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Down ‘Rape Road’

| Wednesday, November 4, 2015

There is one reason to attend Saint Mary’s: to meet and marry a man from Notre Dame.

No one would ever choose to attend Saint Mary’s based on how comparatively easy we make it to study abroad, our programs like nursing or education that aren’t offered at Notre Dame, the fact that some people prefer smaller classes and a calmer campus or even — gasp! — the prospect of attending a women’s college.

No, Saint Mary’s women live forever in the shadow of the dome. Even if we are unable to find a man and get our “ring by spring,” Saint Mary’s women are often considered little more than sexual playthings for the men of Notre Dame.

As shocking and uncomfortable as that statement is to make, it’s true. Some of the clearest examples of this come from the language used to describe Saint Mary’s, our women and our campus. As any good English major knows, everyday language is a powerful force that can shape the way think about things.

Take, for instance, the nickname of the #17 bus that runs from Hesburgh Library, past Eddy street to the Grotto, to Regina Hall at Saint Mary’s, then works its way along Douglas back to “Club Hes.” Or the #7A, which runs essentially the same route but with stops at University Edge and Corby Boulevard. Colloquially, both go by the name “The Sluttle.” Get it? Like a shuttle full of sluts?

Simply because these buses stop at Saint Mary’s, they are re-christened to imply moral looseness. The assumption made is that any woman on the bus is going to Notre Dame to drink and have sex. Never mind that we Smicks (a self-christened nickname for Saint Mary’s women, coming from “SMC chicks”) sometimes go to Notre Dame for things other than partying, like classes or Starbucks. Be sure not to consider, too, that men and women from Notre Dame would take the #17 or #7A from Notre Dame to Saint Mary’s. “The Sluttle” serves one purpose and one purpose only: to bring sluts from Saint Mary’s to Notre Dame.

Of course, many Saint Mary’s women use the term as well. Most of the time, it’s regarded as a just a joke. But “The Sluttle” is anything but funny.

By calling the bus between campuses “The Sluttle,” the idea that all Saint Mary’s women are sluts is subconsciously yet firmly established. By establishing us as sluts and whores, an expectation of sex is set. All Saint Mary’s women are sluts who will have sex with you. Even if they say no or try to fight you off, their ride on “The Sluttle” to come party with you is evidence that they want sex.

There are other examples of this subtle linguistic sexism between campuses, like the concept of ring by spring, or that every Saint Mary’s woman aspires to be engaged (to a Notre Dame man, of course) by graduation. The term “Smitches”— a combination of “smick chicks” and “bitches” — is also vernacular. The freshman dorm, McCandless, is called “McScandlous.” The most damning evidence of this trend is the nickname for Saint Mary’s Road, the private road between campuses: Rape Road.

Saint Mary’s Road is rarely referred to by its real name, perhaps because of some confusion between it and the main road onto campus, The Avenue. There are a million possible epithets better than this one. But the metaphorically-perfect Rape Road persists.

The normalization of rape and sexual assault is referred to as rape culture in feminist thought. Most commonly, rape culture is defined as a culture which, through general opinions about sexuality and gender, accepts and excuses sexual assault as an inevitable part of life, and therefore promotes it. When someone says Rape Road, they imply that rape happens between campuses. And when they say it all the time, they imply it’s just something that happens. Rape between our campuses is not startling or appalling, but simply expected.

I’m sure someone reading this would love to challenge the idea of rape culture. To you, O noble protector of men’s rights, I say this: Go spend some time at a women’s college where 1 in 4 women are the victims of sexual violence and you have to walk down Rape Road to get a decent latte, and then we’ll talk.

The vocabulary used to talk about Saint Mary’s establishes us as gold diggers, bitches and (primarily) sluts or whores. Terms like “The Sluttle,” “Rape Road,” “Holy Cross Hoes,” “McSkanks” and even “Smitches” have no business at a reputable Catholic university like Notre Dame, and especially not from the mouths of our own Saint Mary’s women. Describing an entire college full of women like this is dangerous.

And it’s leading us all straight down rape road.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Courtney Phelan

Courtney Phelan is a junior English major living in Le Mans Hall. She can be contacted at cphela01@saintmarys.edu

Contact Courtney
  • John Darr

    Great article. I’m sure there will be some offended readers that may jump straight to the #NotAllMen counterargument, but they’re missing the point. The colloquial terms are damaging, and unfortunately, they’re all pretty much uniform in theme, as you explained. Thanks for taking the time to write and publish!

  • Patrick

    Speaking of damaging terms, let’s not to use the words “rape” and “sexual assault” or “sexual harassment” as if they are synonyms. To say that “Rape between our campuses is not startling or appalling, but simply expected.” is absolutely not true. For someone who cares so deeply about using correct terms, I would expect you to do so yourself.

    • disqus_wHRcN9VDaG

      Saint Mary’s students are raped every year by ND students. That is absolutely true.

      • MC

        Patrick is right. They are not the same thing. And the 1 in 4 statistic is wrong. We can’t fix the issue if we don’t have the facts straight

        • João Pedro Santos

          “And the 1 in 4 statistic is wrong.”
          So… Where is your statistic, then?

          • MC

            “The estimated 19% sexual assault rate among college women is based on a survey at two large four-year universities, which might not accurately reflect our nation’s colleges overall. In addition, the survey had a large non-response rate, with the clear possibility that those who had been victimized were more apt to have completed the questionnaire, resulting in an inflated prevalence figure.”

            Fox and Moran also point out that the study used an overly broad definition of sexual assault. Respondents were counted as sexual assault victims if they had been subject to “attempted forced kissing” or engaged in intimate encounters while intoxicated.


      • Captain Murphy

        Um, how many? All? One? Half?
        Any sources?

  • Language has the power to both liberate and shackle. It is our choice how we employ that power.

  • Satirical Alexandria

    I went to Wheaton, a women’s college in Massachusetts (it’s coed now). The male students at Brown University in Providence, RI, which was only about 20 minutes away by car, used to say “Wheaties for breakfast, Brownies for dessert.” And yes, I knew Wheaton women who were raped at Brown.

  • RJB

    As a married, new graduate student at Notre Dame who regularly rides the #17 bus, I was greatly disappointed by the self-sexualization in dress, speach, and actions exhibited by female students boarding the bus from SMC on weekends. This was obviously exasurbated by heavy drinking. Without any preconditioning of speach or Notre Dame culture, I could sense there is a problem and felt concern for these girls. Whether their actions cause the “slutmobile” impression or whether they are acting out a highly regrettable label, even an outsider could sense a problem. My prayer is that both the men of Notre Dame and the women of Saint Mary’s will go out of their way to right misconceptions and inappropriate actions and make this a safe and uplifting environment for all involved.

    • sbbb

      Is this JUST SMC women? Are you sure? (And are you sure about your spelling?)

      • RJB

        I didn’t say the problem didn’t apply to other groups – it likely does. Those I regularly see happen to self identify as SMC students – they also flash their IDs as they enter the bus. (Thanks for playing spell check)

    • Pg

      Whoa here is some textbook slut-shaming!

      • Urstpsoshtup

        You should call a spade a spade.

      • João Pedro Santos

        What were you expecting? This is ND’s student newspaper. A lot of anonymous right-wing extremists like to appear hear to expose their prejudices.

  • upset

    As a parent of both a SMC and Notre Dame student this article was very disturbing. Is this really how you want your school portrayed as??? Why wouldn’t you use this Observer and your voice to talk about SMC girls in a favorable light. NOT ALL SMC girls are at SMC to find husband. Many are there to get an excellent education and have respect for there bodies.If both SMC and Notre Dame students would learn how to control the underage drinking and show more respect for each other and there bodies(morals and values) these two institutions would be AMAZING!!!There have been times when my husband and I have regretted sending our children to these school. This is one of those time.

    • KL

      The author is being sarcastic at the point of the article you are referring to. Very few SMC women I know want to be seen as getting their Mrs. Degree. Sarcasm is a difficult emotion to transcend into text but this is what she is doing.

    • MC

      Both schools are incredible. This article is an extremely poor reflection of both because the author is a poor reflection on the schools. The problems she cites here are over exaggerated and really not a fair portrayal of the community. Our schools are not without our issues, but her poor use of sarcasm and overstatement of rape is harmful and ridiculous

  • upset

    the sarcastic remarks are still very damaging. Puts the image of SMC/ND in a very bad light