For the uninitiated, a SWUG is a "Senior Washed-Up Girl," a term popularized at Yale and hotly debated on the internet over the past month. This debate has spawned dozens of articles alternately defending SWUGs, chastising SWUGs and giving SWUGs advice on how to find a man.
From what I can tell, senior girls themselves coined the term SWUG to refer to a lifestyle of not giving a f-ck. Said lifestyle appears to involve a lot of wine and a lot of frustration with the college dating scene.
The debate over SWUGgery, however, has become focused entirely on the latter. As with nearly every article on 20-something women these days, it’s a debate about their romantic and sexual lives.
There’s no question in my mind that the ladies of my age group are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of concern that our society has about our romantic prospects. Are we focusing too much on our careers? Are we foregoing our best marriage prospects by not settling down with a guy that we met in college? Does the hookup culture help us or hurt us? Does the hookup culture even exist?
The SWUG debate feels like just another replay of this pattern. No wonder 20-somethings feel like old maids; we're now considered "washed up" at 22 if we don’t manage to succeed at our college dating scenes. At the same time, we’re being told to Lean In to our career, and studies show that we will actually make more money if we delay marriage.
(Of course, "success" at our college dating scene is defined in a typically heteronormative, gendered and patriarchal way. Look at the term SWUG itself: by definition, it only applies to women, and in the vast majority of internet discourse on the subject it generally refers to heteronormative relationships.)
Sociologist and psychotherapist Leslie Bell addresses these "vying cultural messages" and their impact on women (straight and queer) in her recent book, Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom.
Bell sums up the typical advice that millennial women get from society: "This is not a time to be in a committed relationship because you need to really put your efforts into education and career advancement and a relationship is gonna take time from that, but you better make sure you’re married by the time you’re 30 because your biological clock is ticking and the pool of men is gonna decrease."
Despite all the attention paid both to our careers and romantic lives, Bell says that women are desperate for "honest and frank conversation" on how to deal with both desires at once. The typical advice usually only focuses on how to achieve one of the two, often at the expense of the other.
When I look at the huge volume of advice directed at women in my age group, I wonder where all the societal anxiety about our romantic and sexual lives of 20-something women comes from? How can it be channeled into genuinely productive conversations about the challenges of twentysomething relationships rather than heteronormative, patriarchal and gendered handwringing?
To a certain extent, the anxiety and subsequent handwringing become a Catch-22. I know that I find myself most anxious about my romantic life every time another article on the topic shows up on my newsfeed, in the same way that I get more and more nervous about finding a job after graduation every time that my mother sends me an article about the trap of unpaid internships. The more handwringing that occurs, the more anxiety it produces, and the cycle continues.