Opinion: Why We Need the “Sheatha”

Opinion: Why We Need the “Sheatha”

Castle Street and Femininity

With the approach of the 130th Capping Show ‘Beezie’, it got the team at Critic Te Ārohi thinking. Every time we reference the stereotypical Otago student, we reach for the term “breatha”. And for good reason: they’re an easy mark with a well-established culture, and even easier to draw with their year-round uniform of birks, jorts, t-shirt, and cap – even in the depths of Dunedin winter. Just add socks. 

Breathas are always at the scene of some story, whether that’s accidently pressing another ‘0’ on a $10 gambling bet and landing $27k in winnings, buying dirt from Facebook Marketplace and mud-wrestling one another, or hosting viral video tours of their decrepit flats (“There’s two toilets in here for some reason, so you can shit and hold hands if you want”). Critic may playfully take the piss out of these gremlins, but we also kinda love them. The breatha audacity is endearing and endlessly quotable. 

But there’s another species of student who are criminally overlooked: the Castle girl (or Leith, Hyde, Dundas, etc.). You know the one: North Face puffer jacket, Lululemon flared tights, white Adidas sambas, half-fallen out lash extensions and grown out roots (same, girl) hoisted up in a messy bun by a claw clip, clutching a Frank Green water bottle. Well, that’s if you haven't caught them after a big night out. Then you might see them shuffling to the Marsh in a dressing gown, smeared slept-in makeup, and their Uggs crunching on fragments of the Vodka Cruisers downed the night before. Some aspire for glistening glass skin, while these girls are known for the glistening glass shards that adorn their streets. Perhaps there’s a certain femininity to it – it’s North D’s glitter, if you squint hard enough. 

The Castle girl loves the piss as much as the breatha (and ket, so we’re told). They also possess intimidating confidence, a carefree recklessness, and the ability to seemingly procure a vape from thin air at any given moment. Their presence is as intoxicating as their vices. Yet Castle girls are massively overlooked in the role they play in Dunedin student culture. 

Castle Street has various twin sets of brother and sister flats: Fridge and Fridgette, Smackdown and Raw, Beehive and Honeypot, to name a few; reminiscent of a slightly less cringe version of American Greek life. However, much like fraternities, the boy flats rule the roost when it comes to parties. Breathadom remains at the centre of the language we use around Castle Street culture (Critic guilty as charged). The sister flats, on the other hand, are relegated to – well, nothing. Unlike breathas, Castle girls don’t even have an established stereotype or label. Next to the “man or bear” debate and the hurdles women face in the education system, is the lack of identity given to Castle girls North D’s most pressing feminist issue? 

Critic Te Ārohi says yes, eliciting an intense debate at the office. While everyone agreed that discussion around Dunedin student culture is (perhaps unfairly) male-centric and symbolised by breathadom, we disagreed on the next step. That is, how does one define a Castle Street girl? And what name should they be awarded? We came up with three options: 1) make breatha gender neutral, 2) reclaim the word “beezy”, 3) introduce a new word altogether: “sheatha” [Culture Editor’s note: I’ve been trying to make this happen for years now]. Although Critic has previously made reference to the sheatha phenomenon, we’ve never documented it as we have the breatha, let alone asked sheathas what they think. Until now. 

Critic Te Ārohi went straight to the source for answers, asking the girls of North Dunedin to define themselves. We spoke to three all-girls flats on Castle and Leith: Haunted, Dolls House, and Lashville* to hear thoughts on piss-ups, hook ups, and how misogyny gets them down.

On the Sunday following the May 4th Deathstar host, we began our research at Castle Street's pristine academic and literary hub: the Marsh Center. Seven seconds upon arriving, we located a stray breatha and asked him: “What defines a Castle girl?” He answered: “Loves ket, aggressive, dusty, clout chaser, stank attitude.” Rough, especially when we found out his definition of “clout chasing” was “breatha-chasing”. Critic Te Ārohi didn’t reckon this sounded very feminist, so we continued our research by heading out to the girls’ flats. 

The investigation began two doors down from the Marsh at Raw, who were unfortunately “too dusty” to talk. So we tried Haunted. Far from a “stank attitude”, the girls at Haunted were friendly and, without hesitation, invited us into their lounge to discuss the intricacies of Castle Street feminism. We asked them whether the term “breatha” could encompass this stereotype. “No, I think it’s a compliment to not be called a breatha,” came the reply. “[Castle girls] are pretty diverse and can’t really be stereotyped.” However, a confronting moment of self-awareness swept over the flat as we read a physical description of the stereotypical Castle girl aloud. Re-enacting the Spiderman doppelganger meme with every item listed, the girls North Faced (ha) the fact that Critic might be onto something. 

The Marsh Breatha, however, apparently wasn’t. Upon hearing his scathing accusations of dating infamous boy flats to acquire clout, the girls somewhat defended themselves: “That’s a shout […] But [the girls] don’t do it for clout, it just happens. Most couples have been together since high school.” It appears that the particular breed of student that lives on Castle Street finds their people long before their flat-wrecking exploits.

Then again, even if it were for the clout, there's a good reason for it. The unspoken social hierarchy on Castle Street suggests a structural clout-inequality exists. Similar to girls marrying for prosperity in 1924, perhaps girls date into Castle clout in 2024 because their flats aren’t permitted to generate the same notoriety for themselves? Even if this is the case, Haunted didn’t seem to find it to be an issue. They don’t want a stereotype, and consider having no “prominent label” a good thing. 

Up next was Leith Street’s Dolls House. The girls at Dolls House believed that “breatha” couldn’t possibly become a gender-neutral term. In fact, they considered its application to girls slightly offensive, calling the term “dirty”. One of the girls told Critic, “I’ve always thought [breathas’] rooms are dark and dingy, and there’s probably mould growing in the corner with some random chick's underwear lying on the floor. The sheets haven’t been washed since their mum came down to move them in. My sheets are clean, I haven’t got mould!”

Dolls House also didn’t think the general focus on the dudes of Castle Street was a feminist issue. According to them, the boys have earned their claim to fame as “breathas” through the hard mahi they do ensuring their hosts are as delinquent as humanly possible. “The boys do it well. I think because they don't care as much about their flat getting absolutely trashed, and they're actually quite inclusive to everyone.” 

Apparently, the girls aren’t: “We were talking about [this issue] with a couple of the other girl [flats]. The girls need to start becoming more inclusive and like just inviting everyone. They’re more likely to invite [just] their little clique.” High school beef and a disdain for girls who “run into walls unprovoked” were attributed as the main reasons. When asked why it is okay – encouraged, even – for breathas to run into walls amongst other janky shit, Dolls House explained they are held to a lower standard of etiquette: “I think that's the thing. If a girl does that, it's icky. But if a guy does it, it's funny and normal.” 

So why is this the case? Perhaps something patriarchal is at play. Girls are expected to behave more sensibly and “feminine” to gain approval from not only the boys but, in some backwards way, the girls themselves. Has the social structure of Castle Street pitted the girls against one another? United or divided, Dolls House agreed that the girls who populate North D’s party streets deserve a term, and unanimously voted for “sheatha”. 

Dolls House then directed an enlightened Critic to Lashville as the greatest example of “sheathas” in North Dunedin. Greeted with trampled Cruiser boxes and glass shards upon arrival, we knew we’d come to the right place. Lashville is the only girls' flat around Castle to have held a spontaneous open host party this year. However, the host didn’t come without its doubters: “When we said we were hosting, we got so much shit.” To the girls’ annoyance, there was apparently talk of, “Oh nah, your flat's not big enough.” 

As it turns out, the doubters were threatened boy flats wanting to hoard all the Castle clout for themselves. Both Haunted, Dolls House, and Lashville lamented to Critic that breathas’ egos are as large as the bond they’ll owe their landlords at the end of the year. However, the flat’s party was just as large (with around 300 people showing up), and went off without a hitch. When asked whether they’d like to see more girl flats follow suit, Lashville responded with a resounding: “Fuck yeah!” 

It’s time for the Castle girl Messenger group chat to rise up and prove the boys wrong, but what should they rename themselves? Although they admitted that the current popularly used term “beezy” is reductive and male-centric (i.e, a hot girl associated with a breatha, and seldom a standalone identity), Lashville reckoned they should reclaim the word as a symbol of the Castle girl.

Over our day of research, Critic learned of the many interesting gender dynamics that plague Castle Street and, more broadly, North Dunedin. While it’s undeniable that girls are less inclined to do cooked shit than boys, perhaps there's a double standard preventing them from achieving similar heights of delinquency. But why should there be? Girls should be allowed to run into walls and destroy their flats just as much as the breatha (this is a metaphor, Critic does not endorse flat destruction). From now on, Critic Te Ārohi pledges to use “sheatha” as a term of alliance and endearment for all the cooked girls out there. Here’s hoping the Capping Show will spawn a new wave of representation for sheathas in North Dunedin (despite being called ‘Beezie’).

*Name changed.

This article first appeared in Issue 11, 2024.
Posted 3:42pm Saturday 11th May 2024 by Sam Garry and Iris Hehir.