To Be Nasty

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Words || Katelyn Free

*Trigger Warning: mention of sexual assault*

“Such a nasty woman”. On 19 October 2016 Donald Trump used this insult against Hillary Clinton in a presidential debate. In response, women around the world rose up and reclaimed ‘nasty’ as their own, using it as a symbol of female power and resistance. We believed that no man with such blatantly misogynistic attitudes and accusations of sexual misconduct could be elected to the highest office in one of the United States. We were wrong. As the 2020 election looms, the question remains, will it happen again? And what will it mean for women? 

What was so striking about Trump using the word ‘nasty’, was the intensely personal nature of the insult. It did not go to Clinton’s leadership skills, policy initiatives or ability to be president. Instead it went to Clinton’s likeability. It preyed upon the internal misogyny rife within both men and women, that judges women based upon their likability as opposed to their skills. And it sought to undermine Clinton by suggesting that she was a bad person because she opposed Trump and dared to voice that opposition.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, the use of ‘nasty’ as an insult against women has become a mainstay feature. Trump has waged a war on women that extends from his rhetoric, to his repeated attempts to limit abortion rights, including appointing Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. But it’s Trump’s rhetoric where we most clearly see his consistent vitriol towards women who oppose him.

In 2017, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz publicly criticized Trump for his administration’s inadequate response to Hurricane Maria and the devastation it wrought in Puerto Rico. Trump responded in a tweet, declaring the mayor’s behaviour ‘nasty’. In an interview, Trump called Meghan Markle, ‘nasty’ after being told she once criticized him for being divisive. Trump said the Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen’s comments were ‘nasty’ after she declined to engage in talks about the sale of Greenland to America. During an interview, Trump called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “nasty, vindictive, horrible person” after she spoke critically of him in a closed-door meeting. 

The democratic candidate for Vice-President, Kamala Harris, has similarly been the target of Trump’s labelling as ‘nasty’. After Joe Biden announced Harris would be his running mate, Trump wasted no time using his favourite insult against her, an echo of the fate of the last woman to run against him on a Democratic ticket. Trump said, “She was extraordinarily nasty to Brett Kavanaugh — Judge Kavanaugh then, now Justice Kavanaugh”. He used the word ‘nasty’ or some version of the word no fewer than four times as he referred to Senate confirmation hearings held in 2018. 

Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List (which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women across the country) stated that, “Calling a woman “nasty” “tries to put her in a place that is unacceptable to society”. She told the Washington Post that, “Our society allows for poor behaviour by men but has little acceptance for anything but perfection by women, and so a term like ‘nasty’ really is just coded language, at least for a certain piece of the population.” 

Trump has often defended his troubling history with women by pointing to the senior women he has surrounded himself with in his administration. However, this only proves that he is not sexist (a low bar for the President of the United States). He his however, a misogynist. 

Cornell University philosophy professor Kate Manne explains in her 2018 book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, that “sexism taken alone involves believing in men’s superiority to women in masculine-coded, high-prestige domains (such as intellectual endeavours, sports, business, and politics), and the naturalness or even inevitability of men’s dominance therein.” But misogyny, is another story. Manne argues that misogyny involves punishing women who don’t act the way men want them to. This is precisely what Trump does to every woman who publicly opposes him. Clinton, Pelosi, Harris: all ‘nasty’. All punished with this insult for speaking against Trump. 

The most egregious facet of Trump’s war on women however, is the 25 sexual misconduct allegations against him, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape. These allegations are highly credible, fact checked and supported by a wealth of evidence. Yet, Trump remains in office and is up for re-election. The most recent allegation came in September of this year, when former model Amy Dorris alleged Trump forcibly kissed and groped her at the U.S. Open in New York on in September 1997. Dorris stated that, “He just shoved his tongue down my throat and I was pushing him off. And then that’s when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything.” Trump denied the accusation via his lawyers in a statement to The Guardian. This has only been the most recent in a long line of accusations, including one from his former wife. 

Yet, as quickly as they hit the news cycle, they fade into the background. There is no sustained outcry, no evidence of widespread public dissent. This most recent accusation has been swamped by those that came before it, overwhelmed and lost. The sheer number of accusations has exhausted the public and instead of being increasing evidence as to Trump being unfit for office, have instead become white noise in the background. 

A man with 25 sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him may be re-elected as president. There will be people who vote to re-elect him and who believe that those women’s stories do not matter. That the violence perpetrated against them did not happen and the allegations mean nothing. And the message that those votes send to all other women is that they do not matter. That a man can perpetrate violence against over 20 women and still be elected to the highest leadership position in the world’s leading superpower. That no matter the violence, the disrespect, the vitriol, women’s voices will never truly be heard, nor will their safety or dignity matter. 

In 2016, in response to Trump’s labelling of Clinton as ‘nasty’, then Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “On November 8th, we nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes, to get you out of our lives forever”.  She was wrong then, but we can only hope that her words ring true now. 

Despite Trump’s potent racism and sexism, 267 women of colour are running for Congress in 2020, an all-time high. Nastiness is not dead. Women are still resisting, still fighting back. And the only way that we really truly lose, is by letting ‘nasty’ become the insult it was meant to be and not the badge of honour we made it into. We need to show that our voices, our stories, our bodies, matter. That they cannot be dismissed by a single word and that men who perpetrate violence against us will be held to account. 

Now more than ever, it’s important to be nasty. And whether Trump is elected or not, we need to take on the legacy of the women who survived this insult and persisted anyway. Who came forward with sexual misconduct allegations, knowing the odds and their country were against them. The only way to shift the tide and the repercussions of Trump’s war on women is to show that our nastiness will outlast his. To show that he and all men like him, should be afraid of ‘nasty’ women.

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