More than once in my lifetime, someone obviously unable to depart from conventional thought processes has tried to used this analogy to explain why men can have sex with many partners but women cannot: “A key that opens many locks is a good key, but a lock that is opened by many keys is a bad lock.”
My combined distaste for ignorance and platitudes made me hate this saying, so I put it out of my head. But it was the first thing that came to mind when I considered reactions to the Karen Owen fiasco. In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of that latest viral internet meme: as a joke amongst her close friends, the Duke University student made a 41-page Powerpoint presentation in the format of a thesis presentation detailing her sexual exploits with 13 men during her college experience.
I could probably find new material to make fun of this Powerpoint until my dying day — like how often Owen emphasizes that, even in her blackout drunkenness, she usually still managed to sleep with a Duke athlete. (No way, does he have most of his teeth and a driver’s license, too?) But it’s more important to address what I find fundamentally wrong with the reactions to her lapse in judgment. A woman being so open about her sexual encounters will naturally raise debate concerning feminism and double standards, and those debates will naturally expose some pretty base opinions about said topics.
I especially took offense to those who oversimplified the situation, suggesting that it only indicates that women need to be more discreet or discriminating about sex. On “America Live,” Megyn Kelly beseeched her viewers, “Don’t sleep around! Don’t be easy! It’s not empowering; it’s embarrassing! ... You won’t be respected. And you may be humiliated like this woman is now.”
Kelly’s statement, taken on an artificial level, seems sensible. But her approach also makes me question why two consenting adults shouldn’t be able to have sex without becoming subject to our judgement. Her statement exposes a sexual double standard that’s regrettably common: women who have sex frequently or with many partners are “being easy,” but men who engage in the same behaviors are rarely accused that way.
There’s something fundamentally wrong with the language itself, and that becomes clear when we consider colloquialisms for sex, such as “giving it up” for women and, conversely, “getting some” for men. They adhere to an archaic idea that sex is a commodity: sex must only be guarded from men or used as leverage against them. Kelly’s seemingly rational attitude is a palliative salve, but it doesn’t create any positive progress.
But while I’m disgusted by those vilifying Owen for her sexuality, I’m equally exasperated by those calling her a feminist hero. Many view her Powerpoint as a form of self-empowerment. The logic seems sound here, too — after all, men have long named names, kissed and told and otherwise exposed and humiliated the women they’ve slept with, so why shouldn’t women do the same?
But to call Owen a feminist hero would be a disgusting misinterpretation of the events. By assigning worth to individuals based on appearances and sexual performances, she’s only reversing the roles, not doing away with them. In the end, Owen is not empowering women, but simply subscribing to the same patriarchal system that feminists have fought against for decades, one that insists on a dominant party and a subordinate party.
Feminism is also not about women’s domination over men, power plays, reversing the tables or spite. That counterproductive approach is what gave rise to such negative terms as “feminazi” and “manhater,” which, at the end of the day, only detract from the movement. Feminism should be about women’s self empowerment — a simple and worthy goal that’s too often lost in translation.
The only point that’s clear is that “don’t sleep around” and “don’t be easy” are not the lessons we should be taking away from this ordeal. The real solution is something much more complicated than that.
Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College junior from Atlanta.