Sex and the Ivy

Woo-hoo, it’s my sexist German debut!

Filed under: Abstinence, Feminism, Press — Elle February 9, 2010 @ 10:17 pm

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 both fact-checking Der Spiegel.

The Harvard Crimson: “The Abstinence Mystique”

Filed under: Abstinence, Harvard — Elle October 27, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

My op-ed in tomorrow’s edition of The Harvard Crimson discusses how the campus organization, True Love Revolution, lacks a consistent mission and misapplies feminism in defending abstinence and the “traditional family”.

I had a lot of fun writing this piece, in part because it was an opportunity to debunk a common misinterpretation of Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs as a treatise on the consequences of feminism. Levy, who identifies as a feminist herself, does not blame second-wave feminism for vulgar music videos and crude lad mags emblematic of modern “raunch culture”. Rather, she argues that women who express their sexuality in a manner obviously conforming to the male gaze (straight women kissing in night clubs, for example) are falsely invoking feminism in justifying their decisions.

Levy herself has gone on the record as stating in an interview with sex-positive feminist Susie Bright:

OF COURSE I don’t think [sex radicals] are responsible for this…the whole point of sex radicals is to explore new and different and more creative ways to represent— and to have— sex. I’m all for creativity. I’m all for exploration. I’m just not for the incessant reiteration of this one incredibly dull shorthand for sexiness… Wet t-shirt contests! Implants! Brazilian bikini waxes!


You have always been about encouraging women to investigate what they really and truly want from sex. Raunch culture, on the other hand, is about performance, not pleasure. That’s my objection … As I say in my book, the women for whom this is *genuine* — the women who authentically get their kicks from flashing for GGW or stripping or whatever— have my best wishes.

It’s a shame that Levy’s work has been so often misinterpreted as it offers a rare, nuanced examination of how the male-dominated entertainment and pornography industry have hijacked “sexual liberation” for profit. This isn’t because feminism went too far; it’s because it didn’t go far enough.

“Sex Cred” on mtvU

Filed under: Abstinence, Dr. Ruth, This is going on my resume, mtvU — Elle September 4, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

Check out the just-released premiere episode of a new mtvU show featuring sexpert Dr. Ruth. I was a student correspondent reporting on abstinence.

I met Dr. Ruth myself and she’s a fantastic woman. (She’s kind of like a sex-savvy grandmother to all!) Can’t wait to see the eps with other student reporters. My summer roomie and pal Kam is featured in the opening sequence of the show.