Much to the chagrin of prudes, puritans, and everyone in between, the “Fuck List” of a recent Duke graduate was recently leaked on the Internet. The list, dubbed a “senior thesis” by creator Karen Owen (or as I shall soon need to call her, Hester Prynne), contained an in-depth analysis of 13 men she had slept with throughout the course of her university career. The specifics of the list are irrelevant, because it’s really the reaction to the list that requires further discussion.
The countless media responses, including major news outlets such as The Today Show (twice), were, in a word, terrifying. Sitting in the library of my institution of higher learning, I felt as though I had accidentally bought a one-way ticket to 17th century Massachusetts. One Einstein mused, “How is she ever going to get a boyfriend now that guys will know how many guys she’s slept with?” Touché, my friend. How dare a 22-year-old college graduate have sexual experiences! In a world of sexually explicit art, music, theatre, and cinema where does a woman’s sexual liberation and her right to express it fit in? Respondents may have masked their disdain and horror for the fact that her list violated the privacy of the men she’d slept with, but somehow their arguments all seemed to conclude with the same point: Karen Owen is a slut.
I have never believed in the word “slut” because I have no idea what it means, and neither do the majority of the people who use it. When I hear someone use the term I’ll ask them, “What does it mean to be a slut?” This is often met with pauses and grumbles followed by shrugs from the challenged party. This word “slut” has become disconnected from any actual meaning, yet it still causes pain and embarrassment for those who are labelled it.
I don’t fancy myself a feminist, but the severity and intensity with which people negatively responded to the “Fuck List” and its author point to the fact that there is still a need for feminism, especially in the realm of women’s sexuality. This is magnified when you compare the public reaction to Tucker Max’s book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, with Karen Owen’s “Fuck List.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with Max, a graduate of Duke Law School, he is a self-proclaimed asshole who created a blog that chronicled his slew of drunken hookups, which eventually resulted in the aforementioned book. On certain accounts, he too divulged the names of the women he’d slept with. which resulted in a number of lawsuits. How was Max received? Some called him a douche bag and an asshole. But other than the obligatory labels, his book went on to be a New York Times bestseller and continued to place on the list every year from 2006 to 2010. He was also offered a television pilot for Comedy Central, a movie deal, and a $300,000 advance for his second book. Max made the rounds of interviews on all major networks while Owen has remained in hiding throughout the whole ordeal, only issuing a couple of apologies and granting a select number of phone interviews.
Where does a women’s right to express her sexuality fit in within our society? It becomes glaringly clear that it doesn’t. Women dictating sex on their terms and basing their actions on their desires is seen as overly aggressive and off-putting. Making matters worse, other women sometimes view women who do so negatively and pass judgment on them.
Not to sound histrionic but this poses a problem to all of society; it results in the sexual exploits of anything other than white, heterosexual male sex being taboo. Yet we’re the only ones capable of propagating or stopping this. Much of what we’re taught at an early age about sex is littered with the biases of those teaching us, whether it be our parents, our religious institutions, or our schools. Freeing yourself and others from this cycle is very easy—it can start with cutting the word slut out of your vocabulary and that of your friends. Fifty years ago, married couples were afraid to sexually experiment or talk about their sex life. Imagine what the sexual landscape could look like 50 years from now if we promote open-minded thinking today.