. (I’m not trying to minimize anyone else’s experiences of slut-shaming, but I do think my own experiences are unusually intense and traumatizing because I’ve been slut-shamed in such a public manner due to my sex blog.) But here’s the thing: of all the posts I saw on the Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception?, none employed slurs or sexism. Sure, the focus is narrow since the target audience is female-bodied people who can conceive, and as such, many of the statements don’t demonstrate the equal burden of responsibility carried by our partners. But I think the reason why some folks take the website so personally is because we’ve been systematically admonished for our sexual behavior and sexual choices SO much that the easiest defense to take is to pretend that we don’t fuck up rather than challenging the idea that women need to be perfect in their sexual practices if they want to deserve sexual autonomy. When we read things like, “Because if you don’t remember his last name, you probably didn’t remember to use a fucking condom”, we automatically assume shaming even if the source comes from a place of good intent. This website is not saying, “You are a whore. Therefore, get EC!” It’s saying that shit happens.

In fact, it’s the Abortion Gang writer criticizing the campaign, who said that they “DO NOT appreciate you portraying us as drunken sluts”, which I view as a pretty problematic statement. Granted, women are not a monolith and cannot be stereotyped across the board, so I understand if a person who’s really diligent about sexual health is upset at this portrayal. They might think that it doesn’t reflect them and their attempts to have sex responsibly, and that’s totally fair. But I also agree with Maya’s sentiment that it’s erasure to assume that ALL women are perfect or even have the means to be perfect or that emergency contraception is only for worst case situations in which someone did everything perfect and still messed up. I am someone who writes and talks about sexual health for a living, and let me tell you, I am not perfect. Not even close. I’ve walked around without health insurance before, I’ve gone on and off of birth control, I’ve used the barrier method without a back-up, and in college, when I was writing SexAndTheIvy.com, I was called poster girl for the college hook-up culture and drunken slutdom by national mainstream media sources. And you know what? Despite all that, there was nothing I saw on the Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception? that triggered me and made me think, “Goddamn, same ol’ slut-shaming!” Maybe it triggered you. Maybe it made you feel shitty, and that’s totally valid. I do not have a monopoly on what constitutes shaming, so all I can do is speak for is my own experience of having panic attacks and serious anxiety issues as a result of mass bullying and harassment (still ongoing) and inform you that the above came off as funny and relatable rather than condescending. When I read that the Abortion Gang thought it was terrible that women were being depicted as “drunken sluts”, that was insulting. Look, women aren’t perfect so let’s get off our high horse here. Even “drunken sluts” are capable of laughing at themselves, but it’s hard to laugh about the reality of our imperfection when someone is saying, “We don’t want to be associated with that image.”

And I do think it’s worth noting that many of these criticisms come from pro-choicers who probably confront arguments all the time about abortion being a result of irresponsibility and they’re likely very frustrated to be dealing with seemingly similar sentiments from allies. But when anti-choice folks say that women and female-bodied people who have abortion are being unreliable and flippant and callous, the answer is not to respond with, “Women AREN’T unreliable and flippant and callous”, because the real battle should be to demonstrate that even an irresponsible woman is entitled to bodily autonomy. She could have unprotected sex every single day and it is STILL not my place to tell her what to do with her body. Let’s not forget that the very reason why poor women, women of color, and disabled women were forcibly sterilized in the U.S. was because of the argument that those who aren’t “responsible enough” shouldn’t have the ability to make decisions for themselves. These standards of acceptability are determined by social structures which support those with power and capital and whiteness while oppressing those without. Rather than conforming and adhering to them by pointing out examples of “responsible women”, we ought to challenge their very basis.

I think these lessons from the reproductive justice movement apply to the campaign to increase awareness of emergency contraception as well. That’s why I see the Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception? as even potentially subversive.
If we’re going to win this fight, we need to win it the right way, in a manner that acknowledges the fact that for reasons of class and race and access and lack of resources and many other factors, there are plenty of women in  America who are not and cannot be perfect users of contraception. And while those working to improve access to healthcare and the status of women may be frustrated that we are portrayed as “not caring” when they care deeply and devote their lives to this movement, let’s be aware that there is a lot of privilege that goes into our ability to be responsible, that something like the Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception? speaks to young women who aren’t career activists, that social justice isn’t about proving ourselves to be deserving so much as it is about defending our right to not be perfect.

* One last thing: I do want to add that I don’t condone everything posted to the Why The Fuck Should I Use Emergency Contraception?, particularly the entries that suggest only certain people are equipped to be parents. I’m choosing to comment specifically on the parts that I feel I can speak to as a economically and racially marginalized woman of color who’s been attacked for her sexuality.

  1. beejo reblogged this from mimitakestheleftturn
  2. burnnnnbabayyyyy reblogged this from lenachen and added:
    Interesting.
  3. reprorightsandkittens reblogged this from keepyourbsoutofmyuterus and added:
    Click through and read the whole thing. It’s important.
  4. safersexuality reblogged this from mayadusenbery
  5. rareinke reblogged this from lenachen
  6. princessvittoria reblogged this from keepyourbsoutofmyuterus
  7. yestangerine reblogged this from lenachen and added:
    Lots of good stuff here. Also I am such a sucker for funny, campaigns about Serious Things you’re not supposed to joke...
  8. cand86 reblogged this from lenachen and added:
    Reblogging in all its amazing and glorious entirety, because this is absolutely spot-on.
  9. mimitakestheleftturn reblogged this from lenachen and added:
    A website I wasn’t previously aware of, but checking it out I think it’s pretty good. Also, my ears always turn (is that...
  10. lenachen reblogged this from mayadusenbery and added:
    Rather than summarize the entire debate, I’m going to quote directly from Maya Dusenbery’s post about the controversial...
  11. interndana reblogged this from keepyourbsoutofmyuterus and added:
    How is it slut-shaming to say that sometimes some people do things that could have consequences if EC is not used? THAT...
  12. keepyourbsoutofmyuterus reblogged this from mayadusenbery
  13. divinityphotography reblogged this from mayadusenbery
  14. mayadusenbery posted this