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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 [email protected]

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