After Class, Skimpy Equality

08/27/2011 02:15 pm ET | Updated Oct 27, 2011

AT Duke University last fall, members of the Sigma Nu fraternity e-mailed 300 of their female classmates about an off-campus Halloween party. "Hey Ladies," the invitation leered, complete with a misspelling, "Whether your dressing up as a slutty nurse, a slutty doctor, a slutty schoolgirl or just a total slut, we invite you..."

Yes, there was outrage: in the form of fliers plastered around the Duke campus reprinting the offending e-mail and asking, "Is this why you came to Duke?" And there was official indignation: The recently formed Greek Women’s Initiative will be tackling the subject of gender relations.

But a less-noted fact remains: hundreds of Duke women went to that Halloween party and many dressed as they had been asked.

As parents around the country send their children to campuses for the start of another academic year, what are we to make of the fact that lessons of equality, respect and self-worth have been heard when it comes to the classroom, but lost somewhere on the way to the clubs? Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at that Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college days. What has changed?

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