By Alison Buckholtz
For many people—including the authors whose essays appear in the new collection NASTY WOMEN: FEMINISM, RESISTANCE, AND REVOLUTION IN TRUMP’S AMERICA—last year’s election day was a sort of political 9/11. They
remember exactly where they were the moment President Trump’s victory was announced, the same way other generations can recite what they were doing when Kennedy was assassinated or when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Those night-of-November-Eighth tales, full of fear, suspense, horror, and gloom, are almost Gothic in the telling. That’s one of the things that makes NASTY WOMEN an especially valuable read as America rounds the corner of the one-year anniversary of election day: its dispatches record history before the feelings that powered it are forgotten.
For Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Solnit, Sarah Hepola, Katha Pollit and the 20 other writers here—it goes almost without saying that Trump was not their guy—the 45th President is someone not to be endured quietly. Their recollections of that night are a jumping-off point, fixing readers together with the author in a moment of time before brainstorming about what to do next. Intellectual honesty, strategy, and organization are arrows in the quiver, and each archer targets the political challenge in her own way.
Though every essay is not for everyone (I tend to glaze over at the word “intersectional,” though Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s explanation of identity politics in “I’m a Woman, Vote for Me” was the most practical and relatable of anything I’ve 411ever read), there’s something here to appeal to readers across the non-Trump-venerating spectrum.
Sarah Hepola’s thoughtful commitment to facing the coming years as a teetotaler is a good example. Hepola’s essay, “Refusing to Numb the Pain,” points out the necessity of having one’s faculties intact in a politically polarizing environment. Avoiding pat answers, she highlights her opposite but complementary reactions to continuing domestic and international crises:
On Twitter and Facebook, I see my feminist friends whipping others into action: Get out. Get mad. Refuse to stay silent. In recovery rooms, I watch old-timers calming people down. Take a breath. Slow down. Stop yelling for a while. Both of these instincts are correct, and though they feel incompatible, I don’t think they are. One of the many challenges of the next few years will be finding balance between necessary rage and some slice of inner peace. Between speaking your mind and listening to another person’s perspective.
The action-minded Katha Pollitt (“Beyond the Pussy Hats”) narrows her focus to the fight for reproductive rights, outlining a series of concrete, do-able actions to support abortion rights during this administration. Her premise that “the assault on reproductive rights is just the beginning of an expanded war on women” is backed by breaking-news examples—as when a Republican representative from Illinois asked in a congressional discussion of the Affordable Care act why men should have to pay for prenatal care.
An acknowledgement of the balance between thoughtfulness and action stabilizes the spine of NASTY WOMEN. Such a unified purpose allows each author to add to the contribution of the other essayists, though the pieces themselves are as different in tone, subject matter, and style as women’s bodies are in shape and size.
For example, Kate Harding’s “Are Women Persons?” lets the f-bombs fly, while Kera Bolonik’s “Is There Ever a Right Time to Talk to Your Children About Facism?” is much more personal, sober, and soul-searching. Jessica Valenti’s “Permission to Vote for a Monster” lays out how “faux feminism,” which allows women to present themselves as feminists while supporting policies that oppress others, paved the way for Ivanka Trump to convince voters that her father was a good guy.
Some of the ideas here, though not necessarily new, take on a renewed urgency in the stormy climate of this cultural moment. This is especially true of Alicia Garza’s “How to Build a Movement.” Garza remembers that when she first started out as an activist, “Someone was patient with me. Someone saw that I had something to contribute. Someone stuck with me….Someone taught me how to be accountable.” She implores readers to “reach out beyond the people who agree with you.”
That’s an arrow that all American archers need in the collective quiver, regardless of our particular target.
Mukhopadyay, Samita. Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America. Picador, 2017.
Buy Nasty Women here
About the reviewer:
Alison Buckholtz is author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War (Tarcher/Penguin, April 2009; in paperback April 2013). She wrote the “Deployment Diary” column on Slate.com from 2009-2010, and her other articles and essays have been published in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Real Simple, Parenting, Washingtonian Magazine, Salon.com and many other publications. As an advocate for military families, she has appeared on NBC Nightly News, NPR, and in national news stories. Her L.A. Times op-ed, “An ‘It Gets Better’ for the troops,” was the inspiration for a national public service announcement campaign about military suicides.
She received an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Virginia and a B.A. in English Literature (Honors, Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She also completed a year of undergraduate study at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1997-98 she lived in Jerusalem, Israel as a recipient of a Dorot Foundation postgraduate fellowship. She now lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband, an active-duty Naval officer, and two children.