Months after the viral circulation of her major research paper, former Duke University student Karen Owen is still in virtual hiding.
The twenty-something has blocked off all social media connections, refusing to speak to the public about her work. Perhaps this isn’t the typical reaction you’d expect from an academic garnering fame and media attention, but that’s because Owen’s research paper wasn’t any old thesis paper: it was a “f***” list.
Owen’s project, entitled “An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics,” was a 42-page power point presentation detailing her sexual escapades at university, from her softmore year to her senior year. Owen would meet men at campus bars, and they’d consent to have sex with her. What they didn’t know was that they were taking part in her academic experiment, serving as specimens who would be evaluated on physical attractiveness, penis size, talent, creativity, aggressiveness, entertainment, and athletic ability. Bonus points were awarded for extraneous factors, such as an Australian accent or pro surfing sills. Points were deducted “for rudeness and being Canadian.”
Owen didn’t hesitate to name names, showcasing each specimen, complete with pictures, penis-size charts, and dirty dialogue transcripts of their supposidly intimate experiences.
In Owen’s defense, she thought she was sending her work to a select few friends, and never intended the project to be seen by anyone outside this group. Obviously, the student didn’t realize how internet news spreads like wildfire; fraternity friends circulated the project online until it made headlines in the campus paper, and soon after attracted media attention.
In an interview with Jesabel, Owen apologizes, but she’s quick to point out the sexual double standard she feels warrants her actions: “this is the kind of thing that frat boys do all the time” she says. Perhaps Owen has a point – after all, wasn’t Facebook inspired by the Harvard-wide success of a website allowing students to rate and comment on their female classmates?
Though Owen says she regrets her actions, and that she never intended to hurt anyone, she can not erase the digital tracks her project has left on across the internet, nor can she repair the damage inflicted on the reputations of the men involved (or her own reputation, for that matter).
“Even our girls are lacking modesty” activist Donna Rice Hughes commented in an interview on The Today Show. While Hughes highlights the changing sexual attitudes of women today compared to even twenty years ago, her comment can be interpreted as sexist, placing a heavier burden on women to be “more modest” than men. This type of discourse is precisely what Owen’s project resists, demonstrating how women needn’t be modest, that they can be as sexually explicit as men. “Here’s another reminder that women can be as flip, aggressive, or acquisitive about sex as men can” condones Jezebel, a woman-centered entertainment magazine.
It’s not Owen’s lack of modesty or her sexual promiscuity that gets irks me; what drives me crazy is her misappropriation of feminist practices, and her outright disrespect towards men under the banner of women’s lib. As Duke student Alyssa Granacki commented in a letter to the Duke Chronicle, “Why should we congratulate Karen Owen for subjecting men to the objectification, embarrassment and harassment that women have fought against for years?”
That Owen’s work targeted male athletes was a contentious issue for Duke university in light of the scandal of 2007, when three lacrosse players were accused of raping a stripper. While Owen’s project can’t be compared to rape, her work definitely meets the level of objectification required in order to rape someone, and fosters a carnal relationship between the sexes. Owen’s paper, like rape, treats victims like meat.
While one’s sexual orientation is their personal choice, individuals have the right to personal privacy, especially in their most intimate moments. How would Owen feel if she discovered that one of the athletes had videorecored their entire sexual exchange, and that he’d screened the tape at a football game?
Owen’s project is a mutated version of feminism, and represents serious misunderstanding of feminist aims that is shocking coming from a student of one of the top-ranked universities in America.
That’s 1000 points docked from Duke University for failing to teach their young women productive ways of countering sexism. For Owen, That’s 500 points docked on the charge of wildly misunderstanding the aims of women’s lib, another 100 on the charge of rudeness, and 50 more points deducted for insulting Canadians – we’re the rude ones, eh?