The SWUG files

by Maria Stratienko

It was another Saturday night, much like many my friends and I had encountered in our previous three years at Sewanee – humid, buzzing, and alight with the prospects of the great adventures we could have at any given moment, should a great wind of inspiration hit us. I suppose we were midway through our night (it was, after all, 10 PM) and as we caught up with friends outside of Johnson after leaving our first frat of the night, my own disinterest suddenly became apparent to me. Turning to my friends as we sat on the picnic table, I timidly asked the question – “Y’all, are we SWUGs?”

In brief, the term “SWUG”, or “Senior Washed-Up Girl”, was first made known to me midway through my junior year, as I began to recognize my penchant for going out sober and appearing aloof at even the most fun parties Sewanee had to offer.

Made famous in pieces by New York magazine and Gawker, “SWUG Life” is characterized by women who embrace “the slow, wine-filled decline of female sexual empowerment as we live out our college glory days.” She is “a young woman in her final year at a four-year collegiate establishment who has also given up the possibility of youth. [She] boldly abstains from dressing up, rarely goes to parties, and declares disinterest in romantic or sexual relationships. She wants to sit on a couch drinking wine with fellow SWUGs.”

“So, basically, us?” my friend said with a chuckle as I read this quote to her. And while the experiences of the original SWUGs of Yale (where, seemingly, the term came to be) are hardly fully equivalent to the experiences of Sewanee, I’m afraid that I, and many of my friends, have begun to identify with many of the gory details of SWUG life. Despite a distaste for the term itself (“SWUG”? Washed up? Really?!) I am terrified that my own social apathy (either real or perceived) is really the only thing making me a more complex person.

Characterizations of “#SWUGNATION” as a phenomenon are borne out of “whatever empowerment we’re supposed to be deriving from this version of the feminist movement” that is “thin on the ground.” This haunts me from my seat away from the crowd at any given frat party, where I sit with my friends and drink from my Nalgene filled with Chardonnay, watching my male friends’ attention fall on what Justin Silverman of New York calls “that infinitely more fun classmate, the female freshman.” And internally, I find myself detesting all of it in an entirely irrational manner – the “scene” and also my very-much-chosen paradigm on the cusp of leaving, acting as though I am one foot out the door already.

In short, this manifestation of myself – “the girl who has been through the meat grinder; a seasoned veteran who knows the ropes,” is not who I want to waste time being in this final hurrah of my short time here at Sewanee. Rather, I call on my fellow SWUGs to embrace some of the aspects that come with this freedom of our final year (i.e., choosing Bean Boots over suede wedges), but to leave others behind – namely, the attitude of being above it all (or even worse, purposefully intimidating) or a passive observer in the vibrant life around us.

I am actively rejecting the notion that #SWUGLIFE is our inherited version of the feminist movement – or that this movement, in general, is teetering on the edge of what remains in the “culturally relevant” sphere. As a feminist, I instead embrace those aspects of that set of ideological contributions which empower me in my behavior towards a positive morale and the creation of a Sewanee community that develops incredibly bright young men and women – of all ages. I’m happy, then, to move on to what will undoubtedly be a fantastic year, if not more-than-occasionally peppered by my nights with my SWUGs.

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