On a recent night out, a freshman I’d just met pointed to a group of girls scantily clad in neon. He flicked his head back at me with an eye roll: “Q-Pac girls.” I wish I could say I was surprised, but clearly the time-honored ritual of making fun of “Q-Pac Girls” had already been passed down to another freshman boy. Although these women were actually Yale students, this type of disdain is not uncommon. We’ve all seen it. We might have done it. The most confusing part of this trend is that some of the biggest offenders of this slut-shaming are in fact super liberal. And even more disappointingly, they’re often female.
This phenomenon has been extensively studied, specifically relating to female college students. Experts have found a practice called, “defensive othering,” which involves women of both high and low-class calling each other “sluts,” or other sexually degrading names, in order to distance themselves from subordination to men. This makes a lot of sense. Women often feel less powerful compared to men, especially when it comes to being upfront about sexual activity. The least empowered are often in the most defensive position. Women of a higher socioeconomic status use “slutty” as synonymous with revealing, less expensive clothing and being loud about sexual activity — an obviously class-based stereotype. On the flip side, women of a lower socioeconomic status equate “sluttiness” with symbols of wealth such as sororities, brand-name clothing and flaunting wealth to attract men.
Elizabeth Armstrong, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, conducted a study of women in a college dorm. Her findings confirm this socioeconomic stratification of sluttiness. Armstrong writes: “To high-status women, looking ‘trashy’ was more indicative of sluttiness than any amount of sexual activity.” Women who were labeled “high-status” were the most sexually active, but their peers believed they were the “cleanest.” Yet these women of a higher socioeconomic status who tended to be more discreet actually participated in casual sex the most.
In 2011, a letter sent to the News chronicled one particularly ugly incident of Yalies slut shaming a Quinnipiac woman. Although the letter was never published, I know the signers. They recounted how teams at the Freshman Olympics fashion show modeled the “Q-Pac Girl,” an outfit “configured for easy access.” The letter reads: “She was so excited to see Yale boys that she coquettishly dropped her phone and bent over to display herself. To make matters worse, two other ‘Q-Pac Girl’ models pantomimed the recent shooting at Toad’s, pretending they had been shot in the chest. One team ended the skit by placing their model in a body bag.” Although this shooting had nothing to do with either Yale or Quinnipiac, this type of mocking humor can quickly escalate to the dehumanization of New Haven residents not affiliated with Yale. The parallel is explicit: If you’re “slutty,” then violence against your body is not only low-stakes; it’s comedy. This is not the standard we would ever apply to women at Yale — why is this acceptable only when directed toward Quinnipiac?
This is crux of the matter: We openly act toward Quinnipiac women in ways we would never act toward women at Yale. So many of my women friends — people who view themselves as feminists — do not see their selective morality. Yale women do not proudly call each other “sluts.” Yale women view themselves as elite and hard working — if they have sex, it is their rightful choice. But Yale women also feel the need to build a divide between their lives and those of women we perceive to be lower-class. We think it gives us power.
Jeanette Cibelli, a Quinnipiac senior, said that it’s clear that women at Quinnipiac are aware of the stigma. Yet she is worried about her peers, who have a false sense of security when they go out in groups in New Haven. This, even though they know Yale boys have a reputation for believing “Q-Pac girls” are “easy.”
Hiking Sleeping Giant the other week, I was treated to a view of the leafy Quinnipiac campus below. Students milled about around the entrance, holding notebooks and chatting. As Jeanette says, “Yale students only see our Saturday night.” True, but that’s no excuse for openly believing our neighbors are lesser people in order to preserve our own fragile self-esteem. To demean the “Q-Pac Girl” in a self-righteous, pitying tone only makes us all the more insufferable. But more than that, our flip dismissal of Quinnipiac students wandering down Elm Street normalizes this violent, class-based slut-shaming. Each time we say “Q-Pac Girl,” we’re guilty of perpetuating the idea that women who attend Quinnipiac can be violated without remorse. And we will only bring ourselves down.