At Brown, the sexual culture of soon-t0-be graduates is commonly described as a “scramble.” It’s a get-it-while-it’s-hot type of mentality where, we are told, everyone tries to have catch-up hook-ups with their list of missed opportunities. I was able to evade the scramble, instead having the apparently abnormal experience of starting a relationship in my last semester. Yet even though these catchy hashtag labels for the “sexual culture” of any community tend to be inaccurate, generalized, and reductive, I assumed the scramble played out frequently in other schools.
Then I heard about the SWUG.
For those of you tilting your head in confusion (is it slimy? is it a chuggable drink? is it a sweater Ugg?), you are not alone. Even though there has been an overwhelming amount of media attention around this “phenomenon,” it is hard to pin down what, or who, a SWUG is.
Here is what we do know:
SWUG, or “Senior Washed-Up Girl” seems to have started, or at lease been popularized at Yale, even though the term was coined by a Brown student in 2005. SWUGs, all of course women, self-identify as such.
The label has both seemingly positive and negative connotations. On one hand it is defined by a certain “don’t give a fuck” attitude and heralded as a possible, yet in my opinion improbable, “young feminist ideal.” A SWUG is a woman who derives certain empowerment from not caring—not caring about wearing sweatpants to the library, not caring about staying in Friday night and drinking wine with friends, and seemingly “not caring” about going home alone. As Raisa Bruner writes in the Yale Daily News:
Welcome, then, to SWUG life: the slow, wine-filled decline of female sexual empowerment as we live out our college glory days. Welcome to the world of the ladies who have given up on boys because they don’t so much empower as frustrate, satisfy as agitate.Welcome to what “KiKi” likes to call “SWUG nation.”
There are, as you can imagine, many things that aren’t very welcoming about SWUG-dom. The words “desperate,” “boring,” “girl-who-can’t-get-no-love,” “fat,” “unattractive,” “needing attention,” and “jealous of the younger crop” have all been associated with SWUGs. As one Yale sophomore put it, “It’s a girl who has been through the meat grinder. A seasoned veteran who knows the ropes.”
Brown University’s RIB has even written about a possible Brown SWUG type that is “old and used like ‘Party In The U.S.A’ at a Sigma party,” and constantly paired against easy, cock-blocking freshmen.
Of course these descriptions range from light-hearted observations to overtly sexist descriptions. But they all point to a teeming discomfort and ambiguity towards a term that seems to both empower and demean the women it identifies.
A similar term comes to mind—slut. Since even before the SlutWalk marches 2 years ago, many women have questioned whether a term that was coined to devalue women based on their sexual experiences could be re-appropriated as a proud fuck-you to a culture that continually excuses sexual violence. I go back and forth on how I feel about calling myself a slut. On the one hand, I am proud of my sexuality, and call myself a slut to underline my unapologetic enjoyment of sex. But every time I have been called a slut, it never feels good. The term still hurts.
Which is why I was horrified to see other women create yet another term that defines their identity solely to their relations, or lack of relations, to men. And even more horrified when the creation and celebration of this term (they have panels on SWUG-dom at Yale) is implicated with a feminist agenda. Especially since this seemingly pressing issue of female empowerment is yet another white girl problem that creates division between the SWUGs and the crop of freshmen women who are stealing their frat boy limelight. I could not be rolling my eyes any harder.
We are young, accomplished women with valued educations. We can choose to be sluts or SWUGs, have too much sex or none at all. We can choose to give as many fucks as we want. But more importantly we can choose to not let our sexual experiences define us. We can quit talking about our privileged forms of sexual liberation. We don’t need to celebrate our ability to wear sweatpants or create an empowered form of spinsterhood. Instead we need to address the rape culture, especially present on college campuses, that perpetrates these labels to use them as excuses for sexual violence. I do not feel like my work is over, like I am washed up. My time is yet to come.
-Ana Alvarez, Managing Editor