Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lena Chen Discovers Shame

Many people know the feeling. You worked your way up the high school status hierarchy until, in senior year, you basked in the glow that comes to those who have made it to the top.

You might not have been captain of the football team but you were an academic superstar. When you walked the halls, everyone know who you were. Freshmen and sophomores whispered your name with an admixture of awe and envy.

And then you were accepted to Harvard or Yale or Princeton. Parents around town told their children that they should emulate your wondrous example.

You were It. You were the Dude or the It Girl. They threw a party for you when you left for Harvard, proclaiming that you were now going to conquer the world.

Bright eyed and aglow you arrived at Harvard, only to discover that no one knew who you were, or much cared. From being the glory of your high school you have sunk into perfect anonymity. You might as well not have existed; you were invisible.

Some first year college students deal with the encroaching anomie by joining fraternities and sororities, by going out for the marching band or the rugby team, by working on the newspaper or the radio station.

Others stay lost. They give up on fitting in. They see themselves as permanent outsiders, suffering the grievous offense of being constantly ignored.

They begin to crave attention, any kind of attention. Without it they feel like they are going to starve. They decide that they must become famous, celebrated, someone.

They want people to know who they are, to talk about them in dorm bull sessions. They want their presence known. No matter what the cost.

Given the ambient culture, they think they can avenge the countless slights by becoming a campus celebrity. They might have learned that there is no such thing as bad publicity and that as long as people know who they are they will never again be anonymous.

If they are women they might have suffered through the mind-warp of a course in gender bending. They  might have learned that men and women are the same, that sexuality is a positive force, and that they need to express theirs openly and honestly.

Or they might have dabbled in the works of sex-positive feminists like Jaclyn Friedman and her band of enablers. There they would have learned that they feel isolated, alone, and anonymous because they are not fully expressing their sexuality.

The path to popularity leads through hooking up. Is there a better and easier way to connect with boys? Once the boys know that you hook up, they take notice; they see you; they seek you out; they offer you attention and more.

Any old connection feels better than disconnection. If you’re a woman it’s relatively easy. You put out and they connect with you. They may not want to talk to you in the morning; they may not know your name; but still, you could have spent the evening at home, alone.

If you feel badly about it, your feminist enablers will tell you that it’s just a sign of residual guilt. You need to do it more, to be more free and open about your sexuality.

Of course, anyone can hook up. There is no real distinction in that. You become one of the easy girls on campus, the kind that boys seek out when they are looking for some quick, painless pleasure.

Even if you become the hook up queen, you have still not reached the status of a genuine campus celebrity.

If your name is Lena Chen, and you are attending Harvard, you then take the next step: you start a sex blog. Link here.

Allow Chen to describe her experience: “During my sophomore year, a long-simmering discontentment with this academic pressure cooker led me to start, a blog about my undergraduate misadventures and the lessons that I learned from screwing and screwing up. I wrote about navigating hookups, self-medicating with alcohol, and feeling like a misfit at an elite school where everyone else seemed so much more self-assured. But unlike your typical diary of a disenchanted youth, these thoughts were published on the Web for all to see. Little did I know that the website would find its way into the browser windows of sympathetic students across the country. For the next two and a half years in college, in between attending queer and feminist rallies and talking friends out of careers in finance, I confessed insecurities and gave graphic accounts of sexcapades to an audience of thousands, many of them my own peers.”

How did that work out for her? It didn’t work out very well. Somehow or other, no one ever warned her about the social cost of flagrant exhibitionism.  

She got attention, far more attention than she had ever imagined, but it was the wrong kind of attention. She became a campus celebrity. Everyone was talking about her. Yet, it didn't feel exhilarating. It felt like shame.

In her words: “Shame wasn't something that came naturally to me. It was something that I learned against my will, and now that I know it inside and out, I don't know how one can possibly unlearn it. Sexual freedom is a sham. Over my blogging years, I've become acquainted with enough erstwhile sexual radicals to realize that my story is not an isolated incident.”

Somehow or other, her feminists enablers had not told her about this. They cared less for her well being than for their cause. Their advice had flung her out into a world she did not understand, the world of public reputation.

And they had not told her that once you make a spectacle of your sexuality, once you become a campus celebrity, it is very difficult to go back to the status quo ante tempestatem.

Lena Chen gradually became aware of her dilemma. The more she understood it, the worse it became. As she tried to figure out how to make it all go away, and as she started seeing how difficult it is to banish images from other people’s minds, she nearly had a nervous breakdown.

Was her situation hopeless? Is a bad reputation forever? Not at all. It just feels that way. This is yet another reason, when you are feeling like the world has just collapsed around you and that you are irrevocably lost, why you should not go with your feelings.

Difficult, yes; painful, yes; very hard, yes; hopeless, no.

You may believe that the Mad Ave. term, "rebranding", is an offense against everything you hold sacred, but Chen managed to use it to her advantage,.

She found a boyfriend; happily stopped writing her sex blog; and set out to rebrand herself.

here she describes her transformation: “Trolling my blog isn't interesting anymore now that I'm not habitually liquored-up and bed-hopping. I got my shit together, gained the respect of others in my field, and now I play house with my boyfriend. I share recaps of events I've spoken at and update readers with travel announcements. I post pictures of my extremely photogenic dog and the home-cooked dinner I made from scratch. I've built a persona and a brand. I'm Lena Chen, the Harvard girl who went wild, then went Betty Homemaker, and retained her feminist street cred to boot. For the most part, these aren't just superficial changes. My close friends remark that I'm more stable than I've ever been. My readers -- including those who have been reading me for years -- marvel at my seemingly perfect relationship and ask me how I make it seem so effortless. In three short years, I transitioned from divulging every secret worry to refraining from revealing any vulnerabilities at all.”

Losing respect is easy. Regaining it is difficult, painful, and time consuming.

Clearly, it would have been better had Chen never written a sex blog. But her ability to recover her reputation and her dignity shows the way for young women who have found themselves in similar situations.


JP said...

Stuart says:

"Bright eyed and aglow you arrived at Harvard, only to discover that no one knew who you were, or much cared. From being the glory of your high school you have sunk into perfect anonymity. You might as well not have existed; you were invisible.

Some first year college students deal with the encroaching anomie by joining fraternities and sororities, by going out for the marching band or the rugby team, by working on the newspaper or the radio station."

It would be helpful if there was guidance through this transition from high school to college rather than just finding yourself dumped in an alien environment with no purpose whatsoever.

I chose the path of complete withdraw from life, depression, and what amounted to academic suicide.

And thus, my college experience remains the most traumatic period of my entire life.

I solved this problem by going to law school. And then continuing my basic complete withdraw from life, social isolation, and what amounted to continued academic suicide (having developed no skills to deal with the problem).

It would have been nice to realize that there were solutions to anomie back then. I would have saved myself a decade of suffering and failure.

I just had another nightmare about college a couple of weeks ago. And it's been 13 years since I've been there.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for telling us about this... I agree entirely that it would be great if colleges had some means of orientation for beginning students. Somehow I imagine that they are so focused on sensitivity training and green energy, and so opposed to the frat culture, that they have not thought through the real needs of young students.

Dennis said...

My experiences out of high school were just the opposite. I joined the Navy at 17 to avoid being drafted into the Army. I met, ate, slept in the same area and got yelled at by everyone in sight. They forced me to do thing I never thought was possible. I cleaned this and saluted that. I had to get up at ridiculous hours in the morning to do exercises with a rifle, et al and at times do KP. Needless to say life threw a bunch of challenges at me as that wet behind the ears small town poor boy of 17. What it did not do was take away my individualism. NOTE: That individualism is what makes the US military the best fighting force in the world.
All I can say was that it taught me I could do anything I set for my goals in life including attaining a BS and an MS degree.. So much for that "low hanging fruit" canard used by many of those very same poor little college students who seem to have an aversion to growing up and taking responsibility for one's life and also for those around you. Can one even imagine that the military has all kinds of programs to assist those "low hanging fruit" to attain advanced education?
Shame, failure, discipline et al are all there so that we can succeed and are requisite for us to become who we are as a person. Only we can allow someone or ourselves to make us miserable.
I believe that one of the reasons many young people have trouble coping with the exigencies of life is that we have tried to remove all of the challenges from their growing up years. Life is meant to be a challenge and without them we never truly grow as we were meant to grow. Learning to lose is learning to win.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Dennis. It shows what a strong organization, based on discipline and camaraderie, can do for young people. It makes you think that some form of compulsory national service would be a good thing for today's youth.

Of course, universities abhor such organization, especially the military variety. And they seem to be so completely against the military that they downplay any forms of loyalty, patriotism, and even school spirit... lest they make their students into Republicans.

Dennis said...

I should never write or edit early in the morning when I do not have my glasses on.

deerfieldparksouth said...

I fully agree with anything you've printed here.