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.
I’m speaking tonight at Pomona College and will be in Los Angeles until Wednesday. If you’re in the Claremont area, come check this out :)
Faith and First Times: Sex, Society and Religion
Thursday, October 4th, 7:00-8:30pm
Rose Hills Theatre, Pomona College
In today’s modern age, female sexuality has become less taboo to discuss. Whether through Cosmopolitan Magazine or Victoria’s Secret, society is beginning to explore a certain brand of female sexuality. Yet many women of faith are faced with the dilemma of embracing their sexuality while still maintaining religious traditions that value virginity and purity, while secular women often feel these cultural representations are not a true expression of their experiences. Come join the Pomona Student Union at Faith and First Times, an event aimed at exploring the influences of religion on virginity and how it effects women in today’s society.
In other words, this is what feminist burnout looks like:
Lena, I’ve read you for several years ago and I have to agree with some of the other comments (like those on the Mitt Romney post). The constant sarcasm, criticism, ‘so-over-this’ I don’t need to engage tone of your posts is getting really really old. You are essentially your own boss, frequently travel, appear to have a healthy relationship and connections to many leading feminist/social justice activists and yet all of your posts lately have been dripping with, if not outright disdain, a sense of forced offhand indifference. To be frank, it comes off as immature and almost comically narcissistic.
I get being critical of social movements, because I think everyone involved in them is, and I get feeling disillusioned. What I dislike is feeling that I am being talked down to and the sense that you believe no one else is doing enough, or at least not doing it exactly the way you would. I know you are still involved in movements and activism - why not blog about that? Unless, I guess you afraid that it will open you up to the type of criticism you have begin casually lobbying at others?
I want to preface this by saying that I really respect readers’ willingness to be honest with me about their feelings toward my writing. I’m a bit dismayed that so much of my discontent with feminism and the political system has been interpreted as “holier-than-thou” and all those other adjectives on the subject line above. I’m not here to tell anyone how to engage with feminism or social justice, and I don’t judge anyone for their decisions unless their name is Mitt Romney. Different people have different resources, lifestyles, needs, etc. and it’s because of dramatic changes in my own life that I’ve been forced to reassess how I do my activism. My stance on politics is pretty identical to my stance on sexuality. Just because I have certain experiences or beliefs does not mean that I’m trying to get everyone else to think or act the same way. In other words, who or what I do in my life is not a judgment on who or what you do in yours.
First, if you’re really involved in this election and are campaigning on behalf of candidates or causes, then that’s your prerogative and I’m honestly glad you’re engaged. Among my own friends, there are many who are involved in political campaigns and have donated their money or time to Elizabeth Warren, others who have been climbing the ranks of different non-profits for years and who are more concerned with issues than with specific candidates, but regardless of how any of us identify politically, it’s undeniable that we’re all working toward the same general goals. We’re just going about it in different ways. I’ve never implied that I think “no one else is doing enough”, because I don’t actually think that. In fact, I see a lot of people doing way more than they should, and I think we need to recognize that some will burn out while others don’t. I burnt out last year and this year and despite appearances, it’s been a long time coming. Lots of people burn out and no one has the same reasons, but that doesn’t mean I’m going around telling my friends that they’re wasting their time with what they do. I think many of them are engaged in valuable, irreplaceable work and I envy them because I lack the emotional strength to do the same. For me, realizing that I needed to take a step back has been really humbling and it’s made me realize that my time is better spent on different projects. When I share my disillusionment with a particular movement, it should not be interpreted as me telling you what to do with your vote or trying to get everyone else to “give up” on social change at large. I’m simply trying to make sense of where my own activism is at.
Second, I think there’s a bit of a double standard here and a lot of assumptions being made about what I think. The Internet isn’t fantastic at conveying emotions, and the original post that seemed to attract so much ire really wasn’t trying to be combative in the first place. I actually thought the quote I chose was a hilarious satire, which was why I felt totally blindsided when people found it offensive. When I’m getting comments like “Do you really need to keep rubbing it in everyone’s faces as if your disengagement makes you somehow better than those of us that are still trying to give a damn?” … I can’t help but think that something I wrote was wildly misinterpreted. Shouldn’t I be able to voice my discontent with the two-party system without being called “arrogant” or “so superior to everyone else”? Or being told that I think “99% of the world are suckers”? Whereas I really haven’t directly addressed my readers at all, these are actual things that readers have said to me about me, and beyond the fact that they’re all ad hominem, they’re just kind of, uh, mean? Of course, I’m happy to apologize if there’s a specific statement I’ve published that is offensive, but even if such a statement existed, I would like to note that I don’t actually think I am better than anyone, so this seems to be largely a matter of misinterpretation and it would be great if I could get the benefit of the doubt.
Third, I’ve always maintained, even way back when I was writing Sex And The Ivy, that I keep a blog for myself first and for my readers second. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value the opinions of my readers. I very much appreciate it whenever you guys give me feedback, positive or negative (as long as it’s not, you know, stalker-y and libelous). But I can’t write or work or live simply for other people - it would make me go crazy (and that’s more or less what happened over the past year). As I’ve become more and more stressed out and overcommitted and worn down in my personal life, I’ve engaged less and less with the Internet. Offline, I still spend the majority of my time working on stuff that most people would put in the category of “feminist” or “radical” or “total hippie shit”, but I don’t write about it, and I don’t want to publicly write about it unless it feels safe to. I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t publicly write about their activism, but are they being accused of being “apathetic”? Probably not. Anyone familiar with this blog must surely realize that any silence on my end is NOT due to fear that “it will open [me] up to the type of criticism [I] have begun casually lobbying at others”. I’ve never been afraid of people disagreeing with me nor have I been personally attacking anyone. I have, however, become very concerned about the escalating harassment directed toward everyone in my life. If I make public any projects or even relationships, my very obsessed stalker will likely try to sabotage them, so please don’t mistake a lack of blog posts for a lack of engagement. I’m just trying to protect people from unnecessary attacks, and ultimately, I can’t share everything that you may want me to share.
Last, a cause doesn’t have to be perfect for me to support it, but if this is how criticism of feminism is treated, it makes me seriously second-guess whether there’s a place for me within this movement. Having been on the receiving end of some of the nastiest things that have ever been done to anyone on or off the Internet, I am kind of surprised that it can still hurt to be called “immature” and “narcissistic” by readers. I’ve been called much, much worse, but to be fair, I care a lot more what my readers think than some random troll. Because of my personal experiences confronting bullying and having my personal life dissected and regurgitated for public consumption, I think I’m much more aware of how I speak to others, and as such, I take great pains to never “talk down” to anyone. I certainly don’t “casually lobby” criticism at random people without just cause. I keep rereading the offending post but I just don’t see where I disparage anyone, except for Mitt Romney, who - let’s face it - has no defenders left anyway. If there is something I’ve written that you feel is an attack on your person, please call me out. I don’t consider myself a bully and I never want to turn into one.
Please don’t think that the purpose of this post is to shut anyone up. Whether or not I feel unjustly attacked is not even the point, and I would rather people be honest when they’re offended, because my pride is less important to me than my ability to write in a way that is understood. Just know that in the weeks to come, I may share opinions or beliefs that contradict things you have previously thought about me. Originally, I wasn’t planning on sharing any of these opinions, precisely because I didn’t want to deal with having to explain things that happened in my private life over the past year. But how am I supposed to make peace with the person I used to be if I can’t be honest about who I am now? Multiple readers have pointed out the privilege inherent in my position, and indeed, I am really lucky to be my own boss, to have the opportunity to travel, to have been able to establish good relationships, etc. as a feminist activist, but that doesn’t mean that I should turn a blind eye to the many problems that I see within the feminist movement and that doesn’t mean that I should pretend to have a perfect life because I don’t. In fact, that illusion of perfection is likely the reason why so much of what I’ve shared recently has come as a shock to readers, and for that, I do apologize. I should have written about all of these things far earlier. I am not trying to speak for anyone but myself. I am trying to do what I think is right, and that involves telling the truth about the injustices I witness and telling the truth about myself. Particularly since this movement has accepted and benefited and protected me, I think I have an even greater responsibility to be honest about its shortcomings and its failure to do the same for those with less privilege. Maybe this honesty is coming way too late in the game, maybe this isn’t credible because of who I am, but part of the reason why I’m attempting this at all - when I have nothing to gain from it and everything to lose - is because I know that I’m not going to keep this website up forever, but before I’m finished with blogging and public life, I want to write this blog the way I should have been writing it all along.
Harvard Split on Campus Sex Scene | The Daily Free Press
This is an article that appeared in a Boston University student newspaper back in 2007. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I can’t believe I ever thought it was possible to move away from writing about sex once I’d been pigeonholed as a sex writer. And even back then, I never wanted to be a Carrie Bradshaw. I thought the fact that I was writing about my sex life was just so secondary compared to everything else I was confronting as a not-wealthy, not-white odd girl out at Harvard. (Feel free to count the number of sex scenes that appeared on Sex and the Ivy over the course of its two-year run. I assure you that you’ll be disappointed.) But the sex part has always been what people want to concentrate on.
The 2007 version of me who was interviewed for the above article was still optimistic. The 2007 version of me didn’t think that the slurs I occasionally got in my comments section could ever escalate to a full-fledged campaign to destroy not only my reputation but the reputation of anyone who ever demonstrated any sort of support for any of my work, sex-related or not. I have spent the last three years advocating for comprehensive sex education and contraceptive access and fighting against the marginalization of women and queer people. I have tried to write less and less about myself. I’ve been actively distancing myself from Sex and the Ivy. I haven’t even reread the old blog since I stopped updating it. I haven’t finished an entire piece of personal writing in over a year.
I hate this. I hate the constant worry that someone new has been slandered today. I hate the guilt I feel for fucking up god knows how many people’s Google results. I hate that I can’t blog anything anymore, not even anonymous things from anonymous readers, without worrying about the implications. I hate that no one can do anything about this. And I hate the writer’s block, I hate that this entire ordeal, which has been going on for years and years and years, has completely eliminated my ability to examine my past or the person I used to be. I don’t want to read writing that reminds me of trauma when that trauma is on-going and exhausting and impeding my ability to produce writing today.
I love writing and I love my readers and I love my friends, but my god, I do not love blogging or the Internet anymore.
So here I ask, to no one in particular, when do I get to have my peace of mind? What am I supposed to do to convince everyone who hates me and pursues my loved ones relentlessly that it’s enough now, that I get it? What do you want me to say? That I am, in fact, a slut? That I am wrong? That the way I conduct my life is morally reprehensible? Because if that’s what it takes, if that’s all you wanted to hear - a hallow and resigned acceptance of your judgment of me - well, I could’ve given you that years ago if you’d just asked.