‘Nasty Women’ – The Intersectional Essay Collection About Being A Woman In The Era Of Trump & Brexit

When Donald Trump labelled Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” in the third and final Presidential Debate in 2016, he had no idea it would become a rallying cry of resistance to women not just in the United States, but around the world. Especially since he used it in a context where she called him out for being a guy who consistently flouts laws and restrictions to benefit himself.

When women refer to themselves as “nasty women” today, it is an indication that they are the type willing to speak out against the relentless and regressive sexism and oppressive status quo rhetoric that for eons has propped up white male privileged figures in power. After 2016 took a battering on global politics with the results of UK’s Brexit vote, and the US Presidential race, women, minorities and progressives around the world have been ignited in a way like never before.

Two UK-based women who saw what was happening and were especially horrified at the way women’s voices, bodies and stories were being treated, decided to do something about it. Publishers Laura Jones, 26, and Heather McDaid, 25, formed the idea of an essay collection to be released through their then-6 month-old independent publishing company 404 Ink.

“After the election, I knew we had to do this book. He’s rolling back rights for everyone except white men and businessmen,” Heather told the Guardian. They launched a Kickstarter campaign with the hopes of raising £6,000, and ended up with a total of £22,156. On the campaign page, the publishers stated they wanted the funds not just for printing costs, but also to pay the authors they would be working with.

They sought out a diverse group of young women, all writers, who covered topics such as contraception, sexual assault, weight, class and race. Heather and Laura explained how the process of putting this book together also allowed their own sense of privilege to be challenged, opening their eyes to the importance of intersectional feminism and listening to especially marginalized voices.

“At the minute, those who shout the loudest to the most get to shape what the ‘truth’ is. So we’re telling stories that are eye opening and important. We’re creating a platform for voices that aren’t being heard,” said Heather.

Website Gal-dem.com interviewed two of the book’s authors, Jona Kottler (‘Fat in every language’) and Jen McGregor (‘Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception‘), to talk about their chosen topics – reproductive autonomy and body image. What was startling about both of the women’s essays and topics is just how central controlling and policing women’s bodies is to the patriarchal system of oppression and control. Jen spoke to Gal-Dem’s Kuba Shand Baptiste about her struggles with certain birth control options, and the push-back she received when trying to get sterilized.

“I’ve always known that I didn’t want children, and when I was 17 I found out that it would be very unlikely for me to conceive naturally or carry to term, so I just thought: okay, let’s avoid the possibility of ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, all that kind of thing and just shut the whole thing down right now. So when aged 18 I asked for the procedure and was told ‘no, you’re far too young, you can’t make that kind of choice’ – I could kind of see that they had a point, but it confused me that I was considered ‘too young’ to decide things about my own body, yet old enough to mother a child,” she said.

Even at the age of 25 she was shut down my medical professionals who assured her she would want kids someday, reinforcing the unspoken stereotype that women making decisions about their bodies and reproductive capabilities are measured against what a potential future husband might want.

“There’s a deeply sexist and patriarchal belief here, that harms men and women equally, because you’ve got this belief that all women will want children – that it’s what we’re for, that it’s what we’re supposed to do. But there’s so much wrong with that,” she said.

Jen also sees this as a huge problem right now politically, given the furious rate of anti-abortion sentiment seen through certain pieces of legislation the Trump administration is signing, and the Republican-controlled Congress is pushing through. She calls it a “kind of borderline theocracy that America seems to be hurtling towards” that is arising out of conservative politics, but it has a deeper, dangerous sentiment also.

“There’s a particularly worrying argument that I’ve seen made quite a few times, and it was made to me personally a few times when I was on my journey to sterilization. Essentially people saying to me that I need to have children because I’m white, because we’ve got to ‘out-breed the other races’. The idea that Britain and America have got falling birth rates in their white populations, and that the onus is on women like me to somehow do our duty and reproduce for some kind of greater good, I cannot get on board with that line of thinking at all,” she explained.

If that sounds a little too close to the plot line of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, the new series on Hulu based on Margaret Atwood’s popular book from the 1980’s, you wouldn’t be the only one to think that. While the story may be fiction, the core function of controlling women through their reproductive and bodily autonomy is very real today. It should also be noted that Margaret Atwood herself tweeted about the ‘Nasty Women’ essay collection, and even donated to the Kickstarter!

Jona Kottler spoke to Gal-dem about the way society at large has been trained to police women’s bodies in an aesthetic manner, especially if they don’t conform to the narrow standards perpetuated by fashion and advertising. As a woman who grew up being teased for her weight by family and strangers, Jona contemplates how fascinating it is that we are so eager to assign ourselves authority to judge other people’s bodies (especially women), as if we think they don’t already think about their weight and health.

“You don’t know if it’s coming from a place of kindness or cruelty. But they do have this idea that you have gone through your whole life living in your body and never received any health advice. It would never occur to me to tell someone how they should be in their own body, it’s hard enough to be in your own body, much less to be able to tell other people what to do. But it may actually come from that, right?” she said.

Similar to the way it is easy to get fatigue with the onslaught of hateful rhetoric, increased violence, and shockingly regressive pieces of legislation spewing forth from Washington D.C, Jona says she feels the same way about the constant barrage of body-shaming opinions.

“You kind of go through these phases where you say, well, I appreciate your opinion, or: it’s a complicated issue, and then at some point, you just go: “fuck off!” Because you know that your reasoning is falling on deaf ears anyway, especially when someone thinks that the solution is putting your fork down, when it’s infinitely more complicated than that…Some days you want to give up and hide and some days you want to march and you have to just allow yourself the room to feel all those things, and to do what you can to say: here I am, I get to be here,” she said.

These are just two of the 20 women featured in ‘Nasty Women’, which you can purchase from Amazon or from the 404 Ink website.

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