Tag Archive: feminism

  1. Examining the 80 percent

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    “Such a nasty woman.”

    During the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 19, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 addressed her plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to continue funding Social Security. In response to Clinton’s jab about his undisclosed tax returns, Republican nominee Donald Trump delivered one of his trademark interruptions. Shaking his head, as if to say “what a shame,” he branded his opponent with a now-viral phrase: nasty woman.

    No one can deny Trump has a gift for catchy nicknames. And with this one, he may have solidified Clinton’s lead in a key demographic: women, whose support for him was already plunging after the release of 2005 Access Hollywood tapes in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.”

    From mid-September’s pre-debates NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll to one conducted post-tape leak in mid-October, Clinton’s lead over Trump in a four-way matchup swelled from 6 to 11 percent. As of Oct. 11, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight had compiled 12 national polls to find that Trump trailed Clinton by 15 points among female voters. For comparison, in 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is estimated to have lost among women by 8 points. In the last few weeks of the election, as her lead widens, Clinton has eased up on direct campaigning, lending her influence to tight Senate and House races.

    Among college voters, even those who temper their support for Clinton, Trump’s statements have finally united self-identified “nasty women” around the Democratic nominee. At Yale, Trump’s debate comment set off a Twitter firestorm and launched multiple t-shirt campaigns. Eleanor Slota ’17 recalls her mother’s reaction during their viewing of the debate: “Has nasty women merchandise started circulating yet? Because it will.” And indeed, the Yale College Democrats have begun selling t-shirts emblazoned with “Nasty Woman” and “Bad Hombre,” another Trump debate quote.

    Azeezat Adeleke ’17, vice-president of the Dems, can’t wait to wear her t-shirt. She believes students have taken to the term as a rallying cry, citing photos they’ve posted with absentee ballots — Clinton/Kaine box checked — captioned with a Trumpian epithet. At Yale, 80 percent of students support Clinton for the presidency, according to an October survey by the News. Among students who identify as Republicans, 29.92 percent plan to vote for Clinton, more than the 26.14 percent who support Trump.

    It’s entirely safe to say Hillary Clinton has won Yale, though it’s no surprise that the undergraduate population has swung Democratic. (The University’s undergrads have essentially tended towards the leftmost fringe of political discourse since before the last footsteps of William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 echoed over the threshold of Skull and Bones.) But Clinton’s 80 percent is more complicated than it appears. According to a mid-October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Clinton stood 13 points ahead of Trump among younger voters. A September New York Times/CBS poll showed that more than a third of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 planned to vote for a third-party candidate.

    Though many at Yale supported Clinton from the start, as evidenced by the three-year tenure of Yale Students for Hillary, there was no shortage of ambivalence about her on campus. In August 2015, the News conducted its annual survey of incoming freshmen. The survey found that 38 percent of the class of 2019 supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–Vermont), while Clinton trailed with 23 percent.

    To the left, to the left

    For many students at Yale during the primary season, Bernie Sanders was a more appealing choice for president. During his visit to New Haven in April, Overheard at Yale was flooded with photos of the back of Sanders’ head — the closest one could get through the crowds that followed him.

    Gabrielle Diaz ’18, the current Ward 22 Democratic Committee co-chair, characterizes college-age voters as generally further left than the Democratic Party. Esul Burton ’20, who has canvassed a few times for Clinton through the Yale Dems, remembers the primary season as follows: “One week I’d be feeling the Bern; the next, I’d be with her.” As a woman of color, Burton found Sanders’ positions on criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter movement appealing.

    Though she voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, Rita Wang ’19, the political action coordinator at the Yale Women’s Center, says she did so to encourage the Democratic Party to embrace more progressive policies as she still expected to support Hillary Clinton in the general election. Wang believes her ability to see herself as a political person stems from seeing Hillary Clinton throughout her life. “She has been in the public sphere as a politician for as long as I have been alive, and her loss in 2008 was all too reminiscent of the high school campaigns I have lost.” For Wang, women in power promote broader gender equality, especially given the obstacles they may face in being elected.

    Musing on Clinton’s lack of support during the primary season, Wang said, “Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t speak the ‘woke’ language easily that us Yale students are so used to hearing from Bernie and on campus.” Layla Treuhaft-Ali ’17, former chair of the Party of the Left, believes the animosity from leftists toward Clinton reveals “pretty serious sexism.” But she argues that millennials, unlike their parents, are more interested in candidates’ policies than their identities. That opinion would resonate with the many millennial feminists across the U.S. who refused to support Clinton solely on the basis that she might break the last “glass ceiling” aspired to by their mother and grandmothers. “Is Hillary a good candidate for feminists? Her policies are much better for women than Trump’s, in terms of reproductive rights and health care, and that’s what I care about,” Treuhaft-Ali said. “Is she, personally, a feminist icon? Probably not, and that’s okay with me.”

    In early February, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a controversial statement: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Many believed her remark was directed at women, especially younger women, who were not planning to support Clinton.

    As if to underscore the shift from generation to generation of feminists, a senior at Yale, sitting in the Women’s Center during their voter registration drive, responded to Albright’s comment with an explosive “fuck you!”

    Identity Politics

    Yet women may still need to help each other. There’s no denying it: simply because she is the first woman to be a major party nominee, Clinton has faced some unprecedented difficulties on the national stage. Sarah Rose ’17, a member of the Party of the Left, mentioned that, for her, Clinton lacks a charismatic stage presence — but sarcastically noted that charisma, for many Americans, is “much easier to display when presenting as male with a deep voice.” Burton acknowledges the deep and subtle power of entrenched gender expectations, saying “part of me bought into the sexist portrayal of Clinton. She seemed untrustworthy and cold, and I didn’t want that in my president.”

    Burton now enthusiastically supports Clinton. She believes that the labels assigned to her — “liar,” “crook,” “untrustworthy” — would not have been assigned to male politicians on either side of the aisle, mentioning Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 and Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Florida). Burton argues that “politicians across the board aren’t genuine and aren’t transparent, but we expect Clinton, as a woman, to be held to a higher standard.”

    Though she acknowledges many are thrilled to shatter the glass ceiling, Rose believes that electing women as leaders must extend beyond the White House, and that the wage gap and social gender norms need to be addressed as well. Emaline Kelso ’17, who previously supported Bernie Sanders, agrees, but more bluntly. “Hillary will not ‘shatter the glass ceiling.’ A white, wealthy, highly-educated woman with deep political connections becoming president does not, cannot and will not signal the end of the patriarchy.” Kelso points to President Barack Obama’s election, arguing that it did not eliminate racism or resolve racial tension.

    Eleanor Runde ’17 tempers Kelso’s argument. “Our national narrative changed when Obama was elected. The stories that we tell ourselves about what America is, and what America can be, changed. The same is true this November.” Runde argues that facets of a candidate’s identity matter to Americans who share those identities, and beyond that, to those who advocate for greater equality.

    In her 1995 speech at the United Nations as First Lady, Hillary Clinton said, “Women’s rights are human rights,” a statement she echoed in her 2008 concession speech. During that campaign, Clinton had not stressed her identity as a female candidate, lest she receive the same criticism as 2000 Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole, of whom one GOP consultant complained, “she has to have a message beyond ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’” referencing Helen Reddy’s 1971 feminist anthem. The idea among millennial feminists that gender should not be a primary motivating factor is not new.

    But on July 28, 2016, Hillary Clinton was introduced by the voice of God, Morgan Freeman, to accept the Democratic nomination. Opening the convention, she had appeared after the portraits of all the men she hopes to succeed in the White House on a massive screen, in the midst of shattering glass. Into “18 million pieces,” as Clinton put it in her 2008 concession speech, referring to the number of votes she received in the primary. Despite a less ardent desire to see a woman in the White House from younger feminists and criticism of her behavior from both sides of the aisle, Clinton had decided to embrace the historic nature of her candidacy. Ironically, it is her opponent who has unintentionally allowed her to capitalize on it in the final weeks of the election.

    The Trump Touch

    When Trump closed his eyes, shook his head and called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” he appears to have underestimated how many women had yet to cast their ballots.

    Josh Altman ’17, president of the conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale, believes Trump’s attitudes toward women everywhere have now drawn far more focus than Clinton’s own gender. He believes the tapes seriously hurt Trump’s candidacy due to a wives-and-daughters effect. “Republican men cannot fathom having to justify these comments … to their female family members.” Emmy Reinwald ’17, co-president of the Yale College Republicans, calls the tapes “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for many Republican women who had previously backed Trump, ignoring his personal behavior and prioritizing conservative values and Supreme Court nominations. But for some Democrats on campus, this shift is too little, too late. “If the majority of those middle-range voters cared about women and respecting women, they would have been suspicious of Trump before his pussy-grabbing comments,” said Diaz.

    The “nasty woman” comment also touched a nerve among younger voters. It made Burton “livid,” shocking her in a way the Access Hollywood tapes did not. “Maybe it was because he said it during a presidential debate on national TV, which meant he intended it to be heard publicly, but I was pretty upset.” said Burton. “To say that directly to Clinton when debating her on live television? It’s disgusting.”

    Helen Price ’18, co-director of Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale, argues that this election in particular has “put a spotlight on the kind of subtle sexism that virtually every woman is familiar with — the obsession with Clinton not seeming “likeable” and that being discussed in very gendered terms; the fact that she — the most qualified candidate to ever run for president — has to stand on a stage and debate with a man who is wildly unqualified and misogynistic as if they were equals.” Price said that the “nasty woman” moment has electrified many millennial women and allowed them to identify more closely with Clinton. “Women at Yale, and educated women everywhere, are so often characterized as aggressive, mean or pushy for voicing our opinions or being ambitious.”

    From her years as part of the Yale Political Union, Treuhaft-Ali remembers men criticizing her as “too aggressive,” and “too angry,” while men speaking alongside her were praised for being “assertive and convincing.” She was instructed to lower her voice so as not to sound too feminine. Men in the audience gestured for her to cut her speeches short.

    However, the effect of #NastyWoman has some doubters. Bree Peilen, a junior at the University of Michigan who previously organized for Bernie Sanders and now does so for Clinton, said the phrase seems to be uniting feminists already committed to Clinton, rather than swinging undecided voters.

    On the right, Amalia Halikias ’15, a former member of the Yale College Republicans, the Tory Party and the Buckley program, thinks the “nasty woman pride response is laugh-out-loud hilarious.” She wonders if her social media feeds would have “blown up” had Trump called Hillary a “stupid woman” instead. Reinwald, also of the Yale College Republicans, characterized the phrase as a great sound bite, saying, “the Clinton campaign couldn’t have scripted anything better; it was a hashtag waiting to happen!” She says, “It’s become a rallying cry for feminists; they’ve reappropriated the insult and wear it as a badge of honor.”

    Runde couldn’t agree more. She believes the reclaiming of the epithet on social media has allowed women to create power out of disempowerment, celebrating their “nastiness.” “To self-label as a ‘nasty woman’ is to acknowledge prejudice and to proudly proclaim non-conformity to restrictive standards,” said Runde, who will perform tonight with the Sphincter Troupe, a feminist political comedy sketch group, at their “Nasty Women” show.

    “It is to laugh in the face of that prejudice, and sometimes, that’s all you can do.”

    The Impossible Election

    In her commencement speech at Wellesley in 1969, before she was Secretary Clinton, HRC, Hillz, Hil(liar)y, or simply Hillary, Hillary Diane Rodham told her graduating class, “the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”

    Many things that seemed impossible are now quite possible. A thrice-married tycoon was chosen as the evangelical standard bearer in a primary landslide, from a field of 17, including senators and governors. The Speaker of the House has refused to continue campaigning with his party’s candidate. A self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” gave an establishment candidate a run for her money that ultimately threatened to split the Democratic convention. And a woman is running for president.

    Contact Elizabeth Miles at

    elizabeth.a.miles@yale.edu .

  2. On feminism and alienation


    In July, Jess Zimmerman published an article called “Where’s my Cut?: On Unpaid Emotional Labor.” She argues that women learn to stroke men’s egos, calm their tempers and endure their insults, all without pay. She’s joking, of course, when she suggests that these men write checks to their girlfriends, confidantes and sisters — she just means that women deserve acknowledgement. Women aren’t born with the deep-seated desire to smile and nod at men’s complaints; they don’t wake up every morning thinking, “If only I could find a man to interrupt me, ignore me and bulldoze me!” In sum, unpaid emotional labor is a service, not a right.

    We — David, Andy and Jane — mention this article for several reasons. 1) WKND is a feminist publication, with feminist ideals. 2) The work of an editor is not unlike the work of a female confidante.

    For the past year, we have produced an issue of WKND every Friday morning. In other words, we have gone to class (or lunch or work) on Fridays and seen our publication in unexpected places. Pulpy WKND in the gutter. Faded WKND in the Pierson courtyard. Food-stained WKND outside Atticus. Mostly, we’ve seen WKND in the hands of strangers — a sight that stirs up complicated feelings. First, we see these strangers and think: Thank God! Thank God the words and pictures actually left 202 York St., and moved into the boundless world beyond!

    Much of the work we do as Yale students is private work: papers we write for professors, jobs we hold for our parents, races we run for ourselves. Or, in Marxist terms, we’re estranged from our destinies and alienated from our labor, mechanistic cogs in the Yale machine that engage with texts, ideas and people for no good reason.

    But WKND has been a path towards Marxist self-actualization for its editors. To see a stranger read your newspaper is to feel a little more autonomous, a little more in control. We’ve seen the fruits of our labor, and (weirdly, inexplicably) felt closer to our fellow students (even to those who aren’t feminists). Though powerlessness often reigns supreme at Yale — we’re tired, we’re taking bad classes, we’re not getting enough financial aid — WKND has given a little power back to three disorganized, hopeful kids.

    Of course, as we watch strangers reading WKND every Friday, we could also think: That stranger does not know that I am the puppet master! I pitched, then edited those interesting articles. Unpaid emotional labor! Why work on something without pay, and without recognition? No one emails the editors telling us we’ve done a great job. (Full disclosure: We haven’t always done a great job.)

    But we do not have those thoughts. And here, let’s establish a distinction between the unpaid emotional labor provided by marginalized groups and the service provided by editors: it’s a question of vectors. (WKND always believes it’s a question of vectors). When a woman engages in conversation with a Bad Man — one on one, face to face — she often harbors illusions of reciprocity. Conversations, after all, often involve respect and empathy. Yet the Bad Man quickly disabuses her of this belief: She ends up stroking his ego, soothing his anger, suffering his insults, et cetera. Her conversational vector shrinks to nothing, while his dominates the “conversation.” (Proof that feminism is relevant: In May, a self-identified male feminist told Jane, “I only interrupt you because I care about you and our relationship!” At the time, Jane was too sad to explain why that sentence was not, in fact, a feminist statement. A Yale diploma and Judith Butler textbook do not a feminist make!)

    When we see a stranger reading WKND, we see that person’s intellectual vector engaging with the author’s intellectual vector. All we — David, Andy, Jane — did was bring the two parties together, facilitate the discussion. Each week, we have nudged our writers towards readers, then stepped back to watch the beginning of real reciprocity.

    So no: The editor’s work is like, but unlike, the female confidante’s work. The female confidante endures the failure of conversation, while the editor can sometimes spark discussion through unpaid emotional labor. The editor does not entertain illusions of mutuality, and therefore neither reader nor author has done the editor harm. To wit: Don’t pay your YDN editors, pay your female friends.

    This is our last issue as puppet masters, our last chance to bring writers and readers together. We love you, fellow cogs in the machine. We hope you pursue something (anything!) that makes you feel a little more autonomous, a little more in control.


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    Let’s play a word association game:

    Papyrus (featured widely on my 6th grade social studies worksheets).

    Platypus (an upscale pasta-and-salad chain restaurant I encountered this summer, in Singapore).

    Platitude (“a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful,” Google told me).

    The opposite of a platitude, I think, is a Truism. Truisms go a little like this: “IF YOU HAVE MANY DESIRES YOUR LIFE WILL BE INTERESTING” or  “WORRYING CAN HELP YOU PREPARE” or “PAIN CAN BE A VERY POSITIVE THING.” Invented by neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer in the 70s, these aphorisms are bite-sized and always in all caps.

    One will fall into your lap whenever you need it. In detention? “YOU MUST DISAGREE WITH AUTHORITY FIGURES.” Trying to get on birth control? “THE DESIRE TO REPRODUCE IS A DEATH WISH.” Your roommate left your suite unlocked and now your speakers are gone? “PRIVATE PROPERTY CREATED CRIME.”

    Holzer originally printed them on broadsheets — white font, black background — and then left them strewn around Manhattan. Now they just mostly float around Tumblr, buoyed by the reblogs of bored and sad teenagers.

    Jenny Holzer’s Wikipedia bio says she is 65 years old. I wonder if Holzer receives Social Security benefits. And how much in royalties did she make from her collaboration with the Dallas Cowboys? (On sale, on their website: “EXPIRING FOR LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL BUT STUPID” on a shirt, “BOREDOM MAKES YOU DO CRAZY THINGS” on a cap.)

    Sometimes I begin to shelve whole chapters of my life according to Truisms. They become shorthand for embarrassing moments I’d rather not recount, personal failures of all kinds. For example:

    “SOLITUDE IS ENRICHING” is good when I’m in the library on a Saturday night.

    “TECHNOLOGY WILL MAKE OR BREAK US” worries me when I make a phone call. The missing chunk of glass at the top of my iPhone, with its remnant jagged edges, might cut my ear.

    “WORDS TEND TO BE INADEQUATE” is for my apathy as deadline approaches, be it for an essay or a View (like this one, perhaps?).

    “MONEY CREATES TASTE.” Some girl left a Canada Goose coat in my suite last year. She never bothered to retrieve it.

    “IT IS EMBARRASSING TO BE CAUGHT AND KILLED FOR STUPID REASONS” is a good way to think about the time I ironically (or not) rushed a recent addition to the Yale Greek life scene and didn’t get a bid!

    I’m getting too old for Truisms. I used to confuse Jenny Holzer with Barbara Kruger, a very long time ago. I am embarrassed to say I have loved “IT IS IN YOUR SELF-INTEREST TO FIND A WAY TO BE VERY TENDER,” because it spoke to me about empathy and opening up to people or something. I talk about getting one as a tattoo, but keep changing my mind. (Which one? What font?). A Truism gets a little trite sometimes, too.

    Maybe the feeling I’m having is a territorial one. A million other kids with laptops can parrot the same phrases as I do (“RAISE BOYS AND GIRLS THE SAME WAY”). No, you can’t have a connection with the same Truism as I do! (This is the way I feel about certain Karen Russell short stories, for example.) Never mind having a personal connection to an idea; how about being under the impression that I own it?

    * * *

    This is a different story:

    We jumpstarted a Zipcar with another Zipcar last weekend, after Sophie convinced the guy from customer service on the phone that we really, really needed to get on the road. It was already dark, and there were 10 of us, plus bags. We were sprawled in a corner of the parking lot.

    By all accounts, I am fairly absent-minded. Before we even got in the cars, while we were still four hours away from other Sophie’s house by the lake, I must have taken the bracelet off and left it on the pavement. It was a nice bracelet — rather, a necklace I had wrapped around to fit my wrist. Smooth, tiny red beads on string; a graduation gift from my aunt and uncle.

    48 hours later, after pulling back into the lot and parking the car and retrieving all our belongings, we sat down and waited for the other car of five people to arrive. Then I found a couple beads scattered amidst gravel. And then a few more! If I had to hazard a guess, I was probably the person who drove over the bracelet.

    I lose all sorts of things. Pens and water bottles and every Apple accessory imaginable. Sometimes my left contact disappears and I can’t see the lecture slides anymore; my sister sorts the laundry and all my socks end up in my mother’s dresser.

    “OBJECTS ARE MEANT TO BE USED UNTIL THEY AREN’T” is not a Truism … at least, not one penned by Jenny Holzer. But I said it to myself anyway, over and over, while picking up the beads from the ground.

  4. Rap vs. Feminism?

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    The first album I listened to properly, and I mean from cover to cover, was Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers” LP. It was released in 2001; I was nine and my older brother had been given a copy by his best friend. The album had a canary-yellow sticker on it, warning young buyers that they needed parental permission to purchase it. Nothing could have made it more appealing; I took the album, put the disk into my Walkman and listened to Eminem for three days straight.

    From that moment on, rap became my favorite genre, an obsession I was vaguely ashamed of but needed in my life. Initially, its attraction lay in the cursing I could discern amongst the rapid-fire rhymes – words I’d hear my mother hiss when she smashed a plate, words a kid called Evan at my school used bountifully, usually before being sent out of the classroom.

    But as I went through high school and college, rap came to mean way more than just alluring obscenity. I became picky, developing on the one hand an interest in the worlds being rapped about and on the other a keener ear for poetic and witty lyrics — even if they were sometimes sexist. Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” came out in 2004, when I was midway through my second year of boarding school in England. Once the lights went out in our nine-girl dormitory, I would listen to the album under my duvet, reflecting sagely that however huge my homework pile, I at least was not being afflicted by “bitch problems.” And now I’m a feminist. You probably know the deal – I believe that women should be treated equally to men, that they should be able to climb career ladders despite their ovaries and retain jobs in TV when they get wrinkles. I’d like girls not to feel outsexed by Barbie; I’d like to live in a time when ladies who, to use today’s parlance, “sleep around” aren’t condescended or shunned but are treated as normally functioning people whose sexual appetites are as by-the-by as their tastes in upholstery.

    These views didn’t suddenly walk into my head on my 18th birthday; they were there all along. But the older I get, the crankier gender inequality makes me feel.

    Recognizing that I’m a feminist has not provoked some astronomical life change. Feminism is, after all, a cartoonishly broad church; I still wear make-up and I still like rom-coms. But it has made me examine my music tastes with a shrewder eye. Is my rap habit – which has only increased in intensity since “Marshall Mathers” – incompatible with my views on gender?

    Listening to the past month’s biggest hits, it’s hard to deny that misogyny is still alive and well in the rap industry. In Meek Mill’s latest track, he says to a female addressee, “It’s two words, ‘bitch fuck,’” and then, more charitably to a male adversary, “You can have my old bitch cause I don’t do the same hoes.” In Big Sean’s single “I Don’t Fuck With You,” he says as much to his ex, calling her “you lil stupid ass bitch” before adding for good measure, “fuck how you feel.”

    This stuff is pretty inarguably misogynistic. Not all rap and hip hop is as bad, obviously—in “Dear Mama,” Tupac thanks his mom for being “always committed.” But derogatory images of women remain dominant in rap music. Women are rarely presented as smart or superior; they “ain’t shit,” as Dr. Dre observes, “but hoes and tricks [to] lick on these nuts and suck the dick.” Some artists even underline that they specifically enjoy having sex with independent women so as to put them in their place – B.I.G. likes his ladies “educated” so that he can “bust off on they glasses,” a lyric which, as a spectacle-wearer myself, has always made me chuckle.

    Of course, I’m not the only white, privileged female to enjoy this sort of music. But instead of squirming at my ability to stomach the woman-hating I hear, it seems useful to examine why rap is sexist. The misogyny didn’t pop up ex nihilo: As rap became increasingly produced by major record labels, artists had to offer more hardcore content. Research has shown a direct correlation between a rap album’s explicitness and its success.

    Too $hort addresses this connection head on, replying in “Thangs Change” to the charge that rappers are “always disrepectin’ ladies.” He basically shrugs it off, saying, “I get paid to talk bad about a bitch.” Rappers shouldn’t be let off the hook entirely – denigrating women is, after all, a cowardly way of squandering poetic talent. But the issue of misogyny in rap is not quite the black and white ethical field it is often framed as.

    No musicians create in a vacuum; rap lyrics reflect the realities their writers deal with on the day-to-day. That’s not to say that the songs’ extravagant tales of pussies and gangbangs are legit – they’re often exaggerated, intent on gratifying demands for stereotypical representations of ghetto life. But the need these young, usually black, usually male artists feel to trumpet their own virility via the denigration of the female reflects a sociocultural situation that is absolutely real and, on the whole, horrific. For some of these artists, the opportunities for proving their masculinity in more palatable fields – professional frameworks, for instance – have been sparse, denied by a society that incarcerates over 12 percent of its African-American population.

    Yet even if rappers are exhorted to churn out misogynistic content by industry fat-cats, and even if rappers’ creativity can only unfurl within the boundaries of a warped sociocultural context, misogyny in rap remains problematic for feminist listeners. How can someone who wants women to be respected listen to, much less pay for, content that perpetuates harmful gender norms?

    It’s an issue that I’ve struggled with a lot – I’ll feel outraged by a lyric that I feel goes “too far”, before forgiving a song that is just as offensive, but which I like for its solid boardwork.

    At this point, I’m reminded of Sarah Koenig in the “Serial” podcast, who also swings from one point of view to another. I don’t have the answer, essentially – all I know is that I believe in gender equality, and yet I like rap music, including songs that are insulting to my sex. I also like Flaubert, the 19th century French novelist whose female characters were also almost all one-dimensional. The reasons why we respond positively to certain art forms over others are complex, and while I would like my political stances to dovetail with my tastes in art, music and literature, they just don’t. Figuring that out is one of the hardest tasks of being a modern feminist, because it involves a constant evaluation of where lines can be drawn and where they cannot.

  5. Funny Girls

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    In a basement classroom of William Harkness Hall, a tangle of beta decay equations and Chinese characters and Spanish phrases occupy the chalkboard. Stray potato chips lie scattered on the seminar table. Six students are settled in around the table, their laptops open and their voices lively — but this is not your usual discussion session. Rather, it’s a meeting of the Fifth Humour, Yale’s oldest sketch comedy group. And this isn’t your usual Fifth Humour meeting, either. The male members of the group have disappeared into the night, and the six students sitting here, belly-laughing their way through sketch read-throughs, are all women.

    These women are preparing for a show to take place in Sudler Recital Hall, located just upstairs. On Saturday night, the room will play host to no student recitals or chamber music performances; instead, it’ll be occupied by students-turned-spectators, who have come with enough laughs prepared for two hours of back-to-back comedy performances, all by women.

    Billed as a “leading lady-driven version of Saturday Night Live” on its Facebook event page, “That’s What She Said” is organized by Sabrina Bleich ’16, who works as a staffer at the Yale Women’s Center. The showcase serves as Bleich’s individual staffer project for this semester and will feature women from almost every comedy group on campus in a lineup of approximately 20-minute-long sets. Bleich is surprised by the enthusiasm that the event, originally intended to be low-key, has received so far. “I underestimated how many women are involved in comedy on this campus,” she tells me.

    * * *

    “That’s What She Said” isn’t the first event of its kind to happen at Yale. In fact, the Women’s Center has sponsored two other all-female comedy showcases in recent memory, one in 2007 and the other in 2009. As Bleich explains, she’s aimed for a similar structure in this Saturday’s showcase by tapping into the existing establishment of sketch and improv groups, which are already accustomed to collaborations and joint shows. Bleich hopes to provide an opportunity for women to break off from their respective groups for a night and come together as a larger community.

    Yet the structural similarities between this Saturday’s event and the previous ones belie some of the shifts that Bleich has observed in the wider comedy landscape in the past several years. “It’s definitely become more of a discussion recently with all these movies coming out, like ‘Bridesmaids’ — what is women’s place in comedy?” She goes on to cite other examples such as the leading ladies of “Broad City,” with whom, according to Brooke Levin ’16, her sketch comedy group Red Hot Poker had the opportunity to meet and work two years ago at a comedy festival. While Bleich believes that changes still need to be made, there has already been significant progress. “In 2007, that idea that girls aren’t funny was still part of the dialogue. I think that’s sort of been turned on its head a little bit and is being used to the advantage of female comics who are saying, ‘Oh, girls aren’t funny? Okay, let’s prove otherwise.’”

    Elizabeth Villarreal ’16, head coordinator of the Women’s Center, who helped Bleich organize the event, nonetheless makes a qualification; while she would like to believe that much progress has been made, the fact that such a stereotype still remains recognizable only indicates that it continues to exist in the discourse. And that’s a problem.

    * * *

    But in the comedy scene at Yale, women are standing up and standing out.

    The Fifth Humour is equally divided between males and females. In the experience of co-director Brooke Eastman ’16, Yale offers a range of opportunities for comedians of all gender identifications: “I’ve never once felt that, as a female comedian, there were things that I couldn’t say that my fellow male comedians could say. In some ways, I think that Yale is a far more progressive place than the world of mainstream comedy.”

    Sophie Dillon ’17, assistant director of Red Hot Poker as well as a member of improv group The Viola Question, notes a similar experience, telling me that her group currently has more women than men.

    Of particular interest is one group that consists purely of women: the all-female, feminist sketch comedy group, the Sphincter Troupe, of which both Bleich and Villarreal are members. According to Bleich, not many college campuses can boast such a group.

    All of this stands in stark contrast to what Henry Connelly reports in the Oct. 10, 2007 issue of the News: “The vast majority of sketch and improvisational comedy groups on campus are directed by men. Both the winners of the January 2007 Last Comic Standing competition were male. There can be little doubt, some say, that comedy today — at least at Yale — is dominated by men.”

    Thus it would seem that Claire Gordon ’10, who organized the Female Comedy Showcase in 2007, was addressing a context decidedly distinct from the one that Bleich is working within now. In light of how female comedians seem to be thriving on campus, justifying the existence of such a showcase at Yale becomes less straightforward — it goes deeper than gender ratios alone. There is enthusiasm here for the showcase, lots of it, and there is still the sense among the women that I speak to that something like this continues to be relevant — even necessary.

    * * *

    Dillon and Eliana Kwartler ’16, a member of the Yale Ex!t Players, were the only two female performers in this October’s Last Comic Standing event, although both advanced to the final round. Neither was able to attribute the low representation of women in the event to a specific cause, particularly without knowing how many women had auditioned. Reluctant to point to any active bias on campus, Dillon nevertheless perceives a continuing struggle for women in the stand-up world at large.

    “Women get a rep for not being funny,” Dillon explains, “because everyone is brought up to recognize the male perspective, so that [perspective] makes sense to a much larger group of people.” The very fact that she finds Louis CK’s jokes about fatherhood and male masturbation humorous, she says, is a testament to the predominance of the male worldview. For Dillon, comedy provides a vehicle for experiencing other worldviews. Thus, events like “That’s What She Said” have value because they bring us closer toward parity in the realm of comedy — and beyond.

    While these women all praise the progressive environments of their respective groups, they clarify that none of them are actively feminist in the way that the Sphincter Troupe is. Although Bleich herself is a proud member of Sphincter, she emphasizes that the showcase itself is not designed to be explicitly political, but participants can go in that direction if they choose.

    Many of the women in the showcase have drawn inspiration not only from successful female figures in mainstream comedy, but also from the work of their female peers. Eastman has nothing but admiration for Sphincter, especially their gender-bending performances. Whereas the act of playing the opposite gender often serves as a punch line in the world of comedy, she says, such a focus is absent from Sphincter’s performances. Rather, their humor comes more from the characters they create and the structures of their sketches; in a group composed exclusively of women, gender becomes incidental. Eastman and her co-director, Allison Kolberg ’16, have enjoyed that same freedom from gender considerations when putting together the script for their group’s performance on Saturday.

    Villarreal remarks that a women-only space can be politically significant in itself, pointing to the existence of her own group, Sphincter. “Even if the other groups don’t have this sort of explicitly feminist content, it’s a cool political statement just that this is happening. And that sends a message that women are funny, women are funny at Yale, and women are doing funny things right now.”

    Kwartler finds something uniquely constructive in the comedic medium itself. “Improv is an incredibly supportive march — you need to be helping the people around you, so at its most basic level, it’s kind of feminist in that we’re all equals,” she observes. In both form and content, in the empowering characters and the novel worlds that her group pulls out of thin air, Kwartler believes in the inherent ability of improv to open up a wider range of perceptions, even if the word “feminism” is never directly uttered. On a more fundamental level, humor in itself is an accessible medium, connecting performers to audience members and making otherwise difficult content approachable.

    In his 2007 article, Connelly takes note of some students who had been uninterested in that year’s showcase, perceiving it as focused less on comedy and more on agenda. Yet, given the nature of comedy as a particularly conducive platform for provoking dialogue through dialogue, it seems indeed a waste for comedy never to have an agenda.

    * * *

    “That’s What She Said” has Annemarie McDaniel ’16, board member of the Women’s Center and graphic designer for the event, to thank for its title. It’s particularly apt, an acknowledgement and celebration of these women’s voices that runs counter to its usual usage. Villarreal agrees: “That’s what good comedy does, right? Especially female comedy. It takes something that already exists and subverts it and gets the female perspective out there.”

    And in the vein of getting things “out there,” the showcase seeks to draw Yale’s female comics out as well, into the spotlight. This is what Kwartler is talking about, when she says: “I don’t know what’s going to happen in our set, but I know that we’ll be up there saying, ‘Hey, we’re here.’ And that’s really cool.”

  6. PUSHING THE PALETTE KNIFE: Wish I Could Be Part of Your World

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    I walked into the Brooklyn Museum Saturday afternoon with high expectations. Currently on display there is the first survey show of Brooklyn-based artist Wangechi Mutu ART ’00. I had heard from several friends that it was “fantastic,” and “really changed perspectives.” A fan of Mutu’s work, I was excited to see the evolution of her ideas and collage techniques over such a comprehensive time span. Instead, I found myself overwhelmed by the space, unable to settle my eye on one specific piece.

    Mutu was born in Kenya and moved to New York in the 1990s, receiving her MFA from Yale. The exhibit, called “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey,” features 50 pieces from 1995 to the present, including sculptural installations, large-scale collages, video works, small-scale sketches and a site-specific wall collage. The exhibition’s namesake is a 1970s NBC series chronicling the adventures of a family trapped on an uncharted island. Trevor Schoonmaker, curator of contemporary art at the Nasher Museum at Duke University, created the show for his home museum.

    The artist is most well known for her massive, cryptic collages of cyborg-like figures, which are somewhere between woman, machine and monster. Her work focuses on issues of gender, racial relations, war, consumerism and colonialism. Much of her process is devoted to carefully choosing and cutting out images from nature, political, fashion and pornography magazines. I expected to find a traceable development of style — a narrative to follow — but was disappointed by the exhibit’s lack of guidance. The works were hung close together: Rather than putting them into conversation with each other, this staging caused one piece to eclipse the other. It was impossible to focus on one work for very long without being distracted by its neighbor.

    Mutu’s work is emotionally charged, and as a woman of many passions, her influences are scattered. Yet the very aim of her art seems to be finding unity in fragmentation. Her work is multimedia and she beautifully creates one figure out of a plethora of materials including watercolor, tape, animal heads, contact paper and magazine cutouts among others. Primarily a collage artist, she is attuned to the subtlety needed to join many forms into a cohesive whole. Yet, “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” failed to mirror her unified aesthetic. Perhaps by nature of it being a survey show rather than a focused exhibit, or perhaps because of the Brooklyn Museum’s characteristically impractical use of space, I could not locate a narrative.

    However, though there was no real story, the show did transport viewers into the mythical world of the artist’s creatures. Mutu’s site-specific installation of large felt tree trunks gives visitors the sense that they are winding through a mysterious forest whose contents oscillate between the natural and the manufactured. One room is occupied by Mutu’s 2008 sculpture “Suspended Play Time,” a series of black spheres made of trash bags wrapped around packing blankets and suspended at different levels from gold string. Through the throng, one can make out the playful and plant-like collages — the natural setting — of “Funkalicious Fruit Field” and “A’gave You.” Mutu leaves me wondering: are these trash bags the former liners of what she calls “receptacles of cultural consumerism,” or are they vines in a forest? I don’t know — and I don’t think she forces me to decide.

    The show also succeeds in what Mutu identified as her artistic goal in a video interview: “to keep the figure, the story of female, in the center; to keep discussing and talking about women as active, as protagonists.” She went on to say that she did not want women to be marginalized. In the show, the female body is certainly not: instead, it overtakes nearly every wall space. The imposing wall art, “Once upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies began to fear her The End,” is the first piece of the show, standing almost as a protective barrier between the visitor and Mutu’s mythical land. The subject of this piece, Mutu explained in the video, is triumphantly evading robotic, demon-like creatures. Her escape is successful primarily because she has said that she is no longer afraid. It is also fitting that she is the first work of the exhibit because she serves as a guide. Her coyote head is both a testament to her power and an allusion to border “coyotes,” individuals who illegally transport people from one side of a border to another.

    Mutu has said of her work, “If you make something, you actually bring it to life.” She has enlivened her imaginary cyborgs and placed them in their accompanying mystical realm. I just wish I had felt more a part of that world than an alien, directionless visitor. But maybe that was the point.

  7. The Female “I”

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    In her memoir “I Love Dick,” Chris Kraus writes that young women who wish to be taken seriously do not use the first person. I do not use the first person. The first person is immediate and raw and I’ve never even liked the look of it. The uppercase “I” is too tall and the uppercase “I” demands an honesty I cannot provide.

    A woman who writes about herself is easy to dismiss and even easier to diagnose. Her talent is incidental, secondary, irrelevant. It’s just a symptom of psychosis, they say. We rarely separate the woman from her “I”, I think, and when we read her pieces we cut through form and go straight for the content. We pathologize. The woman isn’t a writer — she is a woman writing. She’s building castles and moats and armies with words. She’s crazy and she’s scared. Readers demolish her castles and wade through her moats and slaughter her armies! Prescribe a few pills, the writing might stop. No one wants another Sylvia Plath.

    In high school, I thought I would act for a living. I’m 19 now, and know that I won’t be able to — but I remember the rehearsals, the costumes and the stink of sweat. I remember the advice our director gave. She cared a lot about body language. On stage, we hovered near chairs and took faltering steps, and the ambivalence drove her mad. “It just looks so awkward!” she’d exclaim. “When you’re on stage, you’re always standing near a couch or a stool. You look like you’re playing musical chairs or something, like you’d better have a place to sit when the music goes off or the lights go out. Don’t do that. The audience gets uncomfortable. The audience wants you to either sit down or get up, but don’t stand with the backs of your knees against the seat.” I often feel as though I never learned to choose, as though the backs of my knees are still up against a seat. I can neither sit down nor walk away: I squat somewhere between fiction and nonfiction.

    And so I write in the third person mostly. I fashion ciphers with names like Anna and Clara and Sue, each one sad and plain and shy. I am a young woman who wants to be taken seriously — please do not tell me how to be.

    I spent a lot of time with my old English teacher this summer. We walked around the park and talked about Woody Allen. She wanted to discuss women in the modern age, and so I said a few cautious things about blind sex and self-hate. She blushed and stammered. She confessed that she’d only just discovered the Brazilian wax, and the idea was appalling. “Porn is the problem,” she said, and I smiled. Clara and Anna and Sue would have smiled, too.

    We also talked about a story I’d only just finished, a short piece about a girl named Bess. Bess has trouble with the male gaze. Bess thinks about the men who’ve “wanted to undress her.” Bess might be me. I let my teacher edit until the story was tight and spare. But my teacher is good friends with my mother, who heard I was writing again and said: “Jane, I love your work. Could you send me the story?” I sent her the story, and the next day we drank coffee and I left California. We never spoke of it again.

    That Sunday, the Sunday before classes began, my sister came up to visit. She took the MetroNorth from Grand Central, and we got pizza and beer and talked about her plans and her new apartment. Mom had called Kat a few days ago. She wanted to talk about me. “I don’t think Jane’s having fulfilling, consensual relations with guys, pumpkin. I read that thing she wrote and just felt so sad, you know? I wanted to tell her right then and there that she doesn’t have to go down on anyone. D’you think she’ll figure it out?”

    Even though the story contained no trace of that tricky, female “I,” my mother read each “Bess” as if it were Jane. Perhaps mothers will always find clues to our secret lives in curious places. Perhaps she’ll continue to collect fragments, cobbling together an intricate, imperfect idea of my life from emails and essays.

    But I am a young woman who wants to be taken seriously. And in “I Love Dick,” Chris Kraus writes with an “I.” She rolls around in her feelings like a pig in a mud bath. But the feelings aren’t messy or dirty when you’re as discerning as Kraus, Kraus who reappropriates the language of lit crit to examine and legitimize her own fixation. (She’s fallen in love with Dick Hebdige, a popular sociologist.) Kraus subverts a feminine trope with masculine rhetoric. But still I fear that my own “I” is trite. I am not Chris Kraus. I write with small words in small rooms, and I am only brave enough in the briefest of moments.

  8. An Activist Comes Home

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    “No means yes, yes means anal.”

    By now, the words seem to be engraved in the collective memory of the Yale student body. In October 2010, Delta Kappa Epsilon pledges chanted this line, over and over again, on Old Campus. A swath of Yalies and administrators reacted in swift fashion — angry op-eds, school-wide emails and public forums flooded the campus. The feminist campus publication Broad Recognition considered the DKE incident “the last straw” in a series of public sexual misconduct episodes.

    For students such as Alexandra Brodsky ’12 LAW ’16, enough was enough.

    “The administration just sort of said, ‘Let’s have a conversation!’” she said in a interview, regarding the dissatisfying administrative response to the DKE chants. In the spring of 2011, she, along with 15 students and alumni, filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

    The complainants argued that Yale was fostering a hostile sexual environment; the administration’s ineffective response to similar previous incidents and muddled grievance procedures, they said, contributed to the situation. Events such as these had fueled Brodsky’s activism since joining Yale as a freshman — and the Title IX incident, she said, could be seen as a turning point.

    “Too often the story about the Title IX complaint is that it was all about DKE,” Brodsky said. “That’s absolutely not true.”

    And now, after a difficult relationship with her alma mater, she has returned this fall as a student at Yale Law School. After experiencing sexual harassment firsthand at Yale, she has increasingly felt the obligation to address feminist issues — on this campus and beyond. Despite her issues with the University, Brodsky’s brand of feminism has been inextricably shaped by her time at Yale.

    * * *

    When asked about her background in social justice work, Brodsky chuckled.

    “I wish I had a story to tell you,” she said. “Something like ‘I grew up in an incredibly radical family.’”

    Brodsky went on to list some of her early exposure to matters of social justice — “nothing super significant,” she recalled. For a time she was involved in her synagogue, organizing around the Darfur genocide. On another occasion, her aunt took her to a pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C.

    Yet what Brodsky may dismiss as insignificant amounted to an early guiding outlook.

    “The little bit of exposure — not a ton — that I got as a teenager struck me that there are things you could do to make the world better and therefore you should do them. In my mind it made sense,” she said. “In high school I understood the work I wanted to do as ‘public service,’ which I think is related to but distinct from my current activism … It was a model of charity more than social justice, generosity rather than empowerment.”

    She continued, “I had the privilege of understanding oppression as something that happened elsewhere and to other people, and concluded that if I could help them, I should.”

    Her logical motivation for early charity work would become complicated as she became “a real person in the real world” — a Yale student. That is, instead of reading about social injustice, it became personal and salient.

    * * *

    Before Title IX “became a personally urgent matter,” Brodsky was more frustrated with the constant instances of sexual discrimination she experienced from her peers. She has written in a previous op-ed for the News about being rejected from study groups because of her sex.

    But during the Title IX saga, Brodsky never revealed she was a survivor. In her freshman year, one of her peers attempted to rape her. During her entire undergraduate career, that experience was not something she felt safe disclosing on a campus that she shared with her attacker.

    In this respect, the Title IX complaint was much more personal to Brodsky than some might have expected.

    “You don’t have to be a survivor to recognize that there is a problem,” she said. “But there is a sense of urgency when you’ve had this experience.”

    The DKE chants only fueled her anger further. As she put it, students have hoped for many years to work with the administration to improve how Yale addresses sexual misconduct. Seeing that internal change was not going to happen, Brodsky and the other complainants looked into legal options.

    “[We were] unified by the belief that the University’s administration was inadequately responding to instances of sexual violence and harassment on campus,” said Joseph Breen ’12, one of the 16 complainants.

    Under the spotlight of a federal investigation, a series of administrative decisions took place soon after. Even before Breen and Brodsky graduated from Yale, the University centralized all grievance processes through the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and created the Communication and Consent Educators program, among other services. It seemed that the longstanding battle against sexual misconduct was finally beginning to pick up steam.

    “After the complaint, campus began to treat sexual violence more seriously,” Breen said. “The University realized it had to do a better job of making the campus safe, and so the administration began to make changes.”

    * * *

    Since graduating from Yale, Brodsky has kept herself busy.

    She co-directs Know Your IX, or KYIX, a nationwide campaign that seeks to educate students about their Title IX rights. This summer, she worked at Planned Parenthood on a fellowship and at the Harvard Law School in their gender violence program. She is currently involved with Ed Act Now, a coalition of students and graduates working against sexual violence on colleges and universities. In July, the group rallied outside of the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. to gather signatures for their petition demanding that the federal government hold institutions legally accountable for their obligations under Title IX.

    Now Brodsky is back on campus, starting anew in the same place that compelled her feminist activism. (She is no stranger to the Yale Law School: she was fully introduced to the inner workings of Title IX in a law school class, “Sexual Rights,” in the fall of 2010.)

    “I have no doubt wherever [Brodsky] finds herself, she’s going to be working from inside the institution that she wants to make more fair, more just,” said Crystal Feimster, assistant professor of American Studies & African American Studies and Brodsky’s mentor in her senior year.

    At the law school, Brodsky plans to study prison alternatives and feminist legal theory. “I think that there’s a lot I can learn from the law school about how to challenge institutions like Yale,” she said.

    Current activists acknowledge positive additions to campus in the wake of the Title IX complaint. Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale (SASVY) is a student group founded in response to the Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct released this summer. The group, which published an open letter to Yale with Brodsky’s help, offers educational materials to help victims report sexual crimes. Since SASVY’s debut, administrators have issued a response to the open letter and agreed to meet with the student organizers to further discuss their concerns.

    “We aren’t starting anything new,” said Emma Goldberg ’16, one of the founding members of SASVY. “There are so many students who really paved a path for activism.”

    Brodsky said she is letting the “most affected constituency” lead the on-the-ground efforts to combat sexual misconduct on campus, and she is hoping to be a source of institutional memory for future activism.

    In other words, she said, “I’m hoping to be helpful.”


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    Here are the facts:

    #springbreak2013 is over.

    I am a senior.

    I am single.

    I consider myself a feminist.

    And sometimes I consider myself a SWUG.

    Is that who I want to be?


    “I’m KiKi!” she says to me conspiratorially.


    “I’m introducing myself as KiKi, and I’m a freshman. Just go with it.”

    I laugh, and consider my classmate in front of me, decked out in tiny American-flag-print shorts, neon athletic shoes and a Yale sweatshirt. I can’t help but notice that her legs are really, really long.

    It’s a bit after 2 p.m. on a blustery, blue-skied autumn Saturday in New Haven. We’re in the backyard of the house of a sports team, surrounded by a couple dozen of Yale’s finest male specimens. Currently, they’re all wearing slim-fitting slacks and tweed sports-coats while drinking champagne out of clear plastic cups. Eighty more bottles of champagne are chilling in ice-filled metal buckets. A freshman on the team is passing around a wooden tray of cheese and crackers. It’s college, but it’s classy, except for the Top 40 music pumping out of the speakers.

    And, it has to be said, except for “KiKi.”

    “KiKi” isn’t a freshman, even if that’s how she’s introducing herself to the cute new Aussies on the team. She doesn’t care what these young men think of her. Besides, they wouldn’t kick her out — she’s friends with the guys that matter. So unlike the dozen 18-year-old girls present in their pastel party dresses, high heels and hats, KiKi — who clocks in at the ripe old age of 22 — came straight from the gym. To hell with the dress code.

    KiKi’s real name is Chloe Drimal ’13. She’s a Yale senior. And she calls herself a Senior Washed-Up Girl: a SWUG.

    Unlike Chloe, I followed the rules and dressed up.

    Like Chloe, I chat with the guys I know and use my seniority to cut the line for fresh-grilled sausages. But that’s about all either of us are getting.

    Just by virtue of my age and the fact that I’m at this party drinking cheap champagne before cocktail hour, I, too, am a SWUG. Wish I had a freshman alter ego.


    Back in August, journalist Hanna Rosin wrote a story for The Atlantic entitled “Boys on the Side.” Searching to recast the hookup culture of college campuses in a positive, feminist light, Rosin included interviews with some Yale women because she thought we were emblematic of the “modern” type of highly educated woman: the one who wants it all. Today, we want both casual sex and academic success; someday, we’ll want a happy family and a high-powered career. “Feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture,” Rosin writes. “And to a surprising degree, it is women — not men — who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind.”

    Rosin continues: “One sorority girl … whom I’ll call Tali, told me that freshman year she, like many of her peers, was high on her first taste of the hookup culture and didn’t want a boyfriend. ‘It was empowering, to have that kind of control,’ she recalls.”

    That’s me — Tali.

    The previous year, Rosin, a friend and I plopped down on a patch of grass in the Law School’s courtyard to make sense of what was going on at Yale with women, relationships and sex. That conversation become fodder for Rosin’s trend piece.

    We all know that college is as much about self-discovery as it is about academia. Bring together 1,000 high-strung young adults. Add the pungent kick-starter of alcohol, splash on some loud music, stick these bodies together in a dark room. Stir.

    When I was a freshman, I took full advantage of that scene: I certainly thought there were plenty of fish in the college sea. Plus, all the attention was fun. Then, like many of my friends and peers, I slowly realized that “fun” wasn’t enough for me.

    “Sometime during sophomore year, her feelings changed,” Rosin writes of Tali. “She got tired of relation-ships that just faded away, ‘no end, no beginning.’ … When I asked Tali what she really wanted, she didn’t say anything about commitment or marriage or a return to a more chivalrous age. ‘Some guy to ask me out on a date to the frozen–yogurt place,’ she said. That’s it. A $3 date.”

    I’m 21 now; to be honest, I’d prefer to be taken out for a drink. But I — along with most of the women I spend time with, and many men here too — am farther from getting asked out on that drink than I was four years ago, when it wouldn’t have even been legal.

    You could say that being a SWUG has something to do with it.

    The Rosin narrative suggests that feminism exists most progressively and positively when women just stop caring about having serious relationships with men. At Yale, where success is more highly valued than probably anything else — where ambition is a given, achievement an expectation and hard work a mantra — participation in the hookup culture might be a way of liberating oneself from the constraints of the traditional boyfriend-girlfriend mumbo-jumbo. Not caring is a form of empowerment, one that we use more and more often.

    And a SWUG — a female Yalie defined by a “don’t-give-a-fuck” or “DGAF” attitude — should be the modern young feminist ideal.

    But for SWUGs like Chloe and I, that’s not quite how it pans out. Whatever empowerment we’re supposed to be deriving from this version of the feminist moment is looking pretty thin on the ground. Another Atlantic piece, published just a few weeks ago, pushed back at Rosin’s argument: “I hear young women’s mixed feelings about relationships,” writes sociologist Leslie C. Bell. “Some young women deeply desire meaningful relationships with men, even as they feel guilty about those desires. … To do so feels like a betrayal of themselves, of their education and of their achievements.”

    It’s confusing to be a young woman right now — especially if you buy into the traditional narrative of American womanhood. Are we supposed to “Lean In” with Sheryl Sandberg or resign ourselves to the fact that “Women Still Can’t Have It All,” per Anne-Marie Slaughter? Even The New York Times is heralding “The End of Courtship,” in a piece my concerned mother emailed to me. I think she wanted me to tell her the Times was wrong — but I realized I couldn’t.

    In a survey I conducted of over 100 Yale students, almost all of the single respondents, ambition be damned, said they were currently seeking a relationship involving dating, commitment or, at the very least, monogamous sex. Basically, the types of relationships which just don’t seem to exist for those of us who are senior ladies, outside of the already-coupled.

    Only 33 percent of the senior women I surveyed said they were currently feeling “very” or “a lot” of empowerment in their sexual choices and decisions.

    Sixty-six percent of that same group of women recalled feeling “very” or “a lot” of empowerment back when they were freshmen.

    My senior year is almost over. I’ll soon go to my last sorority formal, my last frat party, my last night at Toad’s. And at the end of those nights I’ll probably be resigned to going home vaguely dissatisfied and very alone — except, of course, for the company of my sympathetic suitemates. When it comes to my love life, I’ll be leaving Yale in not so much a blaze of glory as a blur of disappointment.

    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.”


    The SWUG phenomenon isn’t new. We all see it coming. I came back to campus this fall ready to wear my SWUG status proudly: Now, I too could be one of “those” senior girls who seemed to live with such expansive abandon. And yet. Guys rolled their eyes. “SWUG nation” didn’t seem to quite represent me. As my friends and I hashtagged our tweets “#swug4lyfe,” were we just celebrating the carefree side of seniority? Or were we actually signing on to a self-fulfilling prophecy tied to something a little more sinister?

    When Chloe published an op-ed headlined “Profile of a SWUG” back in September, she threw caution to the fickle winds of the Internet and described her version of SWUG life to the rest of Yale.

    “I was jealous of them when I was a freshman. They were on a nickname basis with the hottest guys at Yale and danced at the bar of DKE with their shirts off. But looking back on it, I realize the boys were trying to get with the freshmen, not the SWUGs,” Chloe wrote. “She is the last one at every party, because hey — who is she going home with? … She doesn’t give a hoot. She’s single because she wants to be; her daddy told her there’s more fish in the sea. She is a SWUG, and SWUG life is pretty awesome.”

    Online commenters were vicious, calling Chloe silly, shallow and self-hating. The article was sent around on email lists like wildfire. Suddenly, it seemed, Chloe had publicized the SWUG idea and made it into a campus meme. She even set up her own website: swugdiaries.com, a home for anonymous swug confessions.

    Four days later, another senior girl, Michelle Taylor ’13, published her own News piece about the meaning of SWUG. In it, she attempted to broaden the definition — to show how it could apply to more than just the inebriated and the fraternity-frequenting.

    “I don’t like that it continues to be defined by relationships to men at Yale,” she said when I spoke with her later. “If it stays a female term, it has more potential to become derogatory.” By trying to extend it beyond female Yalies, she hoped to break down that bias and to encourage a carpe diem attitude — instead of Chloe’s more aggressively DGAF ethos.

    In the survey I sent out, I asked respondents to define “SWUG” for themselves. The results skewed towards the sexual — and the sexist. “Over the hill. Can’t get any play!” one male respondent wrote. “I feel like it’s an umbrella term for sad senior girls,” said another. The word “pathetic” came up in a number of descriptions and “the village bicycle” was also tossed out. The idea of “not giving a shit” or being “over it” was also popular, as was the image of a senior girl who hooked up with younger guys in a futile attempt at romance. A full 49 percent of respondents said it had negative connotations for them.

    I also asked how students had first heard the word “SWUG.” About a quarter said they had discovered it through Chloe’s article. None mentioned Michelle’s.


    My friend may be a junior, but she sees SWUG existence looming ominously on her horizon — just as I did last year.

    During freshman year, she tells me, she was pleasantly surprised by how little effort she needed to put in to find a guy to hook up with. “Empowered isn’t really the right word, but there was an easiness,” she says.

    We’re both sitting cross-legged on the lofted bed in her room. It’s a mess. Laundry is drying on hanging racks slung up over the doors and windows, and the hardwood floor is barely visible under piles of discarded sweatpants, tank tops, notebooks.

    I ask how she feels about hookup culture now.

    “When you get older, you want something different.” She has yet to find that perfect alternative. She has been using the term “JWUG,” the junior version of SWUG, for a while.

    Hearing our voices, one of her suitemates peeks in through the open door, munching on an Oreo. When she realizes what we’ve been discussing, she makes a face.

    “I would be so happy with myself if I could just feel nothing,” she says. She just wants to not care anymore — to be able to get to some kind of a Zen, SWUG state of mind. But is that even a thing? If that’s what being a SWUG is supposed to be providing me with, I’m not so sure it’s living up to its own reputation. I think back to Hanna Rosin’s thesis of female empowerment through not caring.

    The truth is, I still care. And everyone I know still cares.

    “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. Michelle Taylor wanted us to get past the SWUG-is-a-girl-who-can’t-get-no-love association, but I find myself stuck there.

    Hoping to give my friends some peace of mind, I tell them that SWUG may be a defense mechanism.

    Both nod thoughtfully in dejected agreement.


    Back when Laura Wexler, professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and film studies, was 21, the women of her generation were dealing with a different kind of challenge as they approached graduation.

    “There would have been a marriage panic,” Wexler says. “You were in college to get an MRS degree. By the time you were a sophomore if you didn’t have a big ring…” she trails off. “There’s been something all the time. It just is.”

    I’ve sought her out to discuss whether my and my friends’ experiences have any kind of parallel with those of young women before us. I lean closer to hear her over the coffee grinder at Starbucks — Wexler doesn’t raise her voice.

    “Is it normal to peak and then come down?” I ask her. “So, women sort of decline as they age, whereas men — ”

    “As you age?” she interjects. “What are you talking about? You’re 22, 23? That’s really a body blow. … Who would accept that script? What a terrible — you get initiated into that as a freshperson, you don’t know what it’s going to mean, then this comes back to you later, and you’re trapped in it.

    “I would reject that, myself.”

    I have to agree with Wexler. Suddenly the whole thing — the combination of the gendered term SWUG with a carefree, liberated approach to senior year — feels weirdly anti-productive, patriarchal, problematic. Wexler has activated the anthropology major in me, reminding me of something deeper, more unsettling: Words and names have power and resonance. They perpetuate cultural narratives and associations that we either play along with or reject. We may try to reappropriate a term, but that’s much easier said than done.

    “You want to call yourself SWUG?” Wexler asks me, audibly cringing. “It feels to me like cutting. Like you’re cutting yourself. But maybe it expresses something. I wouldn’t say don’t, I would never say don’t. But then, you have to think about what it is.”

    HOW TO BE A SWUG 101

    I don’t really know how I end up sitting in a banquette in the back room of Viva’s, alongside Chloe Drimal and two senior guys as we face a room of a few dozen other seniors, mostly women. Chloe and I keep making passes at the nachos set in front of us; they’re quickly disappearing.

    The four of us are panelists for an event entitled “SWUGLIFE: A Colloquium.” We joke that we need margaritas before we get started, but we make do with a pitcher of water.

    The “Colloquium” was the brainchild of Natalie Papillion ’13, my suitemate and one of 40 communication and consent educators (CCEs) selected by Yale administrators and trained to improve the sexual climate on campus through open dialogue. Natalie had earlier emailed Chloe’s column out to the other CCEs and their directors, which sparked interest in discussing the term further in a public space.

    Then she asked me if I would be a panelist, knowing that I could be counted on to wax poetic about the meaningful side of SWUGdom.

    I said yes.

    So here we are at Viva’s. I avoid the audience’s gaze. What can I possibly tell my peers that they don’t already know? This event is about taking back SWUG and turning it into a positive. We’re trying to make SWUGlife be associated with FUNlife (gender-neutral, all-inclusive). Let’s go, reappropriation. Is that something I can do?

    We start with the basics: what a SWUG drinks (“Tequila and ginger ale,” says Chloe), a SWUG’s favorite late-night food spot (“Ivy Noodle for the dumplings,” I supply), a typical Saturday night for SWUGs (local bars, frats and being alone in our beds figure heavily in the responses). Our audience titters. The CCEs try to steer the panel in a more serious direction, asking what the negative associations with SWUGdom might be.

    “That we’re desperate, washed-up, boring,” I answer. “But it’s important to find the positive things.” I mention that it frees us up to care less about what others think of us, and allows us to spend our time doing what matters more to each of us individually.

    Afterwards, though, I wonder if I’ve been completely honest. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Aren’t those positive things just natural byproducts of the confidence and self-knowledge that should come with age and experience? What about Wexler’s point about the harm we might be doing ourselves?

    Later, I ask Natalie how she felt about the discussion. “SWUG is a term that could be so pejorative, but at Yale, certain communities and groups are working to change that,” she says. I push her further, wanting to know if she thinks Yale women have actually succeeded in appropriating the word in a positive way. “I’m biased, but I do,” she answers. “Labels are problematic, but that being said, the way we communicate has changed so radically for our generation. … Turning these ideas into phrases makes it easier and more lighthearted.” By giving the sentiment a label, we’ve created a sense of camaraderie — and that’s a good thing, in Natalie’s opinion.

    As a CCE, Natalie has spent more time than most thinking about problems of hookup culture and gender dynamics on campus. And of course, she too is a senior girl. For her, SWUG life is both theory and reality.

    “Do you consider yourself a SWUG?” I tease. She arches an eyebrow.

    “Have you looked it up in the dictionary? Didn’t you see my picture?” she shoots back.


    “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.

    I’m at lunch with an athlete friend and two of his teammates. I had hoped they’d provide some male perspective on SWUG.

    Now, I almost wish they hadn’t.

    “Have you heard of the X-graph of desirability?” I ask, crossing my arms in an X-shape to illustrate the popular theory I outlined for Wexler. As boys age, their desirability rises; as girls age, theirs goes down. “Is that a thing?”

    “Yes,” both boys agree. “Spring semester senior year, it’s a fire sale,” my friend says. I groan. “That’s the whole thing — guys don’t get SWUG,” he adds. “Girls are the problem. They all go for older men.” And according to him, the senior girls, the SWUGs themselves, lower their standards to accommodate their newly limited pool of options. So it’s a win-win for the guys.

    A few hours later, I run into another senior guy friend in the library. Standing in Bass Cafe, I start questioning him. He doesn’t really think this whole SWUG thing has anything to do with him or guys like him.

    “It’s a way for girls to draw attention to themselves,” he says, referencing Chloe’s column. “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.”

    Yes, but it actually is hard out here for a SWUG, isn’t it? It’s not all in my head, is it?

    “Sure, the sexual marketplace gets more competitive. Girls yearn for that youthfulness.” He sees the whole SWUG idea as something of a “cop out” — a way for senior girls who are frustrated to blame some vague societal force of evil. I mention that it can feel like a trap, living this so-called SWUG life where I’m not supposed to care, so I can’t care, and nobody thinks I should get to care.

    “Trapped by SWUG? That’s ridiculous,” he says. I frown, trying to figure out if he’s right.

    Responding to my survey on sexual experiences and conceptions of SWUG, 78 percent of men said they wouldn’t have a problem hooking up with a girl who considers herself, or is considered by others, to be a SWUG. Still, 22 percent said no. Their reasons?

    “Anyone who would self-identify as ‘washed up’ probably wouldn’t be my cup of tea,” said one.

    “Unattractive,” said another.

    “Because my friends would make fun of me,” noted a third.

    And then: “I prefer women who respect themselves.”

    I like to think that I respect myself. Yet this whole SWUG thing is starting to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Can I call myself a SWUG if I want to be treated as something more?


    I’ve never met Olivia Milch ’11. But I email her anyway. I hear she was at the vanguard of bringing the word SWUG into vogue at Yale, and I want to know where exactly it came from. She responds with a lengthy message.

    “What I can say is that the term, for us at least, was about a certain attitude toward life in our senior year,” Olivia wrote in her email. “SWUG is about female camaraderie.” She mentions that it had a positive, friendship-oriented ring to it for her group of friends. That sounds a lot like what Natalie and Michelle want it to mean. Like what I would like it to mean. A kind of feminist banding-together, a recognition of friendship and solidarity. I think back to Wexler’s comment about the “marriage panic” of decades past. Is SWUG-ness a response to that — a way to deal with biological insecurities and to rebel against society’s traditional expectations of women? A fuck-‘em-all, let’s-do-what-matters-to-us kind of attitude that has nothing to do with the images of lackluster sex and desperate partying that it’s grown to encompass?

    I wish. Maybe it was that way once. But right now, 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.

    * * *

    Dinner is spaghetti with red sauce, an arugula salad and a magnum bottle of cheap white wine. We are six young women in mismatched chairs at a kitchen table in an off-campus apartment, Taylor Swift playing in the background on tinny iPod speakers. We are all, by most definitions, SWUGs: single, given to heavy drinking on occasion, willing to wear sweatpants to the library.

    For two blissful hours, we talk endlessly about how much we do care. About the people in our lives. About the things we are doing and will go on to do. About being respected. About becoming empowered. About learning to love and be loved by significant others — and each other.

    We are not any old SWUGs, I decide as I carry empty wine glasses to the sink. And we do want it all — equality and individuality, power and humor. If we label ourselves, it’s only because the language has yet to catch up. As the generations of women before us did, we’ll make sure it does.

    Go to www.yaledailynews.com next Friday for a series of exclusive ‘WEEKEND for YTV’ interviews with the author and some of Yale’s other finest SWUGS.