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
Posts tagged "press"

Just did a segment on HuffPost Live about the United Nations declaring contraception a human right. You can check it out above :)

Virginity at Harvard | The Harvard Crimson

The Harvard Crimson's magazine quoted me in this week's cover story on student perceptions of virginity and the state of campus sexual politics. Sadly, I think that there’s still a tendency to think of sexuality in terms of an all-or-nothing/virgin-whore dichotomy, which is exactly how people end up being shamed no matter what their sexual practices actually consist of.

My stance has always been that these misconceptions and prejudices arise out of a collective unwillingness to talk about sex and our own desires (as well as our inner conflicts). In hyper-competitive environments, the self-consciousness and fear of failure that students feel toward academic achievement is totally reflected in how they negotiate their interpersonal relationships as well. It’s easier to judge others when we aren’t comfortable with our own sexuality. And in the end, that lack of transparency is what breeds insecurity in everyone, regardless of whether they’ve decided to stay abstinent or hook up,

Check out the whole piece for a sense of what sexual activity is actually like at Harvard today.

I’ll be chatting about this topic on HuffPost Live at 1:30pm EST. UPDATE: the recorded segment is now available below and on the show website.


Here’s the gist of what we discussed:

Illinois has a new law that taxes strip clubs. The money will fund rape crisis centers. Does it unfairly link strip clubs to rape? Or is it a good way to raise money?

My fear is that this new law will primarily hurt workers in the adult entertainment industry. This neither changes societal attitudes about rape, nor does it target those actually responsible for the existence of sexual violence.

What’s your opinion? Watch the segment and join the conversation to give us your take.

A few takeaway points I wanted to emphasize now that the segment has aired (forgive the sarcastic bits):

  • There is no established causal link between the existence of strip clubs and sexual assault, though there are some studies that have suggested a correlation between sexual violence and alcohol consumption and exposure to sexually explicit materials. As someone who has been dating an academic for the past four years, I could empathize deeply with the professor’s plight in trying to keep with his very technical definition of “correlation”.
  • The funding cuts affecting rape crisis centers in Illinois have nothing to do with strip clubs. Strip clubs are already often subject to much stricter zoning and health regulations than other businesses, and assault rarely occurs on strip club premises, given the presence of security. Statistically speaking, is more likely to happen at a sporting event or a college party than at a strip club, though we don’t see anyone taxing your spring break and blaming that for rape. Ultimately, though, I am less concerned about the “fairness” of the tax than I am about the lack of solutions offered.
  • Because the state has realized that they don’t have the budget to support survivors of sexual assault, they’ve passed on the cost to the private sector without ever actually addressing the causes of rape. In doing so, they have perpetuated inaccurate information about how and why rape occurs while potentially setting an irresponsible precedent in which rape becomes not the responsibility of everyday citizens but the responsibility of those who take their tops off and the people who pay them to do so
  • This entire discussion ignores the existence of both strippers and rape survivors who are not female-identified or heterosexual.
  • By taxing strip clubs, we are potentially contributing toward the notion that the adult entertainment industry is responsible for social ills related to sex, thus further marginalizing sex workers while ignoring the culpability of everyday people for what is a collective social problem.
  • In conclusion, we live in a nation that deprioritizes crucial social services and then passes on the cost to an industry whose workers have already historically been demonized and stigmatized. Meanwhile, the cause for the central problem (rape) has not been addressed, and instead, we are sidetracked into discussing a new problem (how to fund programs that address the consequences of rape). This shouldn’t be surprising as this is often how other social issues, such as homelessness and hunger, are framed in the public discourse or whatever you call the thing I just engaged in above.

It’s also the anniversary of the original Feminist Pride Day (previously known as Feminist Coming Out Day).

For the past two years, I’ve promised myself to go easier on the travel/speaking commitments in March. You know that despite organizing FCOD the previous two years, I have only attended one of the events (the first-ever one in 2010)? Maybe this will change now that the Feminist Majority Foundation is now overseeing the project.

In the meantime, a shameless plug: For Women’s History Month, People Of Color Organize! celebrates women organizers of color relating and making history. Check out their podcast interview with Abby Sun, my Feminist Pride Day co-founder and all-around awesome person :)

P.S. Though we changed the name of the national event because we did not want to appropriate the phrase “coming out” from the gay rights movement, Feminist Coming Out Day will retain its original name at Harvard (where it was first conceived as a queer event for Women’s Week). If you’re in the Boston area, tonight is the coffeehouse and reception for the opening of the 2012 Feminist Portrait Project. I’ll be there in spirit!

Missed our conversation about online love, digital intimacy and the future of dating? You can check out the best bits from the XOXOSMS Valentine’s premiere on Vimeo (or on Ustream for the full video from our livestream).

P.S. For press coverage of the event, check out this article on NYU Local.

Say you’ve started seeing someone you really like. As far as you’re concerned, how long will it take before you have sex?

  • 1-2 dates
  • 3-5 dates
  • 6 or more dates
  • Only after the wedding

If you’ve ever read my Bedsider essay on the first time I shared dinner and bodily fluids with the Roomie, you already know my stance on first-date sex. Granted, not everyone wants to start off their relationships with a bang (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!) and that’s pretty understandable given that we each have varying degrees of tolerance for strangers in our bed and morning-after regret. So when I spoke with Nadia Goodman for her piece on deciding how long to wait, I struggled to give universal advice on a topic with not-so-universal opinions.

I feel like a lot of the anxiety over having first-time sex with a new person stems from the desire to make things go perfectly, and timing is one of the few things that we can actually control. Dating can be a high-stress affair complete with expectations, fantasies, and assumptions - who knows what pans out once the clothes are off? And though I am not the type of person who wishes they could take back their sexual history (or really, any part of my personal history), I wish there were a way to express that I’ve had dissatisfying or disappointing experiences in the bedroom without folks assuming that it means I wish I could take it all back. Because the truth is, I don’t want to take it back, not even the bad, awkward, unremarkable sex - isn’t that stuff at least partly responsible for making me more aware of my needs and desires? For me, the risk of jumping the gun by jumping someone’s bones is well-worth taking, precisely because I wouldn’t want to be with a person who would judge me for that.

So, those are my two cents. Now I’m curious to hear how you would answer the question I posed in the beginning on the post.

Quick read for your Friday afternoon! A CNN piece I was quoted in:

Twenty-year-old, 6-foot-1 Andrej Pejic is a model for success: a women’s size 2 or 4; angular cheekbones; full, pouty lips; bleached-blond hair; and impossibly long legs. Yet the walk down the runway — often squeezed into a ladies’ size 10 shoe — hasn’t always been a smooth and glamour-ridden one.

Bosnian-born Pejic grew up as the younger son to a single mother of two. He spent most of his childhood in a Serbian refugee camp before moving to Melbourne, Australia. While others are quick to attach labels to Pejic — he’s been referred to in the media everywhere from “James Blond” to “gender bender” to “femiman” — androgynous sensation Pejic isn’t so quick to constrict himself to a particular description… [continued]

I don’t think there should be an “acceptable” way to dress or to present yourself according to your gender, so I think it’s pretty awesome that Andrej Pejic has taken the fashion world by storm. As I mention in the linked article, however, visibility can only do so much to counter the existing gender binary, and let’s not forget that profit interests are the reason why Pejic’s strutting down the runway.

In fact, rather than subverting norms, might this trend in gender ambiguity reinforce them? Pejic’s look is first and foremost a source of profit for the agency and designers who employ him. There’s a big difference between appearing androgynous and being trans or gender-queer, but a fashion spread is not going to articulate all those nuances, nor does it even touch upon the kinds of prejudice or outright violence that many trans folks encounter because of the way they dress. Your average 20-year-old transgender person is not a highly sought after model, yet they’re the ones who aren’t insulated from harassment, discrimination, and physical violence. That isn’t to say that Pejic doesn’t encounter ignorance as well, but he enjoys some economic insulation, which shouldn’t be underestimated. Employment is a privilege that many trans people can’t count on (since gender identity and expression aren’t constitutionally protected rights). All in all, I have my doubts about whether this trend actually challenge mainstream ideas about beauty and gender or if it merely fetishizes androgyny.

Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one.

Georgia Representative Tom Price, when asked how low-income women could access contraception without insurance

I don’t know what country Mr. Price is living in. GOOD Magazine’s Amanda Hess and Nona Willis Aronowitz compiled stories from 25 of their peers (including yours truly) to illustrate the number of people who have been financially constrained in their contraceptive decision-making. And we are the “lucky ones”. Have a story of your own? Share it in the comments or tweet it out under the hashtag #priceiswrong.

Concerned about women’s access to healthcare? Add your name to the list of supporters for the Coalition to Protect Women’s Health Care (whose members include Planned Parenthood, Feminist Majority, and NARAL Pro-Choice America, among others).

where is your line? | Lena Chen: Badass Activist Friday!

The Line Campaign chatted with me for their feminist interview series. I talked about my ambivalence toward the “sexpert” label, dating while feminist, and my upcoming web series on gURL.com. Check it out!

UPDATE: The Women’s Media Center has extended the deadline for its Girls’ State Of The Union contest to December 12th.

Here are TWO opportunities (one new, one previously posted) for creative feministas to show off their talents and win big!

The Women’s Media Center invites girls from all over the United States, ages 14-22, to create a 1-5 minute Girls’ State of the Union video in response to the President’s speech. Like the President’s report, the Girls’ State of the Union will sum up the condition of the country—with special emphasis on the welfare of girls—and an outline of what the President’s legislative agenda and priorities for congress should be.

Five finalists will be highlighted on the Women’s Media Center’s YouTube channel and a group of diverse and talented celebrity and new media influencer judges (including yours truly) will choose the winner. The winner, along with her parents or guardians, will be flown to Washington, DC to present her State of the Union report at the National Press Club in January. For more details on how to enter, check out the official webpage.

Don’t forget that I’m also judging the Feminist Flash Fiction contest over at MookyChick. The prize is £100 and a one-year subscription to BUST Magazine for the writer of the best submission under 200 words. Think: haiku, six-word memoir, etc. Just make it short and sweet. Best part? You can enter more than once!

Good luck, and please reblog and spread the word widely :)