McKay: A Plug Against The SWUG

As always, fall term has begun with marked excitement over welcoming in the new class of first-year students, and the onslaught of fresh faces on campus has produced an interesting trend: some of the upperclassmen females seem to be on edge. While some women remain unperturbed in their enthusiasm about the new class, others seem burdened with insecurity.

While I’m disappointed with this trend, I am frankly unsurprised. After all, every year incoming students are warned of the “Dartmouth X” the theory that a male students’ “worth” can only go up, whereas that of a female student constantly declines. Men supposedly obtain power and influence as they age within the community, which in turn makes them more attractive, yet women are more like the used car, whose value depreciates daily.

I think most people are aware that this is a ridiculous theory. We are fortunate to have a student body filled with all sorts of incredible women, who cannot and should not be judged by the shallowest, most subjective of standards physical attractiveness.

Yet in spite of its ostensible absurdity, this fiction still creates the association in the female unconscious between a new class of women and our own impending irrelevance. I certainly don’t blame my peers for not feeling completely welcoming.

The X is a remnant of the sexist nonsense that many women, my mother included, had to endure 40 years ago. As the daughter of a ’79, I understand better than most that our community has made incredible strides since coeducation, but we still have miles to go. We no longer live in an overtly hostile climate, but we still have to deal with the occasional prejudice.

This new form of sexism is a double-edged sword; the climate is more welcoming overall, which can make problematic attitudes more difficult to identify and in turn effectively address. In many ways, we feel toward the ’17s what I can only imagine the early women at Dartmouth felt toward the visiting students from women’s colleges. But these women are not outsiders they are a part of our community and deserve to be treated as such.

Women too often lose sight of the fact that we are each others’ strongest allies. We need to make a conscious effort to avoid feeding into the myth of the Dartmouth X, because allowing ourselves to develop resentment toward women are our peers only reinforces the stereotype that we are all somehow bitter or jaded as seniors.

Certainly, Dartmouth is not the only college with these problems. At Yale University, the phenomenon goes by a different name: “SWUGs,” Senior Washed-Up Girls. This trope, that as college women age, they are “washed up at 21,” even made its way into the pages of New York Magazine. Writing about SWUGs became just another trend in the onslaught of bizarre, sexist pieces circulating the Ivy League community, and it is often contextualized with a mention of the now infamous “Princeton Mom.” Clearly, women at peer institutions are also haunted by the ghosts of the days when the Ivy League was still an elite boys’ club.

Instead of finding reassurance in the fact that we are not alone, we should aim to actively combat these pervasive stereotypes about upperclass females. The women in my class are in a unique position because of the temporary ban on ’17s in fraternity basements. We will have much less accountability for our actions if we choose to treat the ’17s poorly we are far less likely to come into direct contact with these younger women, at least until after Homecoming. This ban has the unintended consequence of creating an extra hurdle for 17s to enter the network of females on campus.

As soon as I noticed the hostility, I decided to join Link Up to get matched with a ’17 to mentor, and I reached out to the few ’17 women that I already know. It is important to take a step back and remember that as upperclassmen, we have wisdom, experience and confidence that should be shared with the ’17s. Our power to debase these myths lies in our actions, and we must not let insecurity prevent us from unifying the network of incredible women on this campus.

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