Sex and the Ivy

Two To Tango, One to Untangle

Filed under: Aidan, Culture, Women — Elle October 25, 2006 @ 3:19 am

Though largely uneventful save for my initial panic, the experience with Plan B has nonetheless left me bothered. I could have certainly gone without the inconvenience of a UHS visit and I would have rather not spent the entirety of Monday fielding phone calls from various nurses. But both is typical of any medical issue. Mostly, I didn’t like the reminder that as a woman, incidents such as these make life significantly more difficult than if I were a man.

This is the second time I’ve used Plan B. The first time was in July. My then-boyfriend drove me to the nearest pharmacy, but that was the extent of his involvement in my predicament, in our predicament. But it wasn’t entirely his fault that he wasn’t more involved. I tend to take charge of matters like these, insisting then as I did a couple nights ago that everything was fine, that I would take care of things in the morning. But the truth is that I don’t at all enjoy shouldering the burden of a responsibility belonging to two people, yet whether or not I have a choice, it is a burden that unfairly rests on me.

In July, there were two of us in the convenience store, but one was scanning the aisles and the other was in line, waiting for her number to be called so that she could step up to the counter. I don’t think my discomfort then stemmed from having to face the pharmacist alone. Inexplicably, the whole thing felt like a lonely experience even though he paid and the forms had his address and afterward, he drove us back to his apartment in his car. Despite his role and his presence, I never felt like he was with me when it mattered or where it mattered. But that’s something he couldn’t help then; that’s something Aidan couldn’t help yesterday.

Plan B is taken in two parts and I had my second pill this morning at 9 a.m. without incident. Though some women experience nausea, I didn’t the first time nor did I this time. It’s strange but it feels like there is something terribly symbolic about swallowing that pill. Perhaps it is the fact that I am the one who has to consume it, that my body is the one that counts here. Though it is tiny — easily the smallest piece of medication I’ve ever taken — it is also the most significant, but it is not something I can split in half and hand over to the other person responsible.

We both made a mistake, but I paid for it. And no, it is not his fault, but I wish there were some way last time or this time or the next time for me to feel like it is not just up to me to face alone. Like my summer paramour, the most Aidan could do last night was hold me as I slept. When my alarm rang at 9 a.m., he was the one who got out of bed and turned it off, but I was the one who reached into my purse for the packet I went to such lengths to obtain.

Having just gone to sleep at 5 a.m., I was at once barely conscious and astutely aware of my actions. I was one pill away from ending the nagging feeling I couldn’t shake all weekend, the feeling I was certain he shared but could not entirely understand. Placing the pill on the tip of my tongue, I swallowed hard, twice, before it made its way down my parched throat. Just as I put away the packet, I felt Aidan’s fingertips graze my side, guiding me to bed. I pulled the covers over us and I drifted off with his arms wrapped around me.

During that warm July night I first went to bed with the burden of two on my shoulders, I fell asleep with my back to his chest and the irrational belief that the harder he held me, the less alone I must certainly feel. Last night, I thought it eerie that in a Cambridge, Massachusetts dorm room, I managed to replicate the same feeling 3 months removed and 3,000 miles away. I was with someone slightly younger, slightly better intentioned but just as unable to ease the dull ache at the back of my throat, to erase the reminder that I alone must untangle this mess, because try as he might, he was just a bystander to it all.


I really appreciated the outpouring of advice and support from other women. It’s great to know that the women on (and off) this campus are so well-informed. During my walk-in, I asked plenty of questions about UHS’s policy on morning after pills. Here’s what I found out:

  • Plan B, though approved for over-the-counter distribution, is not yet available in that form. Women must see a nurse practitioner in order to obtain it.
  • UHS currently distributes Plan B on the spot, without requiring an additional visit to the pharmacy.
  • When Plan B is distributed over-the-counter, it will still be necessary for patients to see the pharmacist on call.
  • UHS does not offer the morning after pill in advance. Plan B is distributed only when it is needed (though there is no way to regulate this policy).
  • Plan B can be obtained at any time, not just during UHS working hours. There is someone who can offer it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I hope this information is helpful to other Harvard women. You can reach UHS After Hours Urgent Care at 617.495.5711.

One-Girl Crusade

Filed under: College, Dating/Relationships, Women — Elle October 15, 2006 @ 7:56 pm

My girlfriends are being ridiculous. Talking to boys they like should not be this difficult. And yet everyone seems to have a problem with even the most basic of conversations. Saying hi is not a milestone, really.

Thus, my new mission? To break the ice for them and prove that it really isn’t that hard. Today, I more or less made a fool of myself in the dining hall when I attempted to drum up conversation with a guy on the basis of his sweatshirt slogan.  So now conveniently, one of my friends can commiserate with her crush about my utter weirdness. Hallelujah. Tomorrow, I’ll chat up another befuddled lad on the pretense of … erm, class? I’ll figure it out. One way or another, I’m forging relationships even if it means forcing them.

The funny thing is, introducing myself to random people only seems forced because no one does anything spontaneous at Harvard. Everything, even seemingly accidental run-ins, is carefully coordinated. Unplanned encounters ought to be the most natural way of meeting people. Being friendly enough to initiate conversation with a casual acquaintance should be no problem at all. But unfortunately, this campus is too socially awkward for its own good.

So if you’re an eligible bachelor, watch out. If I’m flooding your inbox and your voicemail or trying to become your new best friend, it probably means one of my best friends has got her eye out for you. Maybe you could take some initiative too. It couldn’t hurt to say hi.

Relax? Don’t Do It.

Filed under: Asian, CK, Culture, Kam, Race, Women — Elle October 3, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

I recommend that readers check out DJ Kammy Kam’s latest post, concerning the Western beauty ideals imposed upon African American women. His blog borrows the name of an India.Arie song, “I Am Not My Hair,” for its title. I suppose it’s fitting that he’s now addressing beauty standards by using hair texture as a springboard.

Sometime mid-summer, I sent CK the India.Arie song above. I thought she’d appreciate it, since she’s in the minority of black women who do not relax their hair. I am actually a big fan of her afro. For all its knots and kinks, her locks are infinitely more interesting and lively than my pin-straight mane. Her hair has a “don’t mess with me” attitude, just like her. That same attitude is why she would never douse it in chemicals or straighten it against its will. But CK’s perspective isn’t exactly popular. She’s probably one of a handful of black women at Harvard who leave their hair in its natural state.

“Unfortunately, we live in the United States,” said one friend trying to explain the phenomenon to me. But I found myself unable to relate. At least when it comes to beauty standards, it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to conform to Western ideals than black women. Yellow, after all, is closer to white than any other color. To be honest, I can’t even think of many physical insecurities I have that white women don’t share. I wish my breasts were bigger and my waist slimmer, but I don’t have kinky hair and my skin color is the perfect shade of California tan.

Still, there’s a whole other set of pressures that come with being Asian and a “foreign” look is one of them. The physical characteristic that most significantly separates white and Asian women is the shape of their eyes. That’s one of the few things I can’t change no matter how many visits to the beauty salon. But thanks to cosmetic surgery, Asian women can now widen their eyes or surgically create an eyelid fold if they so wish — it’s an outpatient procedure. It’s also the most popular cosmetic operation in Japan (decidedly the most Westernized Asian country). From an American perspective, it sounds atrocious but in Asia, it’s as commonplace and accepted as … well, relaxing your hair in America. If CK’s afro is what separates her look from the mainstream, then my eyes are the Asian equivalent.

Last week, I woke up from a nap in a cold sweat. I had a terrible nightmare that CK relaxed her hair without consulting me. With a shoulder-length, artificially straight cut, she looked nothing like herself. In the dream, I was so upset that I started lecturing her and demanded an explanation for how she could sell out. In my conscious state, I’m amused by how angry I was, considering that I’m more superficial than she is by far. Between the two of us, I’m definitely the conformist. But maybe that’s why I found myself so outraged. As looks-conscious as I am, I admire her willingness to rebel. She fights a fight I’m not willing to take on myself. And if CK would give up that feisty poof of hair in the face of external pressure, then who will society tame next?

I live in a constant state of crisis

Filed under: Asian, Life, Queer, Terra, Women — Elle October 2, 2006 @ 2:30 pm

If I slow down, I might implode. I went to sleep at 6am and woke up at 10am this morning despite my best efforts. I only have class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays — a minor miracle at Harvard for a sophomore.

My blockmates and I have decided that we need our own reality TV show. We’d probably be the most hated women on television but we’d certainly be amusing to watch. MF has informed Maggie that the only reason she keeps us around as friends is for “sheer entertainment value.” Which we usually deliver on.

This weekend has been the most eventful thus far, and as Terra said, “I think sophomore year is getting off to a great start!” By great, she means that every one of my blockmates has managed to to create some drama of their own. Even goody goody Sue (the only one who is currently spoken for) has stirred up controversy with our much-talked about girl-on-girl kiss. I don’t know what the big deal is, but we have tons of guys wagging their tongues at the mere thought. It’s probably due to the fact that we’re both Asian.

I also just realized that I’m really attracted to Asian women. I think I have yellow fever. Everyday, I sound more like a sketchy upperclassmen guy. I’ll end this post with a screenshot from one of my favorite movies. Saving Face has a beautiful lesbian couple (in addition to the always gorgeous Joan Chen) and is legitimately a great film, hot sex scene or not. I highly recommend it for anyone who can relate to having an overbearing Asian mother.

Catcalls and Final Straws

Filed under: Feminism, Women — Elle September 1, 2006 @ 7:33 pm

When I first put fingers to keyboard yesterday, I wrote knowing that my experience wasn’t a unique one. But it was only after reading comments and receiving feedback that I realized just how prevalent it was. I’m not sure whether the responses have been more uplifting or disheartening. On one hand, a lot of girls – too many of my close friends to count – share my fears and concerns. On the other, there’s a certain solidarity in knowing that you have support in confronting these obstacles. I’m speaking for a lot more frustrated women than I thought.

I want to clarify a few things. It’s pretty obvious that I hold some feminist beliefs. At the same time, I wouldn’t identify myself as a feminist, because there are many aspects of my life that don’t align with feminism at all. That being said, I think people need to understand that what I’m discussing here isn’t about feminism and isn’t even about equality. Rights, fair wages, and non-discriminatory policies are all good and fine – but sometimes I worry that in pursuit of these very worthy causes, society is forgetting about the most basic courtesies, the everyday actions that are the best indication of how women are really viewed in the world.

I think JB’s comment is the most telling. From a non-female perspective, it seems that women have all the same rights and opportunities as men. With affirmative action and diversity programs, some might even argue that women have certain advantages. But it’s only when you look beneath the surface and walk in our shoes that you realize how difficult it can sometimes be to live as a woman.

Although I’m not exactly known for being complacent, I’m hardly violent or belligerent either. Until yesterday, the single physical altercation I have ever been involved in occurred on a playground. My reaction on the bus was pretty uncharacteristic. It is far more likely that I would have simply not said anything at all and moved away had the crowd permitted. But I think the reason why I chose to lash out instead was because I had finally had it. The anger I’ve accumulated over the course of many years reached a boiling point when that man violated me. He wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, but at that moment, he was the one thing I could fight back against. That’s why I yelled at him, that’s why I kicked him, and that’s why I wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for the bystander who calmed me down. Considering my stature and physique, I was hardly in any position to do real damage, but if I could’ve done real harm, I would’ve. I wanted to draw blood yesterday. I wanted him on the floor. I wanted my heel on his neck. I wanted him to feel the way he and other men have made me over and over.

You hear stories on the news all the time about women who kill their boyfriends and husbands because they’ve been physically or emotionally abusive. I’ve always written these women off as mentally unhinged, but on some level, I think I can understand. I don’t want to kill anyone but like them, I’m sick of being a victim. I try not to feel like one, I try not to live like one, yet time and time again, someone does something to remind me that I am one.

When I was 12, I sat down on the floor of my local library beside Rolling Stone archives and thumbed through an issue about the Backstreet Boys. Shortly after, a man took a seat next to me and opened a magazine in a manner that allowed the back of his hand to touch the side of my breast. I shifted. He opened his magazine wider. I shifted again. He did right along with me. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to. I wasn’t sure if I was just paranoid. I didn’t want to make a scene for no reason. But I left that situation feeling at fault for letting myself be victimized.

I’m 19 now, fully grown, a Harvard student, and headed toward a promising future. I lead meetings, I head organizations, I take on enormous responsibilities. But every so often, I feel like that 12-year-old again. You might say that the guy on the bus and the man from the library are predators, exceptions in the grand scheme of things. But what about men who catcall at underage girls? What about the frat boy culture that permeates male-dominated workplaces? What about guys writing off their female coworkers as “bitchy” when they try to lead like them? Every one of these situations leave me feeling just as helpless and without recourse as I did all those years ago on the library floor.

The man on the bus may have crossed the line in a way that most people wouldn’t dare, but everyday many men toe that same line. I’m not saying that every guy does, but enough guys engage in that behavior to make a significant portion of women uncomfortable. I’m tired of being dehumanized and objectified by lewd glances and come-ons. I’m tired of feeling intimidated and scared when walking alone on the street. The reason the man on the bus thought he could touch me was because men escape unpunished for degrading women all the time. What happened yesterday was not his fault alone. His crime falls on the shoulders of an indifferent society.

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