Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Kate Fridkis Headshot

The Tragedy of Karen Owen

Posted: Updated:

Karen Owen: the girl who wrote a "thesis" detailing her sexual encounters with Duke University athletes. I read a little of it and got upset and stopped. I got upset when she was saying, "The next day, I was in so much pain I could barely walk. Which meant it'd been really great." Or something to that effect. And then she was saying, "I was so drunk I don't even remember what happened, but we definitely had sex."

I just read this article, in The Atlantic, about Duke University. I really didn't want to talk about Karen Owen at any point, ever, because everyone in the world with a soap box got immediately up on it to say something about her.

I am angry, thinking about it. I didn't follow the immediate aftermath, the frantically jabbering media frenzy, because I didn't want to hear people call her empowered. I didn't want to read them praising her, or heaping insults on her, or describing her as something new and creative. I didn't want to read her described as anything except for ordinary and tragic. But somehow, the tragedy has been sucked out of stories like hers. She's telling it, after all, trumpeting it- yelling out her exploits as though they are actually her exploits, and not her being exploited and exploiting herself.

I'm exhausted by her story. A young woman who will do anything the boys want, while the boys don't even seem to want her very much. Everyone is incredibly drunk in it. They can't do anything before they are drunk.

Read Smashed, by Koren Zailckas, who had just graduated college when she wrote it. It's not prudish and prim and moralistic to point out that getting drunk constantly as a young woman is not a good idea. Getting drunk constantly as any kind of person is not a good idea. Getting drunk and flinging yourself in the path of the Duke lacrosse team is not liberated, it's dangerous, empty, and desperate.

The article in The Atlantic agrees. Its author, Caitlin Flanagan, asks for a new look at the story. Let's stop calling Owen a slut or the New Woman. She isn't special. She is legions of girls who have learned that pleasing boys is how sexuality works. She is scores of girls who are still trying to be cool by not caring.

She is having a lot of sex, so we're supposed to be shocked and impressed. Guess what? A lot of people have a lot of sex. She's having a lot of casual sex, so we're supposed to be amazed and a little horrified. Women have been having casual sex for a long time, too. But what kind of casual sex is she having? She tells us in disturbing detail. Disturbing for reasons she clearly doesn't understand or anticipate. She is a cliché, and she is also a real, live person who is trying to make sense out of sex, power, and college.

I'm going to just say this: she isn't doing it right.

In fact, she's doing it so wrong that it hurts to read it. And to celebrate her story is to celebrate her pain, the pain of a confused generation of girls who keep repeating to themselves, "It's better when it hurts. The bigger the better. I like to get pushed around during. I like it when they don't care." It's to celebrate a version of college that should terrify parents and depress prospective students.

We need to wake up and recognize the tragedy in front of us.

Cross-posted on Eat the Damn Cake