‘Nasty Women’ Editors Talk Feminism in the Age of Trump

Attendees talk at the Boston Athenaeum on Oct. 18. Photo by Sara Frazier

By Sara Frazier
BU News Service

Rape culture, civil disobedience and fake news were among the many hot-button topics discussed at the “Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America” event at the Boston Athenaeum on Oct. 18.

The event featured Kate Harding and Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the editors of the “Nasty Women” anthology. Opinion writer and speaker Jaclyn Friedman moderated the discussion.

“Nasty Women” is an anthology of original essays from various feminist writers. The Boston Athenaeum decided to host this event because gender-related issues seemed like a prevalent theme, according to Deborah Vernon, the technical coordinator of events and education.

“A theme that was leaping off the pages was gender and women in America, specifically in regard to Trump and the 2016 election,” Vernon said. “So we decided to create a theme and an event series focused on women.”

The Athenaeum’s four-part event series, “The Culture of American Womanhood,”  explores issues that face women in America today, such as abortion and body politics.

The “Nasty Women” discussion kicked off the series, and Vernon said the talk seemed particularly timely.

“Last night I went on Twitter searching the term ‘nasty woman’ and I saw a lot of women using the term in an accusatory, defamatory way and pointing it at other women,” she said. “So I think the title of the book alone says why we need to have this discussion.”

After the speakers introduced themselves to the crowd of about 100 students, scholars and library members, Harding and Mukhopadhyay delved into the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal.

“So many people are trying to make it a partisan issue,” Harding said, referring to the criticism Hillary Clinton received for having received campaign donations from Weinstein. “This is not a problem that falls along party lines.”

The speakers pointed to Weinstein and the subsequent #MeToo movement on social media as a lens into the issue of rape culture or the normalization of rape and sexual abuse in America.

Harding and Mukhopadhyay asked the crowd who had seen the #MeToo social media movement for sexual assault and harassment survivors. The majority of attendees raised their hands.

Harding, who is the author of “Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — and What We Can Do About It,” said that there are various reasons women might be hesitant to speak about an incident of sexual harassment or abuse.

“There’s a lot of compassion, but there’s also a lot of ‘Why didn’t you come forward sooner?’” she said.

The question of what it means to be a “nasty woman” came up, and Mukhopadhyay said that there is a sort of “nastiness” in the political debate within their book since the authors of the essays do not necessarily all hold the same beliefs.

Discrepancies between women as a group also became a point of the discussion.

Caroline Turner, 22, of Fort Point, attended the event and said women should not be thought of as one collective entity.

“Women are not a united group,” she said. “So I think that it’s really interesting and important to understand the differences.”

The speakers pointed to the fact that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump while 94 percent of black women voted for Clinton to show the disparities between women of different races.

Despite differences between women as a demographic, Friedman said the majority of women as a whole voted for Clinton.

“If only women voted in this election, we would have President Hillary Clinton,” she said.

After about 40 minutes, panelists opened the discussion to questions from the audience. One attendee asked the speakers how to convince those who voted for Trump to change their views.

“I don’t know that we have to convince them so much as we have to outvote them,” Harding answered.

When asked about the role of civil disobedience in the Trump administration, Mukhopadhyay said activism can be helpful, but it should not be the only solution.

“Right now, we need a lot of strategies at the same time,” she said.

One of the strategies that Mukhopadhyay suggested was to “double down” on the facts in a society where she said that “even the truth has become partisan.”

During the book signing that followed the discussion, Brian McGahie, 24, of Brookline, said he enjoyed the welcoming environment of the event.

“I’m really interested in feminist spheres,” he said. “It’s always really nice to be in a space that feels feminist and inclusive.”

Constance Kane, 69, of Brookline, said she came away from the discussion more hopeful that women can find some unity as a group.

“Within the dissenting voices, there is still a certain cohesion, even though we are different,” she said.

Kane said that the idea of nasty women resonated strongly with her and that she attended the event to gain some clarity about being a woman today.

“I came here for the reason we all came,” she said. “It’s hard to know who to be right now.”

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