Role Reversals


In the wake of last spring’s sex scandal involving the Duke University men’s lacrosse team, a Rolling Stone reporter named Janet Reitman went to Durham to interview current students. She returned with a revealing portrait of social life at Duke, and particularly of what it is like to be a female student at the school that ranks eighth on the latest U.S. News and World Report list of the nation’s top universities.

The women she met were hard-working superachievers. They had impressive GPAs, letters in sports, double majors, and high career ambitions. Almost to a one, they were fit, attractive, and stylish. They stood out as the very model of the independent-minded young woman of the twenty-first century. Yet in their social lives, Reitman discovered, they were abjectly dependent on winning the approval of the male students at Duke. This required going to bashes organized by men, matching them drink for drink, hooking up for sex and acting out men’s pornographic fantasies at theme parties like “Dress to Get Lei’d” and “Sex and Execs.” Moreover, these elite women couldn’t think of anything that might be wrong with this kind of behavior. To them, it was just the normal way that men and women socialized.

Though life at Duke may represent an extreme case, anyone familiar with college today is likely to recognize some of the features of Duke’s hard-partying culture. I see such features in the college town...

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About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.