Thursday, December 02, 2010

In support of sex, but not Karen Owen

I must have been sleeping under a rock last month when the Karen Owen kerfuffle hit the ‘net and the morning shows – two organisms that feed almost entirely off sex scandal.

I ran across Karen’s story recently in a blog written by Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at New York University. For those of you sharing my rock, Karen Owen is a senior at Duke University who put together a 42-page faux senior thesis – complete with a PowerPoint slideshow – about the student athletes she bedded. She sent it to friends, who sent it to friends, who sent it to friends, and, thusly, a new viral video star was born.

An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics, details, at nauseam, raunchy, booze-fueled evenings with 13 men met at a local watering hole called Shooters. Karen evaluated her “subjects” based on “memorable moments,” “pros,” “cons,” and a final, “raw score.”

In his blog, Zimmerman compares Karen to Hester Prynne – and says the fact that her “thesis” went viral – is proof that there is still a sexual double standard in this country -- that women are still expected to remain virtuous and pure while men are expected to be sexually aggressive and experienced.

I kept Zimmerman’s thoughts in mind the first time I watched the slideshow. But I didn’t see what he saw. First of all, I don’t think a single, attractive, 22-year-old woman sleeping with 13 men in four years is that big of a deal. That’s what, 3.2 men a year? Second, the thesis reads like the bathroom-wall ramblings of a young woman with a limited vocabulary just trying to make her friends laugh.
“I mean, we fucked in the Duke University library during fucking finals week,” she squeals.
That’s not funny, witty or an interesting take on sex in 2010. It’s just embarrassing.

What interested me more was that this “news story” made the Today Show, where an earnest looking reporter interviews one student who said,“This is the last thing this university needed.”
Um, right. To make matters even more weird, Meredith Vieira interviewed Donna Rice Hughes, who – for those of us older than a Duke University senior – we remember as having been photographed, pants-less, on a yacht called Monkey Business, on the lap of Gary Hart, then the democratic presidential front runner.

Donna Rice Hughes back in the day
The photo killed Hart’s political aspirations. Now Rice calls herself an “internet safety advocate” and is director of a center called Enough is Enough. During a five-minute interview, Vieira never, ever even comes close to asking Rice about her own, personal sex scandal – despite the fact that I was yelling at her over and over to do so. I think this says more about journalism today than Karen Owen says about sex.
I watched Karen’s slideshow several times and I read the comments beneath it, which called her everything from a diseased whore to a modern-day Che Guevara. One Neanderthal in a ball cap posted a pointless rambling about how Karen had slept with 42 men. (It was 42 pages, and 13 men, you idiot. If you can’t tell a page from a penis, I refuse to acknowledge your opinion.)
Now, I am not so old that I can’t remember how easily a young woman’s reputation can be sullied. My roommate said she once stepped outside a high school dance to have a cigarette with a guy and rumors soon swirled that the two had had sex outside.
“It was winter in Wisconsin,” she says now. “What the hell did they think we were doing out there?”
I was 12 when a boy I had a crush on sacrificed my reputation to inflate his own. In the locker room at school, he described me doing things I hadn’t even heard of before.
But I see that as another issue entirely. I don’t see Karen as a victim. It’s not like someone created the slideshow behind her back and played in front of the crowd at graduation. If what she writes is true, she was a willing and sometimes aggressive participant when she had sex with these men. And to that I say, “Good for you, dammit. Go get laid. Often and early. Yay sex!”
What would I think if I ran across a slideshow detailing the female sexual conquests of a male Duke University student? I know I would be livid. I would believe that those girls had been publically humiliated and victimized.
That, I believe, is the issue here. I don’t know if women today suffer from repressed sexuality as they have in the past. Karen certainly doesn’t. And since I wasn’t the least bit shocked that she’s slept with 13 men in four years, I guess I’m not either.
It’s my opinion we now live an age when people are getting married older (Hmmm Hmmm) and that people are not judged as harshly as they once were for having sex before marriage or outside of relationships. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for discretion. You never heard 007 blabbing to Pussy Galore about Holly Goodhead.
What I see in the PowerPoint slideshow is not so much that Karen is Hester Prynne. What I see is lack of kindness for people you once licked.
I’m older than the dirt clinging to the sides of the rock I live under – but I still believe that taking off your clothes and participating in acts with another person that are, at best, unsanitary – means you have entered into a contract to be kind to that person. It means you agree not to disclose publically their most humiliating figure flaws, needs, desires, wants and tears. And that goes for men and women.
Karen did defend herself in the online publication, er, Jezebel, saying that her PowerPoint is no different than what frat boys have been doing for generations. And that may be so. But like my sexually repressed grandma used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Sex is an animal desire that is two-fold. First, we are driven to procreate. That’s an easy one. But there’s also the desire to crawl into bed with another person, have them put a hand on an ill-conceived tattoo, scar or stretch mark, and say, if not verbally, that we are loveable anyway – that despite dimples, pimples and moles – we are accepted and even desired.
That’s the line, in my mind, Karen crossed.


Anonymous Alex said...

I completely agree. I frankly don't understand what the big deal is (was?) about this girl. There were rumors going around that she was going to be getting a book deal. Really? From that? I fail to see why this girl is even mildly compelling. She is an average looking girl who slept with a crew of guys she met at the campus bar. This happens all the time. She just happened to write about it... in a way that was, okay, fine, mildly snarky, but nothing spectacular. Maybe I am missing something, but I think she is pretty ordinary.

Further, I am failing to see why some people are rushing to her aid as a victim here. I dunno. She claims that she intended that this be seen by only a few of her friends, that she never intended it for anyone else's eyes. Maybe she didn't intend for it to go viral to the point that it did, but come on, was it really out of the realm of possibility that a 42-page Powerpoint about her sexual escapades with the Duke baseball team (or whatever sport it was) would be kept under wraps? I don't know if I buy it. I love my friends, but I would not sit around and spend that kind of time preparing a 42-page slideshow about anything for their entertainment. I don't think she cared at all if this thing spread. I think she wanted that.

I completely agree about the "two wrongs don't make a right" issue as well. Plus, she very plainly identified these guys - names and pictures. I would maybe be a little more sympathetic to her if she made any effort at all to keep them anonymous. This thing will be on the internet forever. Whenever any potential employer googles these guys, this will show up. It probably won't hurt her very much, as she can probably swing a gig as a mediocre sex columnist, but who knows what aspirations these guys may have. I can't imagine anything more embarrassing.

There have been comparisons drawn between her and Tucker Max too - and I will say that I read his book and liked it. But I think the difference here is that the appeal of his book was that his stories were SO outrageous that even if they had been fiction, they would still be just as funny. If her stories weren't true - if she just made up a bunch of vignettes about guys she banged at the campus bar - no one would care. Not to mention the fact that Tucker Max did not identify the girls in his book - they remain anonymous to the general public. And his stories were funny, but I would not get within 500 feet of this guy.

Anyway. You may or may not have gathered that I am sitting in the library right now "studying" for finals and was desperately in need of a break. Thank you for taking my mind off of issue preclusion and personal jurisdiction for 10 minutes. :)


12/4/10, 5:53 PM  

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