Saturday, January 8, 2011

Karen Owen and the Duke F#%k List

Enquiring minds want to know….

They do not merely want to know what makes Karen Owen f#%k, but they want to understand why she wrote it all up in a mock thesis that mimics the pages of the National Enquirer.

I have offered some of my own analysis here and here, but, for now I want to examine the brilliant essay that Caitlyn Flanagan just wrote for the Atlantic. Link here.

Given that sex-positive feminists have made Karen Owen into something of a heroine, it is worthwhile to study Flanagan’s analysis of the situation. As opposed to the zealots who write in the name of feminism, Flanagan is perfectly attuned to the real-life experience of Karen Owen.

Caitlin Flanagan is the bane of feminists. We should not be surprised that her article has already provoked a counterattack.

Read what Hanna Rosin writes: “But her [Owen’s] sexual exploits are a fact the culture has to accommodate in its understanding of women,….A woman who loves sex – even one who describes her sexual exploits as pleasantly violent – is not in a state of 'ruin.' She is in control.

“What Flanagan’s analysis leaves out about Owen’s Power Point is how funny and subversive it was, how it takes male porn conventions and turns them on its head.” Link here.

At a time when every mother of a teenaged daughter is horrified at the prospect that her daughter will turn into a Karen Owen, Rosin’s remarks are reprehensible.

The culture does not have to accommodate anything, certainly not the ideological zeal of feminists.

Rosin and her like provide us with even more evidence-- if it had been needed-- of the fact that feminists are responsible for creating a culture in which a young woman like Karen Owen might imagine that her behavior is liberated.

As it happens, Flanagan does not have any psycho credentials to her name. Therefore, she has a decided advantage over those of us who do.

Better yet, Flanagan has read and reread the content of Karen Owen’s foray into sensationalist journalism, thereby sparing the rest of us the pain. I confess that when I wrote about Owen before, I did not read every last word in her thesis.

Why? Because they are painful to read. And because there is no great virtue to feeling someone else's pain. It is painful to watch a young woman (or anyone, for that matter) humiliate herself and a series of other people.

Here is how Flanagan analyzes Owen’s behavior and motivation: “Clearly the very last thing Karen Owen would want is for a reader of her thesis to perceive her as a vulnerable creature whose desire for sex with campus big shots was at least partly motivated by a powerful and unmet desire for affection. But in the sheer amount of anecdotal detail, and in particular in her relentless descriptions of the anatomical shortcomings of various partners, she reveals that the thesis is motivated by the same force that has prompted women through the ages to describe with savage precision their liaisons with men who discarded them: revenge.”

When you turn your life into a story, you take the risk that someone place it in a literary genre. Here, revenge narrative.

If we want to know what made Karen Owen chronicle her exploits and subject herself to inevitable humiliation, Flanagan tells us that it was clear and simple: revenge.

More than that, hers was a special subgenre of the revenge narrative, one where the avenger willingly sacrifices herself in order to hurt others.

Owen sacrificed her own reputation and her good name to humiliate the men who had hurt her. Perhaps, she felt that she had very little dignity left, so why not sacrifice it to reveal the damage that lay in being the Hookup Queen.

Whatever she thought, and whatever the feminists think, Owen’s story is cautionary.

Flanagan sees Owen as a lost soul, a girl who lived outside of the sorority culture, who had few friends, but who discovered that she could use her sexuality to gain a small taste of popularity, and even notoriety.

In Flanagan’s words: “The overwhelming sense one gets from the thesis is of a young woman who was desperate for human connection, and who had no idea how to obtain it.”

The hookup culture provided what Owen sought. Also, as you read her entries, as Flanagan has, you get the impression that the more she did it the better she became at it.

Sex can be a skill like another. Experience can be an excellent teacher. Owen was an apt pupil.

One of the reasons why women continue to hookup, regardless of the shame they feel, is simply that they get better at it.

Should we consider Karen Owen a feminist hero? Flanagan says No.

In her words: “If what we are seeing in Karen Owen is the realization of female sexual power, then we must at least admit that the first pancake off the griddle is a bit of a flop. What rotten luck that the first true daughter of sex-positive feminism would have an erotic proclivity for serving every kind of male need, no matter how mundane or humiliating, that she would so eagerly turn herself from sex mate to soccer mom, depending on what was wanted from her.”

Clearly, Flanagan disdains Karen Owen and her ilk. Disdains her for acting out a male fantasy, for compromising her femininity in a misguided attempted to feel equal to men.

Flanagan is correct to see Owen as: “… one of the most pitiable women to emerge on the cultural scene in quite a while.”

Better than that, she identifies the moment when Owen was launched into her career as Hookup Queen. It occurred after her hookup with Subject 2.

Before having sex with him Owen had taken off her earrings. Afterwards, she forgot them at his place. When she noticed, she called him to ask if she could recover them. He replied by offering to leave them outside of his building.

In Flanagan’s words: “The story of Karen Owen is the story of those forgotten earrings. Imagine the moment in which she paused to take them off—her favorite earrings, the ones that came all the way from South Africa and that she took care to remove before going to bed, because that’s what you do if you’re a responsible girl with a nice pair of earrings. You keep them safe. At the very least, she must have imagined that Subject 2 was inviting her to do what Subject 1 had done—not just to have sex with him, but to hang out with him. And then to be turfed out so rudely, so quickly, to be treated with such ugliness afterward. Imagine having been so young and so hopeful, being used sexually and then held in such contempt that rather than see you again, a young man leaves your jewelry outside his building, where anyone could come along and take it.

“Being rejected by Subject 1 was hurtful and embarrassing, but being treated like a whore by Subject 2 is what broke her heart and her spirit, and if you are the kind of person whose heart and spirit can be broken by a one-night stand, then you may not be the brave new face of anything at all.”

So, the Duke F#%k list is the aftershock of a trauma. Hopefully, young women will grant more credence to Caitlin Flanagan than they are prone to grant to her feminist detractors.

If you have to choose between a woman who is sensitive to the experience of another woman and a group of women who care more about disseminating their ideology than about what happens to you, do the right thing and choose the former.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Perhaps....

....[people] want to understand why she [Owens] wrote it all up in a mock thesis that mimics the pages of the National Enquirer. -- Stuart Schneiderman

....she was hoping for a position WITH the Enquirer, upon graduation. As a[nother] 'gossip' columnist but more brazen then any other they have.


[Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.]

P.S. But I don't think that sweet little old ladies read the Enquirer at tea time.

Anonymous said...

Maybe women have been encouraged to feel contempt for men...and the self confidence of men has been the point where some women can only enjoy sex with men who are hyper-masculine and extremely dominating to the point of physical or psychological abusiveness.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the insightful comments.

I agree with Chuck that she seems to have been angling for a position with the tabloid press or for some level of celebrity.

I also agree with anonymous. Women have been taught to feel contempt for men and this seems to worked to undermine male self-confidence... in some part because men have been convinced that they deserve the contempt and that they should not respond to it.

I also agree that this seems to produce a situation where women like to have sex that borders on the physically and psychologically abusive... Flangan makes this point when she is describing Owen's experience.

Perhaps these women need to feel reassured that they have not unmanned their men... but that is a bit speculative.