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Max Karson says he’s a feminist. Others say he’s hateful and misogynistic.
Karson says his self-published paper, “The Yeti”, is creating a dialogue about things no one else dares to expose. Others say he’s simply cavorting in the public spotlight for attention.
Karson says he’s clearly using satire and sarcasm. Others say his words toe the line of encouraging violence and rape.
And Karson is not backing down. He has recently come under scrutiny for publishing and distributing what he calls a sarcastic satire of campus culture, especially in this third issue, in which he describes reprimanding a girlfriend for masturbating and instructs men to “pound away as hard and as fast as you can.” Vice Chancellor Ron Stump met with Karson earlier this week after telling the Daily Camera that he was “looking into it”, and Karson said many have told him he should be expelled.
“You can tell women really like this because they get this distant, pained expression on their faces as if they are desperately trying to escape to a dream world that they constructed when they were 11 years old and their breasts started to grow and they realized that they’re going to be treated like blow-up dolls for the rest of their lives,” he wrote in his October issue.
Karson said his feminism has inspired a majority of his Yeti musings. In conversations with his female friends, he said that he realized that for many women, their sexuality remained unexplored.
“A lot of girls my age have never had an orgasm. That’s ridiculous,” he said. “Why don’t they know how to please themselves?”
The issue has drawn the ire of many- junior women’s studies major Meghan Bennett described it as “rape-supportive” and “dehumanizing” to the Colorado Daily, and Barbara Kulton, the director of the Women’s Resource Center on campus, called it “misogynistic” and “violent” in the Daily.
But, Karson said, this is precisely the attitude he wants to satire.
“(Women) are so used to being objectified that they’re more comfortable being objects,” he said.
He is quick to add a caveat: that this is the result of social conditions, not inherent ones.
“If men got treated that way, they wouldn’t stand up for themselves either,” he said.
Karson recognizes that his brand of feminism may not be well liked by other, more mainstream feminists.
“I don’t think that upsetting other feminists means you’re not a feminist, though,” he said.
And upset others he has-Bronson Hilliard, CU’s director of media relations and spokesman, described the initial reaction as “visceral”. The reaction was so fierce, in fact, that the ACLU intervened on Karson’s behalf by sending a letter to Stump.
“The University response to controversial or offensive speech should be to encourage more speech, not threaten legal action,” wrote Judd Golden, chair of the Boulder County ACLU, in the letter.
Karson said that organizations like the Women’s Resource Center needed to realize that he was creating a dialogue about issues that otherwise wouldn’t be raised.
“If Barbara Kulton were really interested in fighting sexism, she would realize that my voice is being heard by hundreds of people,” he said. “If she really cared about sexism, she wouldn’t antagonize me. But if she were interested in looking like she was fighting sexism, this is exactly what she’d do.”
Hilliard dismissed Karson’s jabs.
“I don’t think this has ever been a contest of who’s more feminist,” he said. “My personal opinion is that Max Karson has an exaggerated view of his own importance.”
Hilliard said that CU has a “long history” of students engaging in provocative speech, and the university is taking “absolutely no action against Max Karson and has no plans to take any action against Max Karson.”
Sarah Petrak, a sophomore history and English major, said she enjoys reading The Yeti, and she thinks Karson’s voice gives the feminist movement a push.
“He gives women enough credit to assume they’re going to pick up on that it’s a satire,” she said.
Petrak also cautioned those reacting against Karson from hurting the cause they’re trying to help.
“I think the Women’s Resource Center runs the risk of dampening the feminist movement by restricting themselves to stiff rhetoric,” she said. “With any social movement, you run the risk of hurting it by not being willing to listen to some of the fresh, edgier voices even if they seem to be over the top.”
Suny Gao, the media relations director for the Women’s Resource center, said the center had no comment on Karson and had taken no position on The Yeti.
Karson is no stranger to controversy. In high school in Amherst, Mass., he was suspended four times for circulating a newsletter he called “The Crux”. Each of the four suspensions was overturned after ACLU lawyer Bill Newman sent the school a letter of warning, but he said they still showed up on his record when it came time to apply for colleges.
Tito Torres, a sophomore women’s studies and math major, first stumbled upon The Yeti in the offices of the women’s studies department, where he works. Torres said he found Karson’s writings offensive and thought he missed the mark as far as satire goes.
“I consider myself a feminist and I would never tell women to give me head or ask her how big her boobs are, because that’s just demeaning,” he said.
Other students believe that Karson has indeed raised the issue, even if his methods weren’t ideal. Andra Wilkinson, a sophomore integrative physiology major, first heard about The Yeti through a friend, and took in the third issue to her women’s studies class to discuss.
“Some of the views that were presented were far too realistic,” she said. She added that Karson walked a fine line between being satirical and promoting gender violence, and he may have crossed the line at points.
Still, “the issues he brought up are really good.” Now, she said, students must “dismiss him as an individual and start talking about the issues”.
Karson also recorded a rap album, titled “The Yeti”, to accompany the fifth edition of his newsletter. Amid tracks titled “Ron Stump”, “Keep Your Head Up,” and “Read My Paper,” the Nov. issue aims some not-so-subtle references in the direction of some of his critics.
“You’d be surprised at how many stupid people you get to meet in my line of work,” he said. “In fact, even a number of administrators and program directors – people you’d think would be smart – have turned out to be developmentally disabled,” he said.
Despite what some have called disrespectful satire, Karson pays attention to the complaints.
“I do take it seriously,” he said. “I don’t want people to think I’m a hatemonger.”
Karson said he has no plans to stop writing The Yeti, and has planned a public reading for Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. in the Cristol Chemistry building. He typically distributes The Yeti in the UMC every other Monday from 10:00 a.m. to noon, and characterizes the general public’s reaction as largely positive.
“If most people didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be doing it,” he said.