Sunday, January 30, 2011

The F-List that Went Viral

What's the worst thing that could possibly happen if you decide to make a Powerpoint presentation -- complete with pictures, graphs and numerical performance ratings -- of every single sexual exploit you've ever had back in college and you send it to three of your closest friends?


The resulting shame and (hopefully) remorse is probably just the tip of the iceberg. You'd probably be on national television and have a Law and Order: SVU episode in your honor (or is it ignominy?). You'd probably have to deactivate your Facebook and Twitter accounts just so you don't have to see the barrage of hate mail and death threats.

This widespread social stigmatization is exactly what Karen Owen, a graduate of Duke University, experienced when "An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics" was leaked to the fraternity houses, campus servers, and then the entire world, late last year. If you haven't seen it yet, you can read the document in full here.

The privacy leak sparked heated debate and touched on many issues: internet privacy, gender bias, morality. As for me, it got me thinking. Yes, what she did was morally wrong on so many levels but with all the other f-lists online how come she's the only one figuratively burnt at the stake? Is it because she's female? Is it because of the detailed transcripts of essentially private "pillow talk", the p*nis size evaluations, calling the men "subjects" and the sexual acts "experiments"? It didn't help that most of Karen's subjects were popular school mates, fraternity men and members of the varsity -- guys who were adored, admired and probably, even feared. While women the world over are sexually objectified every day and, maybe for the first time, Karen's male "subjects" felt what it was like to be at the receiving end of the blistering end of private-gone-public scrutiny.

This surprising gender role reversal far from justifies what Karen did and she has, in fact, publicly apologized for it. Sexual objectification -- whatever the gender -- should never be condoned. But there's a lesson to be learned here. So next time, before you make comments about what happened last night and with whom, just think, the same thing might just happen to you.

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