Friday, October 8, 2010
Radical Feminism or Female Misandry? Duke University Undergraduate Student Karen Owen's "Fuck List" Goes Viral
Question: Is Karen Owen a radical feminist or a woman who hates men?
My parents gave me a pretty good birds and bees talk before I went to college. It was direct and went something like this: "You are going to have opportunities to hook up with lots of women. Be careful and before you have sex with them ask yourself if you really want to be either stuck with them forever if you knock them up, or alternatively have to deal with someone who will put your business in the street."
Over the years I have crystallized this down to my "crazy eyes" litmus test, i.e. does she have those eyes that indicate something is amiss (an imperfect rule because crazy eyes often do not appear until post-coitus) and if it becomes known that I took said lady to space mountain will I be ashamed to be publicly linked with her?
In the era of Facebook and social networking this age old rubric seems to have been thrown aside by a generation of millennials who are constantly connected, who bathe in the glow of the false intimacy provided by sexting, texting, i'ming, twittering, friending, and the like--yet are often incapable of effectively communicating in person. They want the closeness. But many do not have the maturity or life skills to deal with the consequences of their generations' shattering of the divide between public and private.
At Duke University an enterprising young undergraduate has provided an object lesson in this phenomenon. Karen Owen has compiled a Powerpoint presentation titled, "An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics." In short, this is Karen Owen's "fuck list" (I am too lazy and simply use a napkin and pen for this obligatory task). Inevitably, our intrepid undergraduate researcher then sent this document for the ages to her friends.
Gasp. Shock. Surprise. Karen's sex list was circulated online and has now gone viral. Helicopter parents of the featured Lotharios are calling the Dean of Students at Duke (Can you imagine that phone call? "Hello, I am Mr. SuperMcCool beerpong playing lacrosse dude's mom. Karen Owen hooked up with him, and wrote a report where she discussed the size of his penis and how he is a lazy lover. It is upsetting him. Please tell her to stop sharing this personal information or I will sue the school!"). And predictably, in our era of ritualized and empty apologizes for outcomes that ought to be predictable, Ms. Owen has responded to her critics with the following script: "I regret it with all my heart. I would never intentionally hurt the people that are mentioned on that."
The report itself is an entertaining sociological document that provides more insight into the life of college age students than the obligatory My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student--the current favorite of many a university's Center for Teaching and Learning. Yes, it is true that Karen Owen's methodology is sloppy. Her style of presentation also suggests something is amiss in higher education (and our culture at large) when Powerpoint is somehow imagined to equal either intellectual rigor or clarity of thought.
A helpful note to Miss Owen (and all other undergraduates, colleagues at conferences, and folks in general who rely on this technological crutch): Powerpoint should be used only as an aid to communication and not as a distraction from your primary message. Long lines of unbroken text and endless bullet points obfuscate your message. Use Powerpoint to highlight key concepts and to create powerful visuals that could not be communicated in another fashion. Please avoid animations and flashy transitions between slides as they annoy the audience.
Nevertheless, there is much to be applauded here. Of note, while Ms. Owen's reach does not equal her grasp, the intervention of using such criteria as creativity, aggressiveness, talent, and the size on her lovers' penises as metrics is a nice wink to scientific rigor.
Substantively, Ms. Owen's anthropological record is one of drunken sex, athlete chasing and quasi-groupie behavior, the role of black men's genitals in the libidinous imaginations of poorly endowed white frat boy athletes, passion filled nights, the ability of hip hop legend DMX to inspire a morning rutting session, and the soothing soulful notes of Trey Songz as the preamble for a hooking-up session with a near-stranger (apparently he is the millennials' version of Barry White).
There are so many questions to be asked. Is this ironic karma in action, that the infamous and entitled Duke lacrosse team would have the tables turned on them? How does race and gender play into this? If a man had compiled a Powerpoint list of his female lovers and circulated it, would there be an outcry? What does this incident tell us about the campus climate and undergraduate culture at elite universities in the age of Facebook and the Great Recession?