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Caitlin Flanagan, in The Atlantic, launches an angry, rather incoherent attack on Duke University, a sort of I Am Charlotte Simmons without the laughs.

Though the piece begins as an attack on Duke’s reduction (as Flanagan sees it) to a distinctively money-obsessed institution (it’s no more money-obsessed than Brown, Northwestern, Boston University, and plenty of other – what do they call them? – basket schools), it quickly shifts to a merciless attack on Ms Sex Thesis herself, Karen Owen (background here and here). Flanagan calls this Duke senior (she was a senior when she researched and wrote the sex thesis; she has now graduated) “one of the most pitiable women to emerge on the cultural scene in quite a while,” onaccounta she got roughed up a bit, sexually and emotionally, by her research subjects, thirteen male Duke athletes, each of whom she sampled in bed and then wrote up in terms of performance.

Flanagan’s piece is an exercise in male bashing and female self-pity. It paints a world of sharp lines between rapacious men and victimized women. And it attacks Duke University as unusually – by the standards of American universities – complicit in this picture.

While UD doesn’t characterize Owen – as some commentators do – as an exemplary feminist for doing what she did (using men, rating them sexually the way men rate women sexually, etc.), neither does she regard Owen as a puling confused little drunkard, her heart broken again and again by the big bad boys. Flanagan doesn’t quote the repeated descriptions of very pleasant sex indeed in the Owen sex thesis — sex that does sometimes get a little rough, but pleasantly so – if “pleasant,” in sexual terms, means that Owen scored an orgasm. Nor does Flanagan quote several rather moving descriptions (at least UD found them so) of research subjects whose quietly intense sexual excitement in response to Owen’s beauty Owen found – as well she might – both humanly and physically gratifying.

None of this is to deny what Flanagan argues at the end of her essay – men are more powerful than women, and women ought not get drunk and stupid. It is merely to say that all the shadings of sex, the complications of compulsion and desire and delight and abasement among adults, are absent from Flanagan’s angry fleshless world.

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One Response to ““Something ugly is going on at the university — a mercenary intensity that has been gathering strength for the past two decades.””

  1. University Diaries » Caitlin Flanagan: Shut Down All Fraternities. Says:

    […] We’ve already encountered male-bashing, self-pitying Caitlin Flanagan on this blog. […]

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