Saying no to SWUG
In The Feminist Manifesto’s most recent column, authors Hayley Nicholas ’17 and Emma Roberts ’17 re-appropriated the term “SWUG” to mean women who’ve “come to know [themselves] a little better.” While we applaud this show of confidence and all conversations that occur over pumpkin pancakes, we think that the term SWUG contains many hidden meanings that the article never addresses. Nicholas and Roberts bring up a host of interesting questions, but instead of answering them, they paint the path to SWUGdom as a linear progression from a party-going but unhappy first year to a confident, sweatpants-wearing senior. We hope to not only unpack and disrupt this singular journey but also answer some of the questions that the initial article brought up along the way.
“Why are SWUGs typically seen as jaded, callous women who can’t find men?” “Does this term imply that boys could never be washed-up, or that they always have been?”
The term SWUG arose after an article published by a female senior at Cornell University. The term seeks to normalize the idea that senior women have aged out of the party scene and are less attractive and less desirable, than underclass students. By the time they reach their last year at college, senior women are supposedly “washed up” because they have no power in the social scene. Some women, in an attempt to throw off those regulations, employ the word SWUG to say, “who needs this whole immature college party scene anyway?”
The foundation of SWUG also rests on the assumption that senior men have moved on to younger women and it is taboo for senior women to hook up with younger men. We want to acknowledge the heteronormative framework of the term: while anyone of any sexuality can identify as a SWUG, the term originates from a framework that is inherently heteronormative, so we are analyzing it as such.
So, indeed, if we believe that the term is coded with the patriarchal and misogynistic aspects of hookup culture, men cannot be washed-up. That is not to say that men at Bowdoin do not experience issues of self-confidence or that they do not have challenges navigating the social and hookup scene, but rather that men have a power and privilege throughout their four years here that women cannot access.
“Is being a SWUG bad, or is it a feminist reclamation of a formerly sexist insult?”
Embodying some of the characteristics associated with SWUG isn’t “bad,” and some might even choose to call it a “feminist reclamation.” Yet, we think it is important to break out of the SWUG framework altogether. “Washed-up” is synonymous with irrelevant. Thus, the term suggests that women’s place on campus is directly tied to her relevance in the social/hookup scene. To find “confidence in SWUG life” is to tie one’s self-worth directly to their weekend-night habits, and we believe that we’re much more than that. We have found confidence over our time here when we led our first club meeting, taught our first TA session and invited people over to our house to cook dinner. It is from those moments—which have taught us to be self-assured women who are valued beyond our drinking habits or party attire—that we have learned how to be confident in our social choices.
Each year, like clockwork, an article shows up in the Orient about SWUGdom or SWUG life, illustrating a paradise of not-giving-a-shit. These columns would have you believe that confidence is amorphous and is thrust upon you senior year—a rite of passage reserved for senior women. We urge the women on this campus to fight against this illusion. We can help foster confidence in underclassmen by creating spaces where women can, as Nicholas and Roberts say, speak their minds.
As Julia Mead ’16 wrote last year in an article entitled “Embracing SWUGdom,” “We’ve shuffled through enough male-dominated social spaces in the last three years, and now we say no more.” We agree wholeheartedly, but we are not content with the notion that everyone must struggle through these seemingly mandatory three years. Instead, we urge women on this campus to create these social spaces themselves and invite other women in with open arms and sweatpants-welcome signs. We refuse to accept that only senior women have the privilege to feel at ease on this campus. We urge senior women to look upon their younger classmates and work to create meaningful connections between all class years. The social scene might have labeled us as washed-up, but know that we’re jumping back in.
Jodi Kraushar and Caroline Montag are members of the Class of 2017.