The Duke 'Sex List' Is a Feminist Milestone?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

A list of the most influential feminists in American history would almost certainly include names like Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt and Gloria Steinem. Notably absent from most lists would be the name Karen Owen, the recent Duke University graduate whose 42-page PowerPoint "sex list" (the actual title of which uses a saltier word than "sex") evaluating the bedroom prowess of various Duke athletes went viral earlier this month. But with Owen's microcelebrity status showing no signs of waning (she's already fielding calls from agents and editors), is it time to add Duke's self-proclaimed master of "horizontal academics" to the list of trailblazers? Perhaps, as a handful of bloggers cite arguments in her favor:

  • Level Playing Field Jezebel's Irin Carmon applauds Owen for showing that women can be just as cavalier as men when it comes to physical intimacy. "Here's another reminder," writes Carmon, "that women can be as flip, aggressive, or acquisitive about sex as men can. And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as all parties are consenting."
  • Relatable  Owen's need to chronicle and compare various flings is hardly a unique impulse, writes Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory. Her list perfectly embodies the attitudes millennial women hold towards sex. Writes Clark-Flory:
What I'm more interested in... is the question of why someone would keep such a list in the first place -- and, of course, when I say "someone," I mean "a woman," because we tend to expect this sort of thing from men.
I suspect that Owen catalogued each of her conquests because she saw them as trophies, favorable reflections of her worth and desirability.
Of course, this sort of between-friends dishing isn't just about showing off or petting our own egos (although there is plenty of that). We learn a lot by rehashing the night before with friends -- I don't mean in the way of hot new Cosmo-esque moves, but rather how our experiences compare and whether we're, gulp, "normal" (a looming fear for many when it comes to sex). The short of it is that we think and write and talk about sex so much because it matters so much -- just like any sort of intimate interaction we have with other human beings. And, as with most "intimate" things, it's wise to never let it meet the Internet.
  • Changing Perceptions   The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri says that the list shows, among other things, the universal impulse to take control of our lives' narratives. "By recounting the story, you claim agency! You craft your own narrative and become the wry, ironic storyteller, rather than the drunk girl doing shots in the corner with Name Redacted... Karen," declares Petri, "is single-handedly giving that girl stumbling down the steps of your dormitory at noon with someone else's socks on a better name."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.