by Jennie Young
“Black women tried to save you, America. You didn’t want to be saved.”
So begins Zerlina Maxwell’s essay titled “Trust Black Women” in the book Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America.
The edited collection was inspired, of course, by Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” an epithet that, ironically, became a rallying cry for women across the nation. Women everywhere appropriated it eagerly, donning “Nasty Woman” t-shirts, drinking our coffee out of “Nasty Woman” mugs as we tried to reclaim the energy that many of us felt had been soul-sucked over the course of an ugly campaign with an even uglier outcome.
What to do, with a groundswell of optimism that turned into a black hole of despair? Women everywhere, myself included, struggled (and still struggle) with anger. And yet we’ve been told—we’ve been shown—that our anger is not only unproductive but unallowed. And unattractive.
What to do, with such anger, such nastiness?
The writers and editors of Nasty Women have some ideas. In their collection, Editors Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding have gathered an impressively diverse troupe of feminist wordsmiths who demonstrate what anger can look like when it’s forged into kick-ass argumentative prose.
The essayists address everything from President Andrew Jackson’s horrifying and hateful words about Native Americans (Trump has made similar comments in recent years and has placed a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office) to what Jessica Valenti calls Ivanka Trump’s brand of “faux feminism.”
But more than anything, the writers are collectively angry about what happened to Hillary Clinton—not only that she lost the election, but how she was treated during and after the campaign. Sarah Michael Hollenbeck describes how “waking up to the election results was like looking down to find thousands of cracks in a floor that, seconds ago, I’d thought solid and smooth.”
I remember feeling something similar during the moments that I was even willing to confront the reality of what had just happened; most of the time in those early days I remained steadfastly in denial. I mean, we couldn’t really have elected Donald Trump president—like, of the United States. Right?
But we did, and in her essay “We Have a Heroine Problem” (that’s “heroine,” not “heroin”), Carina Chocano explores why. She explains how, even in the twenty-first century, “we don’t know how to tell the story of a woman like Clinton—experienced, powerful, authoritative…To cast her in the hero role is to smash the world. So we recognize her as the villain.” And that recognition resulted in “the most qualified candidate ever to run [losing] the presidency to an unhinged, unqualified thug.”
The essayists in this collection pull zero punches, but their anger is focused and their calls to action cogent and concrete. If you appreciate sharp writing and are interested in the intersection of politics and feminism, it’s a must-read. Personally, I think it’s a must-read for everyone.