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Duke Graduate Karen Owen Gives Women The Power To Point

Tess Goodwin |
October 10, 2010 | 5:27 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Well-written and hilariously titled, "An Education Beyond The Classroom: Excelling In The Realm Of Horizontal Academics,” is now the subject of a media frenzy. Karen Owen, a recent graduate of Duke, made this powerpoint presentation detailing her sexual conquests while she was a student and since then, it has gone viral.

Duke University (Courtesy Creative Commons)
Duke University (Courtesy Creative Commons)
This so-called “sex-scandal” has led to many questions about internet privacy and women’s general social conduct. The powerpoint was never meant to go viral, but now that it has, should Owen be punished for the invasion of privacy of 13 men? Or should she be praised for turning the tables on men who have been bragging about their sexual conquests since the dawn of time?

"The Today Show" quickly demonized Owen, showing distain for her bar graph ranking her subjects on sexual performance. Meredith Vieira made the point that fraternity guys have been doing the same thing forever, only to have her guest, Donna Rice Hughes (president of an internet safety group, respond that “...there is lack of modesty in our girls.”

This comment is proof that there is a still a double standard in the social norms that govern our nation: men can brag about sex but women can't. Women must be “pure” and “modest.” This is a belief system that needs to be shattered. If a guy slept with 13 girls in three years, he would be heralded, not called a slut.

Fraternities have been making lists and posting photos of women they have slept with on their basement walls since the beginning of the fraternity system.  And while those lists may not have gone viral, they were still shown to people not involved in the intimate act. Sleeping with many beautiful women has been a characteristic of a hero or action star. Take James Bond. What would he be without his gorgeous conquests in each of his films? Men have been bragging about their sexual conquests for years.  But, God forbid there be a woman who does the same. 

But the female protagonist in most fiction is almost always “virtuous” and “sexually pure.” Instead of giving into temptation or using her power as a woman to sexually conquer men, the female character must resist men. Take Bella Swan from Twilight as an example. She spends most of her time resisting Edward Cullen, her vampire love. But, if this story were turned around and the protagonist was a man, he would not be expected to resist but be encouraged to sleep with the beautiful female vampire as soon as possible. 

We see this theme in literature, television and film all the time. Playboy movies like “Alfie” and television shows like “Californication” in which the plot surrounds the male character’s sexual conquests are deemed acceptable. As a society, we not only seem to accept this behavior, we valorize it. When men sleep with inordinate amounts of beautiful women, we applaud.  But somehow, when a woman is in that role, it becomes a sex scandal.

Karen Owen’s powerpoint should not be treated as a sex scandal but rather as a well-written and hilarious recounting of her sexual conquests. If men can brag about and critique the women they sleep with across popular culture, why can’t Owen? 

She told Jezebel.com, “I regret it with all my heart. I would never intentionally hurt the people that are mentioned on that." Maybe she should regret sending it to her friends (did she really think it wasn’t going to get out?), but she shouldn't regret the powerpoint itself.  She should not be ashamed of writing about men in an honest and direct manner.  The only men who were hurt by the presentation going viral were probably the one’s who received poor rankings, but those men should toughen up. Now, they know they have something to work on. Women were waiting for someone to finally say that women can think and talk about sex the same way men do.

Frankly, Karen Owen should be proud of her compiled list. The notches on her belt were worthy of praise. Was it an invasion of privacy? Technically, yes. But it's not like people don't talk about their sex lives everyday. If she had planned to leak this powerpoint, she probably wouldn’t have used real names or pictures, but it got out and what’s done is done.

So far, no legal action has been taken against Owen and there probably won’t be. The subjects likely to sue would have done so for an obvious reason, a poor ranking. Those subjects would probably rather not draw any more attention to their supposed poor performance in the bedroom.

In the Duke Chronicle, Alyssa Granacki asked, “...why should we congratulate Karen Owen for subjecting men to the objectification, embarrassment and harassment that women have fought against for years?" Because Karen Owen gave the men of this nation a taste of their own medicine and proved that women can be just as brutal and casual when it comes to sex. 

Owen’s powerpoint gives a voice to the multitude of women in our country that play the game just as well, or better than men, and she deserves praise for that. 

Reach reporter Tess Goodwin here.

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