A Duke alum named Karen Owen created a 41-page PowerPoint "Senior Honors Thesis" called An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics, describing 13 men she slept with during her years at the university (including full names, and images), and it has now gone viral.
A few more important details about the thesis:
• Each encounter is recounted from inception (usually at a bar or party) to intercourse (usually in a bed or on a couch).
• Men are evaluated based on a universal list of factors, including sexual performance (for example: creativity, size, aggressiveness) and general status (attractiveness, athletic ability). On her "Background" slide Owen states that "In this Duke study, we used data from four years at Duke University to create evaluation materials for such encounters and applied these criteria to the evaluated Subjects hopefully allowing for future maximization of enjoyment of such procedures." Read: She wrote about the sex so other people would know what these dudes were like in bed.
• Throughout the document Owen shares her own feelings about the hook-ups, such as these: "Not only was he incredibly attractive, but at that point in my academic career I was quite insecure, and while I never reached the point of engaging in physical activity with people I found unattractive, I still was more susceptible to compliments than I currently am," and "I had stopped being a real person."
You can read the document in its entirety via several websites, but hear me out first.
• Owen emailed the document to three -- and only three -- girlfriends. One of the girls has admitted to forwarding the document, and the rest is history.
• Many, if not all, of the men named in the document are upset about the situation and many have contacted the various websites, which published the Power Point asking for their names and images to be redacted. Some sites have agreed. No lawsuits appear to have been filed at this time.
• Owen herself spoke with Jezebel about the issue, saying, "I regret it with all my heart. I would never intentionally hurt the people that are mentioned on that."
• Owen has since removed or blocked all of her social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter).
So: Girl writes sex diary. Sex diary gets leaked. Everyone involved feels regret. And -- on to the important part, as far as I'm concerned -- the media goes crazy. In this case, it reached the point of Owen's story receiving interest from major entertainment agencies and book publishers. William Morris Endeavor (WME) begged Jezebel for any contact information for Owen. Deadspin called Owen "a hero." And an editor at Harper Collins said, "I admire her sense of self-empowerment."
Which, for me, is where this silly situation goes from a laugh to a shame.
What Karen Owen did is not self-empowerment. She is admittedly regretful about the situation and ashamed to the point of now hiding. Jezebel calls Owen "now-contrite." In one breath, she defends herself by saying fraternities distribute the same documents about girls all the time, but in another says she never intended for anyone to see her thesis.
If she was so self-empowered, she would stand up and say, "Yes, I had this sex. Yes, I felt these ways about it. I'm proud of what I did and what I wrote. I'm sorry the names and faces of these people were leaked, but this document is 100 percent true, and it's just sex." That's self-empowerment. Sharing your sexual exploits with your three best girlfriends is called gossip. Creating a faux honors thesis in "horizontal academics" is called ... something I haven't quite figured out, but it's not a positive word.
Is Owen's recount of the sex she had -- and with whom, and how -- entertaining? Yes. Are her moments of feeling and confusion within the document interesting? Absolutely. Is it all evidence of our post–"Sex and the City" confidence in our sexual selves? No. And does it make Karen Owen a hero? Oh my God, I hope not.
We can't help the fact that the WMEs and Harper Collinses of the world will go after the most salacious material they can find -- especially if it's already spread. If I worked at either of those places I might do exactly the same. But this is not a moment to celebrate for its empowerment of women. As Owen says, "It's no different than what frat boys have been doing for generations (albeit minus the PowerPoint and careless emailing)." Women objectifying men with the same tactics men sometimes use to objectify women isn't empowerment -- it's immature.
How Is This Going to Affect the Athletes in the Power Point? The Guys Over at Fanhouse Look at That Side of the Story.
Which brings me to the question I can't stop asking: What if Karen Owen were Owen Karen (pardon the device), a Duke man who slept with 13 women, wrote about every single detail of it, and shared it with the world? Would we call him self-empowered? Would we call him a hero? Would WME and Harper Collins offer him an instant deal? (Note: No, because Tucker Max already exists, and even he doesn't include full names and pictures.)
I'm not offended by what Karen Owen did. You want to write a tell-all about the dozen-plus men you've slept with, knock yourself out. Send it to three friends or three-million friends, I don't care. Include pictures and full names and embarrassing details and all the sexist commentary you want. And if you trust anyone enough to email something you never intended to get out in this digital day and age, email away.
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!" 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.
And I'd venture to guess that, after this experience, neither does Karen Owen.
Check out this word cloud the AOL News Surge Desk put together based on Karen Owen's thesis. It's a great way to get the gist without having to read all 41 slides and even includes explanations.
Jessie Rosen is a frequent Lemondrop contributor and has survived many a dating exploit, including being sold at a dating auction. She writes the blog 20-Nothings, an account of getting by from 2-0 to 3-0 with minimal wind resistance.
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