Is 'Sex Thesis' Author Karen Owen a Feminist Hero?
Updated: 12 hours 9 minutes ago
(Oct. 8) -- Boys do it all the time.
That is about the only agreed-upon conclusion when discussing the subject of Karen Owen, the Duke University graduate whose phony senior thesis evaluated her sexual exploits with Duke athletes.
The 22-year-old's "horizontal thesis," as she called it, has gone viral, sparking a debate about whether Owen is a feminist hero or a cautionary tale of promiscuity. But it's Owen's gender -- not the details of her sexcapades or the men who star in them -- that seems to hold the shock value.
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Many, including Owen herself, have pointed out that some college fraternities regularly make lists ranking their sexual conquests, a practice that, for better or worse, is neither celebrated nor condemned by the national media as sensational.
But apparently, girls will be girls, too. Owen took no prisoners in the 42-page fake thesis, and used graphs and criteria from "athletic ability" to "size" to rank her partners. "Points were given for extremely amusing actions, great personalities, quotes, sexts, good senses of humor, or simply dirty talk, and were removed if no noises of enjoyment or talk of any kind was present," Owen wrote. "In other words, how entertained I was."
The women's site Jezebel, which spoke to Owen, refused to condone the thesis, but celebrated the moment of equality, nonetheless. "We're not condoning putting any of these sorts of things in writing or within range of the Internet, especially when using the real names of your partners," Irin Carmon wrote at the site. "But you know what? Here's another reminder that women can be as flip, aggressive, or acquisitive about sex as men can."
Some even called her a hero. "Don't listen to those men calling Owen a tramp, ladies," Drew Magary wrote at the site Deadspin, "THIS WOMAN HAS LIVED A LIFE OF LIBERATION! I strongly urge you to follow in her footsteps."
Others felt very differently. The names of the men were redacted in the blog posts of major websites, but had already been widely circulated on the Internet, an act some say is simply unacceptable, regardless of gender.
"What about the male athletes whose names, photos, and tales of sexual prowess (or lack thereof) are now tabloid fodder?" Forbes blogger Kashmir Hill asked today. Many agreed. "It's not okay to sexually humiliate anyone. Even if you think these testosterone-fueled athletes on the prowl really, really deserve it," April Peveteaux wrote at The Stir. "What if Subject #2 killed himself after reading her assessment of his personality and penis?"
Owen, for her part, has apologized. "I regret it with all my heart. I would never intentionally hurt the people that are mentioned on that," she told Jezebel this week.
So far though, it's Owen who has been the target of scathing public criticism, much of it from women. "It makes me ashamed that the Duke name is attached to what she's done," Duke senior Nicole Queathem, 22, told The New York Times this week. "And it's the age-old double standard: People are more critical of what she did because she's a girl."
Some were less sophisticated in their attacks. "One day, if she has children, they will be able to see what their mother achieved in University: Being sexually involved with college athletes," one blogger by the name of Aaron M. wrote at the site News@Spreadit.
Owen seemed to solicit a kind of free-for-all on the Internet this week among those who could not control themselves; scores of anonymous bloggers and commenters took the occasion to call the Duke grad a slut.
And it's exactly that kind of sexual objectification that has some people so upset. Objectifying members of the opposite sex is not a glass ceiling women want to break through, they say.
"I'm offended by the fact that people think this makes her a strong, self-empowered, champion of female sexuality. It makes me sad that we defend her actions with a 'But guys do it all the time!' " blogger Jessie Rosen wrote at Lemondrop.
"And it will never cease to confuse me why, in the minds of those keeping score, this is one big point for the girls team. Whatever game it is they're playing is not a game I want to win."
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