Duke Essays 2011

These louts did not operate on the fringes of polite society at the university, but existed—were lionized—at its epicenter., by both Karen Owen’s supporters and her detractors, to view her as the arrival of something new: either as the embodiment of women’s complete victory over the old double standard, or as proof positive that our culture has finally run aground.

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That program is intended for creating a visual accompaniment to a lecture, keeping audience and speaker on track by reducing the essential ideas of a complex presentation to a series of bullet-pointed phrases and concepts, the irreducible takeaway.

But the 42 slides of Owen’s report on her “horizontal academics” are so dense with narrative detail, bits of dialogue, descriptions of people and places, and reproduced text-message conversations that they are a chore to read.

Max, a brainy and reasonably attractive kid from a troubled family, attended the University of Chicago, graduating in three years and earning a scholarship to Duke law school, where his life changed.

He ascertained quickly that sexual aggression—not just in the act of sex, but in the way a man can choose to treat women, verbally and emotionally—is a force to which a huge number of educated, liberated young women are deeply attracted.

It’s absurd to believe that she was innocent enough to think that such an incendiary document, transmitted by email, would not quickly enjoy a large audience.

But it’s not at all hard to believe that Owen had only three friends in college.She’s like a fraternity’s ideal pledge: she races around to deliver hot breakfasts to the brothers, drives them to practices, hangs out loyally on cold streets while they work out potential DUI hassles with the cops, listens to them chew over their buddies’ girlfriend problems, tells them—with apparent sincerity—that they’re awesome at spitting Biggie raps, never demands her own turn at Mario Kart.Even her attitude toward (and during) sex seems to have been dreamed up during a Sigma Nu smoker: she’s certainly not the first young woman to perform fellatio in a crowded college library, but surely there aren’t many others who in the middle of this act earned an appreciative—and robustly returned—high five.There is every reason, in fact, to believe that Owen’s sense of herself, both as a sexual being and as a raconteur of outrageous sexual exploits, was shaped not by her own desires but by a particular male sensibility, in fact by a particular male: Tucker Max, whom she specifically mentions as a rival in the art of the scandalous and ridiculous hookup.The notion of becoming his female counterpart is clearly not far from her mind in each of her lurid descriptions and ratings of her sexual encounters.It was from both within this world and outside it that Karen Owen emanated.She reports that she had spent her freshman year gazing at “frat stars” (frat star and sorostitute are terms of art at Duke and at other similarly composed schools), but the predictable angry letter to the school newspaper about the episode, written by a group of “female Greek leaders on campus,” was quick to point out that Owen was not herself a member of any sorority.But we’d rather not rank Duke number one at anything.” It’s difficult to argue with GQ’s thinking on either score; something ugly is going on at the university—a mercenary intensity that has been gathering strength for the past two decades, as the institution made the calculated decision to wrench itself into elite status by dint of its fortune in tobacco money and its sheer ambition.It lured academic luminaries—many of them longer on star power than on intellectual substance—built a fearsome sports program, and turned its admissions department into the collegiate version of a head-hunting firm.Crucial to his technique is the titanic amount of alcohol he and his potential partners consume before the hookup, a transaction that often includes not just having sex, but also vomiting copiously and then passing out near or sometimes in the effulgence.Today’s typical middle-aged man (the father of a teenage daughter, perhaps) may hear about college drinking and shrug his shoulders: he remembers similar antics from his own days.


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