The Yale SWUG (Senior Washed Up Girl) Wars

The Yale students who first deemed themselves SWUGs — Senior Washed Up Girls — say they were making fun of the stereotypical sexist bullshit women are fed as they age; it's not like they really considered themselves decrepit hags at the grand old age of 21. But this year's SWUG crop is pushing the mindset unironically, as a way to "cope" with hot freshman girls and define themselves by the dudes they're not dating. What went wrong?

The original concept behind "SWUG Life" was supposed to be empowering; it feels good to be a senior who cares more about drinking wine in sweats with her friends than putting on heels to impress frat bros. Olivia Milch '11 told The Yale Daily News that the term was meant to be positive, about "female camaraderie" and "a certain attitude toward life in our senior year."

"It was basically an inside joke," Maya*, another 2011 grad, told Jezebel. "We knew we weren't washed up. We were just making fun of ourselves. ‪No one was serious about it, and now it's been taken out of context by younger girls. A lot of us, the original so-called SWUGS, are disappointed with what it's turned into."‬

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The YDN ran multiple SWUG think-pieces this academic year, and New York's "The Cut" blog has a big feature on SWUGs this week. The Yalies quoted in and writing these pieces don't portray themselves as empowered women defying societal expectations to have fun with their friends; instead, they come off as jealous, immature girls who are wasting way too much time promoting the term, going as far as to arrange panels — yes, panels — on SWUGdom. Here's how they explain what it means to be a SWUG, as defined in a variety of recent pieces:

...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.

It’s almost like being a SWUG is a way to cope,” I offer, thinking of myself, and the nonchalant way I try to react to men these days. I pretend I don’t care, because that’s what a SWUG does. A SWUG is supposed to be so over boys. A SWUG is supposed to be liberated, independent.

And yet here I am, often defining the SWUG experience by the men I am not dating.

...SWUG’s social meaning at Yale remains about the hooking up that we women are — and aren’t — doing, and how little we’re supposed to let that bother us. It’s become a signifier of not caring. It might exist as a barrier only in the minds of women, but it’s there, and it colors our actions and experiences.

Then there are these more "fun" definitions:

She’s the girl who knows the code to get into DKE. She knows the code for ADPhi. (If any single senior girl has the key to Zeta, she may want to seek help.) Facebook bores her. She uses Facebook to find out different football players’ birthdays and plugs them into an astrology website to test their compatibility. She is compatible with no one.

She doesn’t need to walk home late at night and chance getting mugged by a New Haven local because she will just sleep on a couch in one of the frats. The late night crew at G-Heav knows to start making her an egg and cheese when they see her stumble through the door, and sometimes they will allow her to dance behind the counter and crack an egg herself. Again, they don’t do this for the young, hot, freshman girls — only SWUGs.

She’s the girl who tells her friends she is going to have a “friendship night.” When they ask what this means she explains she is going to make a guy want her and then turn him down. She gets drunk and wakes up next to the guy she was going to turn down. She knows this will go nowhere, as she has already plugged his birthday into the compatibility website, and their score was a two. She makes up a short lie about a meeting and asks him to leave her room and then goes back to bed. She doesn’t return his texts. She’s a SWUG.

SWUGs were supposed to be over the bullshit. But these SWUGs are completely into the bullshit, what with the freshman girl jealousy and biological clock concerns. Maybe they need some hobbies besides navel-gazing?

Some Yale students say the media is blowing SWUGdom, which New York describes as "a pervasive part of student life," out of proportion. "I wish they would stop making their small scale problems into a school wide phenomenon because that's not what it is," one current Yale junior lamented. "It would be so much better if they just spoke from 'I' statements in a personal reflection instead of being pseudo-sociologists."

But based on interviews, it does seem like the SWUG identity has negatively affected Yale culture. From YDN's extensive feature, written by a self-described SWUG:

“Does SWUG mean ‘fat’?” jokes the guy across the table.
“Senior Washed-Up Girl, so … sort of,” says my friend, deadpan. He’s kidding, but only just.

and:

“It’s a way for girls to draw attention to themselves,” he says, referencing [a column on SWUGs]. “It can be derogatory if taken literally, but … it’s more of a female psyche thing.”


Oh. I guess that’s one way to see it, maybe one that would come more readily to a guy: This is a crisis of female self-confidence at a challenging time, when Yale women are faced with our real-world futures even as we try to live out our expectations of college. And the clock is ticking.


“I think girls feel jealous of the new breed.”

Perhaps all this media attention will convince Yale students to stop spending terrifying amounts of time and energy reinforcing destructive gender norms and return to the old way of SWUG life. "This is cringeworthy," Maya said. "It was a joke, and it was meant to stay an inside joke. And now it's a weird problematic feminist ideology that makes me want to cry."

*Name has been changed.

Image via Northfoto / Shutterstock.com