The combined number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis reached an all-time high in 2015, with young adults accounting for most cases of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s annual report on sexually transmitted diseases, which came out earlier this month, found that people ages 15 to 25 accounted for one-half of all gonorrhea cases last year and two-thirds of all chlamydia cases. And while Yale Health officials continue to make STD prevention a top priority, national STD diagnoses continue to rise.
Andrew Gotlin, chief of student health and athletic medicine at Yale Health, said he could not release the number of STD diagnoses at Yale in 2015 due to confidentiality stipulations. However, he did confirm that Yale Student Health was aware of the CDC’s report.
“My impression is that we as a country are not doing as good a job at prevention as we should and could,” Gotlin said. “Given this rise, we need a strong message that screening and testing is necessary for preventing [sexually transmitted infections].”
Still, Gotlin said that Yale Student Health will not change its STD awareness and treatment practices in response to the report.
David Roth, chief of Yale Health’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, said that although his department does not collect the statistics of STD cases in the Yale student population, he has not observed a rise in STD diagnoses in the department’s female patients this year. He also confirmed that aside from human papillomavirus, chlamydia was the most common STD he observed among members of the Yale community. While Yale has not experienced an apparent rise in STD rates in line with national trends, Roth said that his department is always looking for ways to help STD prevention.
“We already know this is a really important topic for us to address, so we are doing a lot for prevention and screening,” Gotlin added.
But while Yale’s resources are abundant, Roth acknowledged that outside Yale, STDs are more prevalent in underserved areas where state and local governments are often cutting funding for health clinics. The CDC’s report made a similar claim, attributing the significant increase in STDs in part to budget cuts for more than half of state and local STD programs nationwide.
“Luckily, that’s not an issue at Yale for us,” Roth said.
Roth said it is often difficult to determine whether students are not coming for routine checkups because they seek medical care at home, or because they are simply avoiding seeing the gynecologist entirely. He added that when students do see a Yale Health gynecologist, Yale doctors screen for chlamydia and gonorrhea, which are the most common STDs among young adults.
In recent years, Yale Student Health has developed a sexual health initiative involving STD “screening parties,” to encourage Yale students to get tested. Every semester, Yale Health partners with organizations across the Yale community to host a mass screening event at the Yale Health Lab. Pizza and games are provided to students while they wait to get tested. This initiative allows students to get a full and comprehensive STD testing with blood and urine samples without the hassle of scheduling an appointment at Yale Health.
“[The STD screening parties have] been really, really successful because we partnered with various student groups to make sure that students feel they have some ownership of this and we really want them to be involved,” said Tracy George GRD ’15, a Yale student-wellness health educator.
George also helps plan the annual Valentine’s Day “Sex and Chocolate” event for graduate and professional students. The event, which features chocolate desserts and drinks, allows students to anonymously submit sexual health questions via text message. The questions are then projected onto a large screen with both the questions and the answers from Yale health professionals. This program is meant to facilitate conversation and education about sexual health issues such as STD transmission and pregnancy in a fun and safe environment, George said.
“With programs like the [Community and Consent Educators] … the conservations around sexual health are really ramping up and there’s much more access to safe sex supplies, so I feel really good about what we’re doing here and love how much we’re partnering with students rather than it just being a top down kind of program,” George said.
George’s office works with the Office of Gender and Campus Culture, the CCEs, the Yale College Dean’s Office and the Freshman Counselors to distribute all the condoms, lubrication, internal condoms and dental dams throughout Yale’s campus.
“It looks different at different universities but we’re one of the universities that actually offers all of these supplies for free. Luckily, we do have a good portion of our budget set aside for these medical supplies so that students can get any sort of supplies they need,” George said.
STD tests at Yale Health are free to all Yale students, even those who have waived the Yale Health Hospitalization/Specialty Care Coverage.
Where are there millers and plowmen? Or rather, when were there millers and plowmen? Did villages like the one in the play exist in the American South in the 17th or 18th century? I don’t think it matters at all — I think “Knives in Hens” is set in a kind of primordial human community. This play, I think, is mythic, and maybe symbolic. If I were a theater historian the “isms” would flow. We’ll try this: It was effective.
I’m writing this review ten minutes after the play’s finish, and I’m still carrying an emotional charge, the kind which a newspaper review is not the ideal conduit for transmitting.
Three characters. A white strip six feet wide, the length of the Yale Cabaret. A white bed on either side, in front of the silhouette of a white farmhouse. One woman — whose character is named “Young Woman,” but who is only ever called “Woman”(Elizabeth Stahlmann DRA ’17) — starts in one bed and ends in the other. One belongs to her, or her husband, Pony William, a plowman (Niall Powderly DRA ’16). He is rough in his looks and his demeanor, wears a tight-fitting linen shirt that reveals most of his hairy chest. These are his work clothes, and his work seems to involve horse-care more than anything else.
He often cups Young Woman’s face and neck; it’s a firm embrace, or if not that, a chokehold, and he kisses her often, spanks her, grabs her, smirks. They like to have sex; indeed, there’s not much else for her to do, childless and jobless as she is. They fear God. They hate the miller (Paul Cooper DRA ’16) to whom they must give their harvested wheat; he is rumored to have killed his wife and child. They are simple, libidinous, agricultural. She is ravishingly beautiful. Her face stretches, her brow furrows, with the most compelling urgency.
This is a play about language, and knowledge. Writing. Permanence. Interior worlds being called forth, named, communicated. This is a play about murder, and agency, and gender.
Do I seem overwhelmed?
Plot — more of it. Young Woman is tasked with delivering the wheat to the miller, who is an itinerant worker – he travels between towns, performing his specialist service. He is creepy, but not necessarily more so than her husband. He wears an apron over an undershirt; his pectoral muscles curve out from the sides. He is lanky, has wild blue eyes, gruff in the same way as William, less predictable, smarter. His and Woman’s first meeting is tense — she refuses to enter his house, she tells him he has evil breath, the prospect of rape is imminently real. He ridicules her husband. He ridicules her.
Their second meeting is different: He shows her his pen — a “useless stick” a traveling musician sold to him at the market. She condemns the pen as irreligious — “It’s a devil stick you made” — but then shifts to defense. “Look how much of me there is,” he says, gesturing to his notebook before accusing her of illiteracy. She proves him wrong by writing her name.
On Young Woman’s way between houses, a microphone drops from the ceiling, hanging in the air by a cord, and she speaks into it — to herself, to the audience, to God, or something — searching for the words to describe God’s creation before the microphone is unceremoniously retracted into the ceiling. The thoughts that she learns to articulate in these fleeting performances she tries to express to her plowman husband, who fails to understand, condemns her ideas as irreligious, becomes almost violently aggressive; they have sex. This is the vague trajectory of their conversations.
Everything is white — clothes, ground, bed, skin, house, but not the ink. Young Woman tries, after the name-writing episode, to rid her hands of ink before returning to her husband. But a charm has been cast — she is under the power of something new, and complicated, and dark — and she’s tormented by nightmares of the miller sprinkling black powder throughout her home. Her world’s whiteness is tainted.
She goes to his house to try to reverse the ink-charm, but two things happen: She kisses him, and she falls into a night-long trance of writing. In the morning she discovers what she has written and delivers an epic soliloquy, declaring, “This town has lied. William has lied.” Her pilgrimage toward self-knowledge has begun in earnest.
Things get harder to follow toward the end — there is a rock-pushing ceremony, somehow a rite of passage for the newlyweds. She faints afterwards, in the presence of both men. The plowman espouses his theology — he suspects that God’s glory is not God, as he’s learned in church, but Creation. He proposes that Young Woman’s body parts have been named inadequately, that their beauty makes language futile, that Young Woman seems to him to reveal the glory of God.
It’s a moment of clarity for William — an insightful heresy, that sex and the body are the true sites of revelation. But it must be too late, because Young Woman and the miller kill William, rolling the wedding-rock over him as he urinates outside. The sex they have afterwards constitutes their new shared identity, their awakenedness.
Does literacy compel people to kill their spouses? It’s as if the knowledge the two have tapped into breaks their old faith — in the town’s traditions, in the humble finitude of an unhappy small-town marriage. Tellingly, the miller lives outside of the village; his and the Young Woman’s knowledge turns them into wanderers, outsiders.
Much is made of language, and of names. Once something has a name, the miller says, it has a use. Maybe YOung Woman’s important realization is about her name: that her being called “Woman” is not unrelated to the terribly small sphere of possibility in which she lives, and has sex, and carries bags of flour. Is this the story of her liberation? Is it a retelling of Genesis? A monograph on the terrible power of autonomy?
“Knives in Hens,” written by David Harrower and directed by Jesse Rasmussen DRA ’17, presents its conflict physically: Young Woman is pulled between two poles — white, pastoral, brute simplicity and the inky moral uncertainty of interiority and the written word. I’ve spoiled the ending, but I haven’t done the play itself justice — the wide net this review cast missed plenty of exciting details, not to mention the feeling of watching it. “Knives” runs tonight and Saturday night at the Yale Cabaret.
College is widely understood to broaden one’s sexual horizons. For many students at elite universities, high school was a whirlwind of books and extracurricular activities — not a time for the languid afternoons and audacity conducive to sex. At college, it won’t necessarily be dispensed to all, but a comfortable majority will enjoy the spoils at last.
Some college students do end up having lots of sex: at parties, in libraries, on Sundays when others are finishing their essays. But a significant number don’t. Either they have no sex at all or they have some, though not nearly as much as they’d like. The former category often includes people who purposefully forgo sex for personal, cultural or religious reasons; fair enough. But what about those who get to college happily anticipating some sort of four-year orgy, and end up realizing halfway through that their experiences haven’t lived up to the hype?
I did my undergraduate work at Cambridge in the UK, where sex was in the air but seldom between the sheets. You were constantly aware that people were having sex, and regularly, but it just didn’t seem to happen to many people you knew. A few people did the heavy lifting for the rest, having sex three or four times a week and tossing bawdy anecdotes to their sex-starved friends. Everyone would pretend to find these stories unappetizing, but in reality we would delightedly return to them for weeks.
It wasn’t that my Cambridge friends and I didn’t want to have sex; we all did, male or female. It was more that we were cowed at every juncture by feelings of paralyzing awkwardness. How to get from hanging out with a boy or girl in a classroom, to actually having sex with them? How to stop talking to one’s partner at the end of a date, in order to lean in and kiss his or her previously articulate mouth? How to phase banter out of interactions, to make room for sexual tension? The transition from verbal communication to physical intimacy was — is — a minefield. The luckiest of my peers proved adept at bridging the divide, or were such smooth operators that they saw no divide at all. Yet many preferred to give up the pursuit of sex entirely, in order to live the quiet life, unperturbed by rejection and end-of-date key-fiddling. It was easier not to go chasing after sex; for all but the fortunate, the pursuit augured humiliation and uncertainty.
At the heart of the issue, I think, is the hallowed “otherness” of sex. The more it is held up as the great activity we should all be doing, as red-blooded students, the harder it is to actually undertake. They say sex is casual nowadays, and while it is for some, it absolutely is not for most. Asking for it is difficult; dealing with the consequences of it is difficult; knowing whether it was good or bad, once finally done, is also difficult. With sex in the picture, feelings can get hurt, insecurities magnified, friendships tested.
But that isn’t always how it works. Sex can also be a life-affirming and liberating force; it can buoy confidence, not knock it down. Good sex benefits both the mind and the body; it is an efficient way to increase concentration and emotional wellbeing. And I suspect that life would be simpler if we stripped sex of its taboo status — if you could just suggest sex to another person, as nonchalantly as you would ask to borrow their pen: “Hey — do you want to sleep together? If not — cool.”
OK, so maybe it will never be that simple. There are some very good reasons why the social taboo around sex has developed. When we have sex, we expose a side of ourselves that is not brought to the fore when we dance or eat or express our literary preferences. Sex is often at its best when conducted in a familiar environment, with someone you trust and know well. And if the road leading to physical intimacy was entirely smooth, sex might lose its allure, becoming just another humdrum time-passer.
But if social norms loosened up a bit and allowed us to talk about sex more freely, much suffering would be prevented. Think of the time that would be saved — instead of trying to decode text messages and sidelong glances, you would be able to find out swiftly whether physical intimacy with the desired other was a feasible option. We are all aware of what people we find attractive. It seems ludicrous that so much effort has to be funneled into establishing whether they also have feelings of physical attraction for us. So let’s stop being so coy, and start asking — plainly, politely — for sex.
I went to see “50 Shades of Grey” on Valentine’s Day. Some friends and I thought it would be funny to watch such an anti-romantic movie on a day devoted to romance itself. “50 Shades of Grey” was expectedly unremarkable: The dialogue was stilted; the acting, mediocre; the plot, vapid. Perhaps the only saving grace of the movie was its distinct color palette and cinematography.
I was okay with those facts given that I’d come looking for nothing more than entertainment, to laugh uncomfortably at the sex scenes and make snarky comments on the character development. When the movie began, it certainly seemed to fulfill this purpose with stimulating conversations such as, “I want you to make love to me.” “I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard.”
Yet as the movie progressed, I began to find it less funny and take it more seriously. I found myself salivating at the square jawline and pock-marked six-pack of Christian Grey. His forceful rhetoric and arrogant tone became enticing rather than aggravating. Midway through the movie, I realized I had fallen for the man I had vowed to disdain.
If you were to read a quick synopsis of the movie, it would read as a disturbing love story of a meek young woman who falls for an abusive, stalkerish, wealthy young bachelor with a penchant for bondage. From this simple vantage point, this story is anything but appealing.
So what has made this story fuel for the private fantasies of so many?
It’s a simple but depressing answer: attraction.
Had Christian Grey been depicted as an old man with missing teeth or even as a young unattractive man, he would have immediately been described as creepy.
Christian acts inappropriately on many occasions throughout the movie. When he first takes Anastasia back after stalking her at a bar, she wakes up to find herself in a completely new outfit that Christian changed her into while she was unconscious. He then proceeds to feed her while she’s in bed, crawling up to her and biting on the piece of toast she is eating.
Later on in the movie, when Anastasia decides that she is uncomfortable with the contract Christian has drawn up, detailing what is and is not allowed during their sexual encounters, she texts him to terminate their relationship. Upon coming home, she finds him in her bedroom with two wine glasses, asking her to reconsider her decision.
Christian becomes progressively more and more controlling. In an initially seeming romantic gesture, he buys her a brand new car as a graduation present but sells her beloved old Bug without telling her. At one point, she tells him she’s going to visit Georgia to see her mother; she arrives, and whom should she run into but the man she was fleeing.
Disturbingly, each of these situations leads Anastasia to fall further in love with him when, in reality, they should serve as a red flag. Replace Christian with an unattractive man and she wouldn’t have wanted to be within a hundred miles of him after their first encounter.
By depicting these scenes and Anastasia’s positive responses to Christian’s inappropriate behavior, “50 Shades” condones emotional abuse. It romanticizes behavior that could have legal repercussions in any other context.
But one can also leave the theater with a different message, viewing the movie as a way to reflect on a disconcerting aspect of human nature: our greater acceptance of illicit behavior when the perpetrators are visually appealing.
I left the theater questioning whether it was I, rather than Christian Grey, that was 50 shades of fucked up.
Having put our faith in small talk, alcohol and Tinder, and having been consequently disappointed by each, WKND has since put our faith in the stars. And what do you know — they’ve disappointed us too! But that experience has left us with a working knowledge of sexy astrology, a gift that we shall now bequeath upon you, dear reader. Behold: Your Sexy Horoscope!
Aries — Oh, impatient, foolhardy Aries! Don’t spend another Valentine’s Day alone in your room, watching “Friends” and sacrificing infants to Mars, god of blood and destruction. Enough is enough! This Feb. 14, treat yourself to a night of revelry and merriment. In fact, our astrologers predict that you’ll see an old flame at a party. When the old flame makes an ambiguous gesture of friendship, go ahead and misinterpret that signal. (It may be a handshake, or a high-five or a friendly wave of the hand.) Throw yourself into the person’s arms — if it turns out you got it all wrong, Mars will definitely smite the idiot.
Taurus — Take the bull by the horns this Valentine’s Day. Love is there for the taking, but you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot. Don’t wait for Cupid to pierce your true love with an arrow — walk right up and hit ’em with your best shot. Literally. Just approach someone at a party, slap the cutie-pie, and wait for a reaction. Also — our astrologers have informed us that you have a secret admirer! If you’re curious, make deliberate, angry eye contact with everyone you see this Valentine’s Day: that person on High St. who blushes and looks away is your belovèd.
Gemini — Wedding bells are ringing for you and your one true love! (The Harkness tower bells, on the other hand, are not ringing for you and your one true love. The Harkness tower bells ring for no man.) While matrimony may prove a sudden and startling proposition, ignore the counsel of friends and family — follow your heart. Who says you need to wait until thirty to wed? Elope. Las Vegas. Move off campus before junior year.
Cancer — You are a strong independent person who don’t need no man/woman. Our astrologers foretell high levels of inebriation for you this Valentine’s Day. In fact, others will spot your dilated pupils and ruddy cheeks and mistake this drunken stupor for love. They will feel pangs of jealousy; they will plot to overthrow you; they will spread rumors about you, your family and your heritage. Look out for those who attempt to absorb your innermost self.
Leo — A passionate encounter will fuel your creativity for the next month. You will find yourself feverishly typing up a new novel, finishing a painting, perfecting a recipe for Eggplant Parmigiano. Riding this high, you will eventually write an entire midterm paper in one night, only to discover that you’ve typed your lover’s name 3,000 times in a row. Schlomo, Schlomo, Schlomo … Prepare for an abrupt comedown both in your art and your life as a result of these amorous vicissitudes.
Virgo — You have a fraught relationship to your virginity. You have spent the last three months picking at your cuticles and longing for that grad student named Chuck. Nevertheless, you’ll have bigger fish to fry this weekend, when disaster strikes from an unexpected place. Our astrologers tell us that you will wake up as a literal bug someday soon — while this sounds frightening, it could be a blessing in disguise. Has a cockroach ever had a fraught relationship with its virginity?
Libra — you will be whisked away on a romantic getaway this weekend, but feel torn because the romantic getaway coincides with your friend’s birthday/wedding/improv show. Don’t beat yourself up over this tiny betrayal, however — you just tend to experience guilt more vividly than you experience any other emotion. Accept massages, candygrams, smooches and pizza slices, wherever they may come from.
Scorpio — Pucker up, little scorpion — this weekend you’ll experience your first kiss! (If you’ve already been kissed, this will be your first true kiss.) The setting might not be very romantic, but the circumstances will be memorable. (Look out for a young man with tattoos and a pet monkey. Our astrologers tell us that the monkey goes by Carl.) However, while you are in a woozy, starry-eyed daze, you might forget the ones you love. Under no circumstances should you succomb to such a lapse in memory. Never forget where you come from, Scorpio.
Sagittarius — In the coming days, one of your physical charms will leave you. For men, this may be the premature onset of baldness. For women, this could be the sudden appearance of fish scales and fins. Despite this disheartening turn of events, our astrologers recommend that you make hay while the sun shines. Live life to the fullest! Touch your hair while it’s still attached to your head, use your body while it’s still vaguely mammalian. Your anticipation of the impending disaster will actually prove productive, generating some exciting surprises!
Capricorn — This Valentine’s Day, you will find yourself temporarily thrust into the nightmarish realm of a young adult novel. A dystopian totalitarian regime will drive you to do things you never dreamed of doing. You will work the arid land alongside your beautiful siblings; you will repair robots; you will harvest human organs. When you return from your journey, you will have aged a thousand years, and your hair will be streaked grey. Shaky and devastated, you will spend the rest of your life alienated from the authentic human contact you once craved.
Pisces/Aquarius — you will fall in love in a watery wonderland. You will swim in a pool of loving feeling, which will wash you clean from your former sins and mistakes. Fear death by water.
It was the winter of ’15 and I’d just come crashing down from San Jose in a beaten-up Hudson with three college kids who only wanted to live and die. I swung by Dean’s pad — he was a freshman who talked Nietzsche and Marx and Duke Ellington, man, and he said Toad’s was the place to be on a Wednesday night. I didn’t ask questions because questions are odious. It was the kind of Wednesday, a bellicose, gray Wednesday, that makes men wage war and waitresses run away from home and drive across the country (which I’ve done loads of times, by the way).
I found myself sprawled on a shredded couch at Dean’s. We were drinking this poison called Dubra and man, it was the realest thing I ever drank. I saw a lost girl dancing in the corner of the room. Her eyes had only youth in them. She was exactly 19. I thought about how much I wanted to have a clothing-optional Yab-Yum session with her — that’s coitus between Wisdom and Compassion, by the way — recite the mantras, my own Bodhisattva right there, enlightenment in a temple of flesh.
Then the sickness overcame me: how weary the need of body, how desperate the need of extinction. So I looked for nirvana in the bottom of my glass. Then, Dean, the Lost Girl and I swung by Yorkside and I had a cheap slice of pizza. (It was the realest pizza I ever ate.)
Toad’s was a scene, man. There was music and sweat and people and dancing and music. Man, was there music. I returned in an effluvium of memory to that jazz club in San Francisco, when the night was hot and the arpeggios were burning. (I’d just driven across the country. That’s something I do.) I couldn’t find any saxophones or trashed pianos but I found love in a hopeless place. Over the basslines and the unruly rhythms, the Lost Girl asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I asked her to marry me in my head. We went outside.
“Got any Luckies,” I said with quixotic confidence.
“No. I have American Spirit.” (Oh baby, did she have American Spirit.) “It’s a brand? Of Tobacco?”
“Right. Yeah. Cool.” We shared a cheap cigarette and it was the realest cigarette I ever smoked.
Then, we went back in and Beatific Beyoncé showed me the ragged, ecstatic joy of being. I was afraid to dance but I was more afraid to die so I danced. One precocious cat who was known in the town for his fine spoken word came up to me.
“Man, there are some gone girls here. Gone, like the color blue. Gone, like America.”
I thought about telling him to maybe read books before he wrote them, but his turtleneck covered his ears. The beret disappeared into the crowd. I never saw that cat again. (Apart from once, when I was driving across the country.)
I finally beat myself up enough to go over to the Lost Girl. With religion in my bones I said, “Hey, let’s buy a piece-of-shit car and pull outta here — go to Mexico, go to Wyoming, go anywhere.”
She ran ink-stained fingers through her living hair, shrugged her Hepburn shoulders in her denim jacket, looked at me with the kind of eyes that make a guy understand sex and death, and said: “I have a paper due tomorrow.”
So, Dean and I slipped out, sex-crazed and self-loathing. I was restored to factory settings. He said, “Hey man, you can’t give a Dharma talk if you’ve shot yourself for one lost love.” (Dharma talk is Buddhist discourse, by the way.) So he took me to Ivy Noodle and we filled ourselves with hot Lo Mein. It was salty, fatty, and man, it was the realest thing I ever ate.
I stood on the corner of York and Broadway and saw hipsters and gone girls and geniuses and mad ones with man buns and I thought, Maybe I won’t go West anymore. Maybe the life force is here, on the East Coast. That feeling didn’t last: In the spring of that year I drove across the country. But that’s another dream, man.
In the viral video, “That’s Why I Chose Yale,” cheery Yalies sing about the merits of their suite camaraderie, in which a pair of roommates even have matching sheets.
But living in a suite of four girls, Adrien Gau ’17 almost never sees any of them, doesn’t have meals with them, and often doesn’t return there to sleep.
“I’d much rather hang out with my suite of guy friends every day,” they said. “It would’ve been much easier if I could’ve just lived with them.”
Gau has moved their schoolbooks and food into their common room, effectively creating a mixed-gender suite. Though on friendly terms with their four suitemates, Gau, who identifies as gender-neutral and prefers the corresponding pronouns, believes their living situation constitutes an unfair restriction of their choices.
“It is really dysphoric for me to think about how I’m forced to live with girls. It’s like a slap in the face from Yale,” they said. “It’s not that I don’t like girls, it’s just, that’s not me. I’m not a girl, but Yale doesn’t care.”
If Gau had entered the University one year later, they wouldn’t have had to move their books and food to their ideal suite. Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway announced the expansion of gender-neutral housing to the sophomore class on Dec. 9, 2014 — it will become an option this fall, affecting the class of 2018.
In a survey sent to a random sample of undergraduate students by the News, 91 percent of 104 students surveyed were either in support of or indifferent to the policy extension.
Helen Price ’18, for one, is seriously considering living in a mixed gender suite as a sophomore. She’s happy to be able to live with her best friend next year, rather than wait until her junior year, just because he’s not female.
Many upperclassmen wish Yale had offered them this choice earlier. Dayrin Jones ’16, who currently lives in a suite with four women, found the lack of choices during his sophomore year frustrating, and considered transferring colleges at the end of his freshman year.
“I thought about rooming options outside of [Ezra Stiles College] because I had few male friends in my college,” he said. “I almost ran out of time before I found a roommate sophomore year, because I had no possibilities in mind.”
The class of 2018, whether or not they choose mixed-gender housing, will at least have all the possibilities open to them.
Even students who don’t plan on taking advantage of this opportunity commend the change. Though Summer Kim ’18 has personal reservations about co-ed housing, she appreciates that it’s now available, especially at a place like Yale, because her concerns “don’t resonate with everyone or even a majority of students here.”
Despite the fact that 50 percent of freshmen surveyed expressed interest in mixed-gender housing next year, historically speaking, it has not been quick to catch on. In 2010–11, the first year with mixed-gender housing as a Yale College policy, only 39 seniors took advantage of it. Though Jones, Gau and Price have strong feelings about the issue, and though they have the support of the student body, they may be in the minority.
The greatest change may not be the number of students who live in co-ed suites, but rather the way the policy’s adoption affects campus culture.
Daniel Dangaran ’15, a freshman counselor in Ezra Stiles College, said his freshmen are very excited. One freshman told him he was glad the YCC succeeded in its task — even if he does not live in a co-ed suite next year, he’s happy the option is available to other freshman.
Dangaran knows that freshmen may hesitate at first.
“Only time will tell which freshmen will decide to take advantage of the policy and opt to live in mixed-gender suites,” he said, “but the option will help to normalize having friendships with people of all genders.”
Yale’s spaces seem already gender-neutral in many ways, with shared bathrooms, suites connected by fire doors (which are then left open, creating “double suites” of men and women), and even unofficial room swaps or permanent sleepover situations. But, Jones said, an improvised situation is not enough.
“In those instances, there still is a lack of the shared space that you would experience if you were living together,” he said. “With the policy change, I think campus culture will see an increase in respect for the opposite sex.”
The YCC has argued that co-ed suites will de-sexualize spaces — in a suite where men and women choose to live together as friends, the environment mitigates potential instances of sexual hostility. Price agrees with this assessment, adding that the policy change breaks down the symbolic barrier between men and women.
“Now I feel like I can live with my friends, and some of them just happen to be boys. Separating the genders seems very juvenile,” she said.
Alex Borsa ’16, former president of the LGBTQ Co-Op, meanwhile, believes that the policy change will not generate a massive shift in campus culture. The great majority of students, who have supported the policy even if it will never affect them, have already created a gender-neutral environment.
He added that the extension is a success for many queer and gender non-conforming students, and finds it ridiculous that it hasn’t already happened.
Only the official label has been missing. YCC Vice President and project manager for the issue Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16 said that the administration’s approval was key.
“I think that the rules that they impose shape the culture we live in,” she said. “Through those rules they make it more open, and more flexible.”
Kim shared a similar perspective, adding that “the administration making it official recognizes how students at Yale already live, and how they would feel most comfortable, which is awesome.”
For most Yalies, the new policy merely adapts the suite, the cornerstone of university living, to fit the relationships we have come to rely on for late night food runs, inside jokes and emotional support. The friends we live with are the family we choose for ourselves, unobstructed by gender norms or bureaucratic policies.
Will there be any obstacles for freshmen next year, despite this seemingly perfect policy? YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 came up with one: “A potential mistake freshmen could make would be choosing to live with someone with whom they are in a relationship,” he explained. “Such relationships often do not last, which could lead to a very awkward situation.”
One set of connected sophomore suites, which became gender-neutral once the fire door was unlocked, saw the effects of one such relationship. The room by the door, the border between the men and the women, now has a sign. “My room is Sweden. Neutral zone.”
Zachary Blickensderfer ’16, a Jonathan Edwards housing representative, dismissed these pitfalls.
“The question of ‘living with significant others’ as being a legitimate concern is absurd, because the University should feel no obligation to prevent couples from making that stupid decision,” he said.
Dangaran is enthusiastic about that freedom, arguing that those who create their suites with all genders will forge trust-filled bonds in a comfortable setting, without gender as a barrier. Dangaran stresses that those who do not wish to live with suitemates of the opposite gender will obviously have their wishes respected. To him, the change in policy won’t be an obstacle to their campus welfare.
As YCC project manager for the issue, Eliscovich Sigal never encountered any opposition to the change among fellow students. And not a single student interviewed objected to the policy. They all briefly endorsed it, almost surprised that I had even asked.
Blickensderfer agreed that the policy is just common sense. “Living with people you like is fun. It’s as simple as that.” Simple, but a complicated process.
In 2013, Holloway told the News he was not in support of mixed-gender suites for sophomores.
“There was a feeling that developmentally, sophomores are not ready for mixed-gender suites,” he said. “There are a whole host of cognitive and social abilities sophomores are still forming, and I think many are not quite ready for the interesting complications that may arise from gender-neutral housing.”
Yet, by the end of 2014, the administration had decided that the complications were secondary to the benefits of the policy.
The possibility of change was first brought to the administration in December 2007, after the LGBTQ Co-Op led demonstrations like a public “sleep-in” on Cross Campus in the snow. The YCC followed, with formal reports that would soon become a staple in their efforts to expand the policy.
From the beginning, the YCC found that “support for gender-neutral housing at home was wide: some Yale students needed gender-neutral housing and virtually none were opposed,” according to Eliscovich Sigal’s letter in the Winter 2014 newsletter. In 2010, after three years of lobbying, the Yale Corporation extended the option for seniors, but some in the administration still considered it an “experiment.”
Since 2010, half a decade has passed, in which the YCC has often returned to students, and heard universally positive experiences from those who chose mixed-gender housing. Herbert explained that at the beginning of this academic year, YCC chose their issues of focus, which included divestment, financial aid, mental health and improving Yale’s sexual climate.
“But of all of the important subjects, the one with the most straightforward fix was the expansion of mixed-gender housing to sophomores,” he said.
Former Yale College Dean Mary Miller had concurred, leaving a recommendation for her successor that the plan become a reality.
So when Herbert and Eliscovich Sigal brought up the issue at their weekly meeting with Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry in September, they were astonished to be told that the option had been taken off the table due to logistical impossibilities. Herbert was floored, feeling that the “sentiment of permanence had not been communicated to students, and … we did not really understand what “logistically impossible” meant.”
At this point, Yale was “the exception, not the rule, in the Ivy League,” so Herbert and Eliscovich Sigal reached out to residential college deans, and to Holloway. They then asked both the YCC Council of Representatives and the Freshman Class Council to vote — both voted unanimously in favor of the policy change.
Herbert lauds campus enthusiasm for the issue, citing various op-eds from students, and the FCC’s engagement with the freshman class, the first to be affected by the change.
Throughout the fall of 2014, Holloway worked with the YCC, citing reasons for the length of the process: difficulties in housing configurations due to more possible options, the readiness of new housing software, and the various administrative channels the policy had to pass through before a decision.
Herbert and Eliscovich Sigal returned to the drawing board, as their predecessors had done many times since 2007, trying to galvanize support from the administration and students. Herbert found Dean Holloway to be receptive and engaged, and the students and administrators collaborated throughout the fall. Eventually, the Council of Masters approved the policy without obstacles, culminating in this major coup for YCC.
Eliscovich Sigal considers this “a victory to be celebrated by every Yale student as a triumph of student voice. Only we know our experiences here.”
When I told friends or family I was currently engrossed in a book about college football, the reaction I always received was: “Really?” Yeah, I’ll admit it; I’m less than even a casual college football fan. I’ll root for Yale over anyone else and I’ll support the University of Pittsburgh out of hometown pride, but I’d be hard-pressed to name a single player or coach. My ability to follow a sports team begins and ends with the Steelers.
And yet, I was utterly captivated by — and thoroughly enjoyed — “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football,” by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. In fact, I may have enjoyed it all the more because many of the stories that would have been familiar to college fans were completely new to me, and thus surprising. Benedict, an acclaimed and prolific investigative reporter, and Keteyian, chief investigative correspondent for CBS News, do an excellent job making the topic digestible even for someone like me.
College football is, according to the authors, “the biggest game in the United States, in terms of overall impact.” While the NBA or MLB or NFL may have higher salaries and better coverage on ESPN, they have fewer teams, which cover less area, than college football; the only television program more watched than the 2013 BCS College Football National Championship was the Super Bowl. College football “is everywhere.” It is a glorious, monstrous, nearly religious system that is as widespread geographically as it is in its fan base.
And, for all the excitement, college football exists within a highly flawed system. Sex, sin, scandal, and billions of shady dollars stuff its hidden underbelly.
With the rigor of professional journalists, Benedict and Keteyian demonstrate how student athletes are working full-time jobs in a system that does not pay them. College athletes are far more likely than non-athletes to commit crimes, including and especially sexual assault, but much of this misconduct is covered up by team “janitors” (highly paid fixers) or even the police. Injuries — especially head injuries — are everywhere and nearly inevitable. A staggeringly high percentage of players who never go pro also don’t graduate college, and a black player is far more likely than a white player not to receive a diploma. Top-tier high school recruits — 17-year-olds — are sometimes offered illegal recruitment packages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they are frequently seduced by “hostesses” — leggy college girls who are explicitly directed to flirt (or more) with the boys in order to recruit them. Many teams have budgets over $100 million, and many coaches are the highest paid public employees in the state. Yet for all the money flooding the game, 90 percent of major athletic departments operate at a loss.
It’s crazy. And it’s also highly entertaining. The authors create a gripping narrative through a series of profiles — of coaches, players, recruits, NCAA investigators, agents, strippers and more. We meet Ricky Seals-Jones, the most sought-after recruit in the country, who is being stalked, bribed and threatened by big-name schools. We see Mike Leach, one of the most controversial and successful coaches in the game, who took a nothing team at Texas Tech, made it into a powerhouse, and then was forced to resign in disgrace. We learn about Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, a Mormon from Africa who, after walking on to the BYU team (never having played the game) and starting for just a half a season, is catapulted into the NFL as the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft. We hear the tales of donors who make Charles Johnson look tight-fisted and players who make Patrick Witt look like a choirboy. And the money, oh the money.
Benedict and Keteyian, who have both written for Sports Illustrated and numerous other publications covering athletics, make good use of their contacts, gaining unprecedented access to the 2012 season. At times hyperbolic, at times self-congratulatory, their coverage is nonetheless fresh and eye opening.
“The System” is ultimately more of an indictment than a celebration. It dwells more on the scandal than on the glory. Its authors do not, however, provide many concrete policy suggestions. The system of tutoring college athletes, recruiting college athletes, paying administrators and funding teams is a little scary, but, even after reading “The System,” I wouldn’t know where to begin trying to fix things. Hopefully, “The System” will serve to start a more productive conversation among a wider audience.
I think I speak for many finance-averse Yalies when I say that I can’t shake the nagging feeling that the folks over at 55 Whitney Avenue are letting me down. Are there really only 24 jobs this summer not on Wall Street? And are thirteen of those jobs really in Zambia? There must be something out there — hidden in a secret place even further from TD.
It turns out I was right, because the best summer jobs aren’t on eRecruiting at all, but on Craigslist. And most of them don’t even require ECON 115! Lo, before my eyes, the possibilities dance: I could be a GO-GO DANCER/ENTERTAINER!!! I could be a sales rep for a corset boutique! Indeed, I am a **lady**, and the world is my oyster.
This is going to sound strange, but my son is a senior in High School [sic] and I want to help him. He’s 18 and will go away to Harvard in the fall.
But lest you think our Cambridge-bound comrade only wants linear algebra prep, read on:
…I’m sure he’s a virgin. I want to find a cute young girl to date him and turn him from high school nerd to cool college kid.
Yes, mommy dearest wants you to carry her wayward son onward — whatever that means. Because while little Timmy is still a chaste young thing now, your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to spend the summer schooling him between the sheets. And UCS needs more education positions (Teach for America is so first-term Obama), so I’m going to forward this to them right now. Maybe you could get a stipend or something.
On a more serious note, this story’s been picked up by a lot of outlets — Gawker, HuffPo and the Daily Caller among them. Many of the blogs and their commenters have mocked (the likely fictional) Harvard Timmy, deeming him little more than a “virgin who can’t drive,” as if (get it? As if?) a lack of sexual experience and vehicular mobility are the ticket to uncoolness. But that’s way harsh. At its core, the sex-positivity we so dearly value on Yale’s campus is all about being cool with the sexual choices (or lack thereof) being made around us, so long as they’re made with consent. Which means that if true love wants to wait, let it loiter. As the aphorism goes, good things come to those who wait for organic sexual encounters and do not dally with their mother’s prostitute.
And if no fish bite mommy’s hook, who knows? The Game is on our turf next year, and we have one thing those Cambridge kids don’t: Toad’s.
“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.
BOYS ON THE SIDE?
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.
A LOT’S IN A NAME
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.
THE MALE GAZE
“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?
THE SWUG SISTERHOOD
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.
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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.
AISHA MATTHEWS BEGINS HER WKND BLOG SERIES SOON — CHECK IT OUT TO IMPROVE YOUR LOVE LIFE, YOU SORRY BUM!
In response to the recent New York Times article “The End of Courtship?”, I’ve decided to revisit the idea of the non-relationship. Over the last six years (purposefully excluding my series of middle school romances), I can honestly say that countless female friends and I have — reluctantly but consistently — been on the receiving end of the “non-date,” or even worse, the “non-relationship relationship.” I define the latter as a situation that, under normal circumstances, would be considered an actual relationship, bearing all the signs of an actual relationship, but very conspicuously does not include the titles of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
The non-relationship relationship is usually an exclusive hookup arrangement that has evolved into actually spending time together, perhaps attending functions together, and likely having met the other participant’s friends or co-workers. As an extension of the non-date, which the Times aptly describes as “hanging out” (often as an afterthought or as an accompanying invitation to established plans), the non-relationship is ideal for the commitment-phobe. Although you look like a couple and act like a couple, for whatever reason, you’ve decided not to go the extra step into officially defining the relationship. It’s pretty much the dating equivalent of the Mormon “soaking” trend, i.e., the “just the tip” relationship. Usually as a result of one party being afraid to ask where the relationship is going, the non-relationship generally goes on until the Facebook-official status of the relationship has been confirmed or one party suffers an “are we even together?!1” meltdown.
Between the accumulated experiences of many friends and even a few personal forays, I think it’s fair to say that the non-relationship ends up being a girl’s worst nightmare. While you’ve established that you’re not seeing or sleeping with other people, girls constantly end up wondering how to explain the arrangement to friends, family and random strangers at the bar. Maybe if we lived in a world where social media and appearances weren’t everything, the non-relationship would be a girl’s dream. Right above friends with benefits and below actual dating, you get to really spend some time getting to know someone and deciding if it’s actually going to work before you go public. Sadly, because of the constant pressure to declare what’s going on in your life, it gets harder and harder to accept the fuzziness of your vague relationship. Along with the need to define the situation, the Times offers other theories on the change in the dating scene. With the introduction of online dating and the changing economic landscape, they suggest that there are simply way more options for men to pick from — and they have way less money to invest in a girl that might not turn out to be the one. The argument I most agree with, however, is their suggestion that today’s men don’t want to settle down until their 30s. With guys being so noncommittal, particularly in the man-child phase that our 20s have become, it’s much harder to envision a guy wanting something serious, which means that girls often settle for pseudo-dates and pseudo-relationships when they’d really like something more serious.
I read somewhere that the average teenager today is under as much stress as the average businessman in the 19th and 20th centuries. Technology is a wonderful thing, that, in accordance with — and adding to — our ever-expanding FOMO, is changing a lot of our practices. That doesn’t mean our expectations are keeping pace. Those of us who grew up in the ’90s still remember watching shows where people went on actual dates. We idealized Cory and Topanga and couldn’t wait to find some sweet, kinda dorky guy who would love us until the end of time. But instead, now that we’re all getting to our 20-something years, “keeping your options open” amidst horror stories of “clingy ex-girlfriends” and shows like HBO’s “Girls” have us running scared. The pressure to have a one-night stand or to accept a casual arrangement has never been higher.
I still know some girls who are in non-relationship relationships. They find themselves cooking dinner or doing laundry for a guy, but not being able to tell their parents that they have a boyfriend. Worse, I know some girls who aren’t even aware of their non-relationship status and tell themselves that their “boyfriends” are really just “private people.” But whether or not he’s ready to declare it to the world, there’s absolutely something to be said for defining what you’re doing. While picking out floral arrangements for your future nuptials might land you a Carrie Bradshaw-esque Post-it breakup, it seems very fair to ask what the hell is going on. Women shouldn’t be afraid to ask for terms, and men shouldn’t be afraid to ask girls out. No matter how far technology goes, there will always be a chance of rejection. But avoiding real dating and real relationships won’t fix that. It will just delay the process when you do want to settle down and cause you to potentially miss out on the person you might want to spend your life with.
The non-relationship is common, but certainly not the standard. And maybe being forward isn’t a turn-on. But who knows? Maybe taking that step and asking where you stand could be the difference between changing your relationship status online and being FB-poked by the guy who’s currently poking you.