The Women's March in Chicago on January 21, 2017
It seems inevitable that a book of essays about feminism in Trump's America would be called Nasty Women
. You will recall that this is how Trump referred to Hillary Clinton during the third presidential debate almost exactly a year ago. (That wasn't the stalking debate, but the one after, when they returned to podiums.) Feminists immediately adopted the term as a point of pride. There were T-shirts and tote bags. We were sure we would be vindicated on November 8.
The day after the election, after Clinton's concession speech, Samhita Mukhopadhyay recorded a video
for Mic, where she was, at the time, a senior editor. "I spent three days working on a heartfelt essay about how this was a historic moment for women," she said, trying not to cry, "and how young women that were born now, their first memory would be of a woman president, and that feels really stupid now." But Clinton's speech made her realize this wasn't a time to wallow in defeat. Instead, it was time to continue the fights against sexism, racism, and Islamophobia and "to support the voices of the people that were left behind in the election and those that are afraid right now."
, a writer, most recently of Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–And What We Can Do About It,
saw the video and reached out to Mukhopadhyay with a proposal: How about they assemble an anthology of essays by feminists trying to deal with the immediate aftermath of the election? Very quickly, it evolved into a bigger project beyond an exploration of one terrible night. What was more important now was what America under Donald Trump was going to look like.
Both Mukhopadhyay and Harding know a lot of women writers. They made a list of about 100 writers they love, and then tried to narrow it down. They wanted big names like Cheryl Strayed and Jessica Valenti, and younger, emerging writers like Samantha Irby
and Alicia Garza. They wanted a balance between the personal and the political and the funny and the serious. They wanted to include voices from every community that felt threatened by Trump: African-Americans, Latinas, Native Americans, immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, queer people, trans- and gender-nonconforming people, poor people. "We set out to be intersectional," says Harding, via phone from Portland, Oregon, where she and Mukhopadhyay are currently on a book tour and where they just recorded an episode of their podcast, Feminasty
. "One of biggest things we all need to do is listen to other voices and consider other perspectives and go beyond our selfish needs."
One group is conspicuously absent, however, and that is Trump supporters, including the 53 percent of white women who voted for him.
"They have the White House," Mukhopadhyay jokes. "What else do they need?"
"I don’t think you can be a feminist and a Trump supporter at the same time," Harding clarifies. "The definition of 'feminist' is broad and has a big tent, but if you support a confessed sexual predator who is intentionally creating policies that harm women globally and domestically, you're not a feminist."
"I'm not going to work on a project that says people who believe people of color are inferior in some way," Mukhopadhyay adds. "It's not legitimate. I'm not comfortable saying that. Every movement has to have some parameters of what is acceptable."
A few of the essayists, however, do confront the knotty problem of being in the same family as one or more Trump supporters. In her essay "All American," Nicole Chung, who is Korean-American by birth but who was adopted as a baby and raised by white parents, tries to reckon with how people she loves could have voted for Trump when they have an Asian daughter and autistic granddaughter. She writes: "I have no choice but to be a bridge between my white family and all the people like me who are terrified to be living and raising children in Trump's America." She does this by repeatedly e-mailing her parents and other relatives with information about Trump's policies and appointees and encouraging them to call their representatives, in the hopes that at least one issue may galvanize them. The day of the Women's March on Washington, she has a small success: her mother makes a phone call to her representative to ask him to support the education of special-needs children like Chung's daughter.
On tour, Mukhopadhyay and Harding have discovered that Chung's essay, which was previously posted on Longreads
, struck a chord with a lot of readers who find themselves in the same predicament. "Change takes time," says Mukhopadhyay. "But we can petition and organize our own families. People have the relationship and history and knowledge to do that with their parents."
"I just talked to [essayist] Ann Friedman," Harding adds. "A lot of her family don't share her political beliefs. When we talk about these things, you're on one side, I'm on another side, and how do we get to a middle ground? She says we need to find some overlap, to ask, What do we actually agree on? Do we agree that we love each other? Do we agree that kindness is something we both value? Go from there. Listen in the framework of 'what do we agree with' instead of 'what is irreparable.'" (Friedman did not contribute to Nasty Women
Harding and Mukhopadhyay haven't met many Trump supporters on their tour. They've been having more issues with people who disliked Clinton and accuse them of having voted with their vaginas. ("My vagina is very smart!" Mukhopadhyay says.) They find that, especially among young people who'd only ever voted for Obama, there's an expectation that you should love your candidate unequivocally.
"They don't remember John Kerry," Harding grumbles. "I'd love them to go through an election cycle when all the candidates are boring white men."
"When you support a candidate in mainstream politics, you're always choosing the lesser of evils," Mukhopadhyay says. "There was this idea that if you supported Hillary, you supported everything she ever did in her whole goddamned life. That wasn't something that happened in the past when you supported candidates. You understood that and made compromises."
But those disagreements they can handle. The book includes essays by writers who were not Clinton supporters. Collier Meyerson excoriates Clinton and other white feminists for ignoring women of color. Sarah Jaffe writes about how disconnected Clinton and other white liberals were from the working class, who ended up voting for Trump. One of the goals of Nasty Women
is to start people thinking about what kind of country they want to live in, and how we can work together to get it.
Harding and Mukhopadhyay arrive in Chicago on Friday for an event at Wilson Abbey hosted by Women & Children First. Sarah Hollenbeck, one of the owners of the bookstore, also contributed to the book with a very moving essay
about living with a disability. They'll be joined by Irby and by Megan Stielstra
, who is not in the book, but who has written
about the new restrictions on birth control.
"If we’ve learned anything on tour so far," Mukhopadhyay says, "it's that older women in particular are coming out of the woodwork."
"I love them," Harding says. "They're starting to realize, 'We've been quiet and good all our lives, and look where it got us, so screw that.' It's exciting to see both older and younger women who want to raise their voices right now, because we need that."
Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America (Picador)
. Edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding. Reading Fri 10/13, 7 PM, Wilson Abbey, 935 W. Wilson, 773-769-9299, womenandchildrenfirst.com, $20 (includes a copy of the book).