I just can’t help myself sometimes. God, this woman is so f-ing annoying it’s unbelievable.
Aside from everything else that is seriously wrong with this piece, why does she have to ding the woman’s Power Point skillz? Like, who cares, and way to belittle Karen Owen before you’ve even started calling her a slut.
There are parts of this piece that are so asinine in both their general premise and their particulars that I’m going to have to go line by line. First, I want to tackle the last section, because it is so grossly offensive to me. At this point in the piece, she’s left off talking about Karen Owen’s self-defined consensual if drunken sex and has told a story of a girl who was raped in a bathroom at a frat party (although of course she has to dither about the term “rape” and go into this “adorable” nonsense about how “they might call it date rape, and you can argue about whether it’s rape, but it certainly wasn’t a date,” like, thanks, Caitlin Flanagan, but in 2011 we call it acquaintance rape precisely because of deliberately ignorant people like you who want to quibble about what a “date” is with these crazy kids these days).
As I read the woman’s report, and imagined the tones of outrage and hurt and violation in which it was surely given
Really, Caitlin Flanagan? Surely? You are excellent at imagining other people’s emotional states, you really are.
and as I lingered on her account of how drunk she’d been, a very old-fashioned phrase suddenly floated through my mind. It was a phrase I hadn’t thought of in years, a simple formulation that carried within it a world of assumptions and beliefs. “She’s angry,” I thought to myself, “because he took advantage of her.”
Oh, gosh, you are a font of wisdom. Can you imagine such a build up to that revelation? Yee gads.
It was a phrase that they taught you to keep you safe
What? What does that mean? How does learning that phrase keep you safe? “No means no” is designed to help keep you safe, as is “Yes means yes.” Know how those help? BECAUSE THEY ARE DIRECTED AT POTENTIAL PERPETRATORS OF RAPE, NOT POTENTIAL VICTIMS. But that’s a whole ‘nother post. Or, if you like, a book/blog. “To take advantage of someone” or to feel “taken advantage of” is not instructive or helpful in any way; it’s just a phrase. And actually, it’s belittling of the rape experience, because it can apply to situations much milder than rape. I felt “taken advantage of” when the guy at the garage overcharged me for the oil change because he knew I didn’t know my husband had signed up for the 10-oil-changes-for-cheaper plan. That’s WHY it’s such an old-fashioned phrase, Caitlin Flanagan.
and it was predicated on the facts of the double standard: men were always after you for sex; you had to be on your guard against them; and at the very least, you had to make sure you kept your wits about you whenever you were in mixed company.
There’s another term for this, although if you haven’t heard the term “acquaintance rape,” then you probably haven’t heard this one. It’s called “rape culture.” It means that what is considered normal sex has tinges of rape, or is even directly rape. It’s when the entire concept of sex is based on, men want it, women don’t, a “real” man finds ways to “get” sex “from” a woman, and a “real” woman prevents such a thing from happening. When that’s the system, then, as Andrea Dworkin says (although she says it for completely different reasons), all heterosexual sex is rape.
It was built on the premise that the dubious pleasures of what is today called the drunken hookup were not for you to sample
Yes! Women had it so much better when they’d be considered total whores and ostracized for doing what men would be congratulated for doing! That was way better!
A man who had done what the accused admits to having done—made a beeline to a really drunk girl and then led her somewhere private for sex—probably wouldn’t have faced legal consequences, but would at the very least have been considered a cad. Such a thing was known not to be the right, or the proper, or the gentlemanly thing to do.
A cad! Yes, it is SO MUCH WORSE and SO MUCH MORE OF A DETERRENT when men faced being called a cad – by who, if the double standard is so strong, I’d like to know – than JAIL TIME.
In those days, we relied on our own good judgment to keep us safe, but also—and this is the terrible, unchanging fact about being female—on the mercy of the men around us.
Good judgment and mercy being much better than, say, pepper spray and a working knowledge of Krav Maga. Blech. I mean, it is always true that everyone in a given society is to some degree dependent on the behavior of others. We must count on others not to murder us, rape us, steal from us, shit on our yards, etc. But that’s so general as to be meaningless. And women who HAVE SEX because they LIKE IT are still capable of using good judgment. Also, why does Caitlin Flanagan think that none of her cohorts was ever raped? Or does she realize that some of her cohorts were raped, but she just thinks that either they weren’t using enough good judgment or the men in their lives were insufficiently merciful?
So, too, the young women of today, including this Duke student. She may have a world of legal recourse that my friends and I didn’t have a quarter century ago, but when it came to that moment in that bathroom, how much did that recourse really help her? Not at all.
Oh, my God, y’all. She’s right. If he had gotten her in that bathroom and then thought of all the people who’d call him a cad, he’d have hopped right off. But mere legal recourse? Bah! Also, thanks to better discourses and awareness about rape, she is far more likely to have friends who won’t judge her (by, for instance, chastising her for her poor judgment) and will have access to resources designed to help. She might not have those kinds of friends, and the resources may be more difficult to access than we’d like, but that’s because we haven’t made ENOUGH strides against the notion that men, especially rich men who can smack balls around a field or court, deserve sex, but those who give it to them are WHORES. With poor judgment.
We’ve made a culture for our college women in which they have been liberated from the curfews and parietals that were once the bane of co-eds, but one in which they have also shaken off the general suspicion of male sexuality that was the hallmark of Andrea Dworkin–style campus activism; they prefer bikini waxes and spray tans to overalls and invective. So they have ended up with the protections of neither the patriarchy nor those old-school, man-hating radical feminists.
When was the patriarchy protective? When older males sat down younger males in their men-only clubs and said, “Now, son, that wasn’t right, what you did to that girl. Positively ungentlemanly Although she did have nice knockers. Now what do you say to a summer job at my firm? I’ll give you a secretary who doesn’t mind a slap-and-tickle in the bathroom, how does that sound?” And who were these old-school, man-hating radical feminists, besides actual Andrea Dworkin? And you know what? Many of these women still do have the kind of sisterhood that Take Back the Night marches embodied. And many of them have LEGAL RECOURSE, which is not to be taken lightly.
Well, that was the part that made me the most mad. Now to the actual Karen Owens stuff.
Here’s the thing about Karen Owens and the Fuck List. I tried to read it, I really did. (I got it here.) I got bored fairly quickly. I don’t think Karen Owen and I see eye-to-eye when it comes to what makes a man attractive or what makes for a fun evening or even what makes for a good anecdote. (Although we do see eye-to-eye when it comes to what makes a good degree. A Degree in Tempestuous Frolicking? Awesome. One day I will write a romance novel called Tempestuous Frolicking. Or maybe that can be a character’s name, hah hah.) And yes, of course, it sucks that this went viral, for Owen and for the boys she hooked up with, and maybe she should have known it would, although I don’t find it so “implausible” or “absurd,” as Flanagan does, since it would have been nice if Owen could have trusted in the discretion of her friends.
And some of the encounters definitely had me lifting my eyebrows. When she says of one “Subject” that she does not remember a single thing about the encounter, that she was so blacked-out drunk (her first and only time being that drunk, she says, so that’s something) that she basically woke up in bed with a guy she didn’t really know with her clothes disheveled and she seems to think that this is fine and even a little funny. I would be thinking, “Is this a press-charges situation or was he as drunk as me?” Many other women wouldn’t even give him that much benefit of the doubt. And I didn’t love the scene in which a “Subject” alternated between making out with her and making out with her friend before she and the Subject went off alone together. That’s not my scene; I’m kind of possessive. I have to imagine that even in a one-night stand situation, I’d expect the guy to be faithful to me for that one night. But whatever, if this stuff doesn’t bother her, there’s no reason it should bother me. And it doesn’t make me think less of her as person.
Interestingly, these are not even the details Caitlin Flanagan chooses to get all up in arms about. She doesn’t even mention the making out with two girls at once thing, and of the black-out incident, she seems far more concerned about the bruises Owen woke up with – and the fact that they were evidence to Owen of some good lovin’. Here, take a look:
For all the attention Owen has received as a boundary-breaking, sexually empowered new woman, there has been almost no discussion of the fact that the kind of sex she most enjoyed was rough to the point of brutalizing. One encounter that occurred during an alcoholic blackout was still, as Karen Owen would say, “baller,” because in the shower the next day she found bruises on her body; another was great because it was so “violent”—and she means that “in a good way.”
Notice how she glides over that blackout thing?
Also, brutalizing? Some bruises? I agree that bruises are not, you know, totally the norm after sex, but they’re probably not that unusual, especially if one has relatively thin skin.
The violent sex refers to a guy who was “throwing [Owen] around like I weighed nothing” and who changed positions rapidly and who maybe grabbed her hair. (I’d go look back at the details of this encounter, but I really don’t want to slog through it again.) He didn’t tie her up and use a whip or anything. Just, in terms of what the mainstream media portray about kinky sex, this isn’t even that out there for consensual violence and brutality.
And to the extent that this type of sexuality, and indeed, of women who seek that type of sexuality, is outre, isn’t she therefore boundary-breaking? I mean, is Flanagan arguing that enjoying rough sex and admitting it is retrograde?
Ooh, but she does love equating this stuff with feminism, doesn’t she?
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.
First of all, who said anything about her being a daughter of sex-positive feminism? Does she identify as a feminist? Also, is Caitlin Flanagan anti-sex-positive-feminsim? Because as far as I can tell, that means she’s either anti-feminism, in which case, why is she writing for The Atlantic, when a lady should only have her name in the paper when she’s born, when she marries, and when she dies, or she’s anti-sex-positivity for women.
Second of all, where is she getting this serving-every-male-need shit from? Owen was pretty upfront about which men were serving her needs, not the other way around. She wrote extensively about how much pleasure she got from each “subject.” Do women who want to serve the needs of men even care about their dick size? And on what occasion did she turn into a soccer mom?
She’s like a fraternity’s ideal pledge: she races around to deliver hot breakfasts to the brothers, drives them to practices, hangs out loyally on cold streets while they work out potential DUI hassles with the cops, listens to them chew over their buddies’ girlfriend problems, tells them—with apparent sincerity—that they’re awesome at spitting Biggie raps, never demands her own turn at Mario Kart.
Okay, I didn’t finish reading the Fuck List. But I don’t remember Owen saying anything about going to practices, listening to them rap, or delivering breakfast. I vaguely remember something about Mario Kart but I might just be remember Flanagan’s article, not Owen’s own words. And I’m not sure why Flanagan sees waiting for the guy to finish talking to the cop, or listening to him talk about his friends, as so monumentally degrading. Does that make it not enough of a zipless fuck for her? Should you immediately reject any boy that appears to have friends who have girl problems or drink in your car? (The DUI – and I actually went back and checked and I expect you all to give me much praise and glory for my assiduous fact-checking – was in fact that his frat brothers were driving his car and had an open bottle in it. He was not driving it, or even in it, and he probably shouldn’t lend his car to morons, but he was not pulled over for a DUI.) I’m not sure why she sees any of these things as a problem, really.
I guess I get that as far as Caitlin Flanagan is concerned, males have only one need – to have no-strings-attached (or NSA, as Owen herself put it) sex. And women don’t even like sex, really, unless it comes with long-term love and affection. So any having of sex with a man without first demanding long-term love and affection is, in her world, I guess, evidence of merely serving the needs of men at the expense of one’s own. But, really. It is TWO THOUSAND AND FUCKING ELEVEN, WOMAN! The notion that women like sex even with no love attached is getting so old it’s retro by now. Fear of Flying was published almost FORTY years ago. GET WITH THE PROGRAM.
Flanagan maintains that this is all woman-scorned, she-really-did-it-all-for-love stuff. She goes on scant evidence. Her second paragraph (immediately following the one in which she disses Owen’s PowerPoint know-how) contains this:
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.
Just the amount of detail is enough? To me it shows that, with the exception of that one encounter, she wasn’t too drunk to remember all of this stuff. Also, she spends a lot of her “thesis” praising men’s anatomy – including guys she doesn’t hook up with again. You know, the ones who “discarded” her.
I also hated this bit:
Her modus operandi for initiating these assignations seems to have been hanging out at bars frequented by Duke athletes, getting hammered, letting a “subject” know she was open for business, and then grabbing a cab back to his apartment; she seems to have been willing to do absolutely anything to please the men, which often meant hanging out with their boorish roommates until it was her time to perform.
Um, it sounded to me like she hung out at bars frequented by Duke students. Because she’s a Duke student. Not that she was skulking around bars ONLY populated by the lacrosse team, friendless and alone, until she could lure one of them in with her open, fishnet-clad thighs. Isn’t Duke sort of in the middle of nowhere? Aren’t all the bars around it popular with Duke students? And don’t people in their college years and their twenties frequently establish a couple of places they like to go to again and again? I mean, I wouldn’t know, but I’ve heard. And again, is hanging out with their roommates evidence of sluttiness? It would be better just to drag them right to the bedroom? Please explain.
After declaring that the claims that Owen is a sex-positive feminist role model (and okay, I think people claiming that are kind of morons, too) cannot hold up to a careful reading of the text (the Fuck List being the text), she goes into my favorite passage, which I helpfully annotate for you here:
After a freshman year spent in the thrall of the school’s handsome white athletes,
What? When did this thrall take place? Unless that’s what “frat star-sizing means.” That is a phrase Owen uses to describe her freshman year. But fantasizing about frat star ass (ew, Karen Owen and I DEFINITELY do not see eye to eye in terms of what makes a man attractive) is not quite the same as “in the thrall.”
something exciting happened: on the night of her 19th birthday, in September of her junior year, one handsome lacrosse player, recently broken up from his girlfriend of three years, bought her “many, many beers” at a Durham club called Shooters, and then asked her to go back to his house to “hang out.” The invitation was thrilling; it’s easy to imagine that the prospect of becoming his next years-long girlfriend was enticing,
At no point does Owen indicate that she would find the prospect of being anyone’s years-long girlfriend enticing. Just because you do, Flanagan, doesn’t mean everyone does.
and even if the night began with some strange twists and turns—such as the man inviting his pals to admire her breasts outside the bar—wasn’t that the way it had probably begun for the last girlfriend?
Again, at no point does Owen mention wanting to be this guy’s girlfriend. Flanagan is simply putting her own assumptions into her “careful reading of the text” without any backup at all. The only time she mentions the ex is to indicate that this guy had a lot of experience learning to please a woman and used it to Owen’s benefit. Also, Owen seems delighted – or, at worst, bemused – when her Subjects bring up the awesomeness of her breasts in a public setting. Again, this is not something I would personally find charming, but that’s me. And I’m sure I like things Owen wouldn’t, too. (Like nerdy Jewish guys who play guitar.)
But once they went to his house, and then to his bed, things weren’t quite what she had hoped for: “It was over too quickly. I was probably a little awkward and didn’t really know how to move or what to do. And it was a tad bit painful …”
Yeah, disappointing sex. Probably something that NEVER happened to nice girls with good judgment who waited until marriage with a merciful gentleman to have sex at all.
She never slept with him again—apparently he had no interest in seeing her again—and she was chastened enough by the events not to risk a repeat of them for several months.
Um, the sex was disappointing and painful. We’re not entertaining the notion that she had no interest in seeing him again? Flanagan would have more respect for Owen if Owen did have sex with Subject 1 after being disappointed by the sex again?
As to the alleged period of chastity, I have a little trouble reading Owen’s timeline accurately, but I think the time between Owen’s Subject 1 and Subject 2 is, like, six months? And that’s keeping in mind she’s a college student; at least one of those months was not spent at school. So she could have been boning plenty of guys through December and January, but they weren’t Duke athletes, so they didn’t make the list. It’s not at all clear to me that this is a definitive list of every guy she slept with throughout her college career. Finally, as we get into some later subjects, it’s never clear to me when in the timeline repeat hook-ups take place. But it’s weird to me that, over and over, Owen does something not slutty – like have an emotional conversation with a boy, get to know his friends, or wait six months between sex partners – and Flanagan takes it as a sign of pathetic man-centered-ness, rather than evidence that Owen’s not actually a big ol’ whore.
It’s not difficult to imagine what the days and weeks following the encounter were like: the expectation that he would call again, the anxious and depressing realization that he was done with her.
I suppose it’s not difficult to imagine that that’s what happened, especially if you’re Caitlin Flanagan and all you want is for the boy to call you and prove he loves you. But that’s nowhere indicated in the text she’s doing an alleged careful reading of.
But the following March, she was ready to try again. After many “long looks” exchanged with a campus tennis star on her way to and from the gym, the young man approached her at Shooters and asked her to dance; on the dance floor, he asked her to go home with him. What followed was the kind of one-night stand that changes a woman.
But . . . it didn’t change Owen . . . right? I mean, if, before, she was okay with a one-night stand, and after, she goes on to have many one-night stands, then this didn’t change her; it was just a sucky night. Right?
Oh, I forgot. Before, Owen was NOT okay with one-night stands. She was mopily hoping Subject 1 would make her his next long-term girlfriend. Even though she never says anything like that. After being treated so cruelly, she OBVIOUSLY felt like she was in fact a big old whore deserving of such treatment, and therefore continued to seek it out, and hence, the rest of the “thesis.” I get how it works now in Flanagan’s melodramatic – I mean, careful – reading of this text.
Owen does say, of Subject 3, that she hooked up with him about six months after Subject 2, and it was after 2 months of trying to be “responsible.” I have to imagine that by “responsible” she means “not sleeping with lots of random boys,” because later she mentions that her sex experience was compromised by the leftover guilt from trying to be “responsible.” But then what was she doing for the 4 months immediately following Subject 2? See, this is why I think there are boys we don’t hear about.
He was rude to her in the cab, and things only got worse once they were in bed: “He was terrible, did not even bother to kiss me more than a few seconds, and finished in about five minutes, after which he simply walked out of the room and did not return.” She reports that “absolutely everything,” except for the fact that he was a successful athlete, was terrible about him, that the whole situation was terrible: “I accidentally left my favorite pair of earrings from South Africa. When I texted him this fact, he responded with ‘I will leave them outside of the building for you.’”
I just want to ask in this, where is the man-pleaser we heard so much about?
I mean, no doubt, this guy is a royal asshole and this experience must have sucked royally. But Owen seems to come out of it feeling that this guy was an enormous jerk, not that she herself is in any way personally compromised for having had sex with him. And for that, I definitely give a big, “You go, girl!”
The story of Karen Owen is the story of those forgotten earrings.
Flanagan must have just shit herself when she came up with this beautiful, lyrical metaphor right here. The stuff of literary dreams.
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.
Violins! This section of the piece should be underscored by violins! The precious earrings, lovingly removed and placed gently on the bedside table! I like to imagine the cad, swiping them to the floor as he wanders, disinterested now that he has orgasmed, out of the room! Oh, it’s just too, too perfect, him discarding them just like he’s discarding her!
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.
This Flanagan has an imagination on her, I tell you what. A maudlin, sentimental, treacly imagination, but an imagination nonetheless. Again I ask, why does Flanagan think that Owen thought she was being invited to hang out? She never says as much. I thought we were engaging in a close reading. (Although that boy is a major asshole; he couldn’t drop the earrings off in her room?)
One last bit of willful idiocy. When she’s transitioning from Karen Owen’s consensual sexual activities, to girls getting raped at parties, she pauses to relate some things about college women and drinking and sex. She quotes the following, from an interview conducted for an article for New York magazine:
“Drinking gives you an excuse to do something you wouldn’t want to believe you would normally do,” one young woman told me. “You can be on a mission because you’re not self-conscious.”
“For me, it’s not about getting up the guts to seduce someone,” added her friend, “It’s about getting up the guts to allow myself to be seduced.”
Flanagan seems to see this as evidence that women are inherently sexually passive (and also shouldn’t drink, ever). I think it really tells us exactly where we are with rape culture and women’s feelings about what they’re allowed to feel and do. It is still not 100% okay in our culture for women to want sex. It’s also really not okay for them to NOT want sex, as it used to be. We really are stuck at exactly the apex between “If you do, you’re a slut,” and “If you don’t, you’re a prude.” And certainly we are still entrenched in gender roles that demand that the male and not the female be the sexual aggressor. So many women use drinking to get out of the crunch – you can want sex, but you should only be open to having it if you’re in some way compromised. It’s not that women don’t want it; it’s not that women only want to be passive. It’s that the rules for sex and women are so fucked up right now – BECAUSE the old standards are CO-EXISTING with the new, and because the new standards are not really feminist even if they are perceived as feminist by people like Caitlin Flanagan – that women turn to things like alcohol to smooth it all over for them.
Okay. It’s late. I am full of righteous fury right now, but I probably should be seeking my bed.
ETA: I forgot to link to this.