Twenty-Three Leading Feminist Writers on Protest and Solidarity
When 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.
Featuring essays by REBECCA SOLNIT on Trump and his “misogyny army,” CHERYL STRAYED on grappling with the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s loss, SARAH HEPOLA on resisting the urge to drink after the election, NICOLE CHUNG on family and friends who support Trump, KATHA POLLITT on the state of reproductive rights and what we do next, JILL FILIPOVIC on Trump’s policies and the life of a young woman in West Africa, SAMANTHA IRBY on racism and living as a queer black woman in rural America, RANDA JARRAR on traveling across the country as a queer Muslim American, SARAH HOLLENBECK on Trump’s cruelty toward the disabled, MEREDITH TALUSAN on feminism and the transgender community, and SARAH JAFFE on the labor movement and active and effective resistance, among others.
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About the Author
Samhita Mukhopadhyay is a writer, editor and speaker. She is the former Senior Editorial Director of Culture and Identities at Mic and former Executive Editor of Feministing.com. She is also the author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Medium, Talking Points Memo and Jezebel.
Kate Harding is the author of Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Cultureand What We Can Do About It, which was chosen as a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and as the freshman read for Tulane University’s class of 2020. She is also a co-author (with Anna Holmes and Amanda Hess) of The Book of Jezebel and, with Marianne Kirby, of Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. In 2007, she founded the popular body image and self-acceptance blog Shapely Prose, and her writing has appeared in The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Cosmopolitan, Salon, Jezebel, and Mic, among other publications.
Read an Excerpt
"I'M A WOMAN, VOTE FOR ME"
Why We Need Identity Politics
Underneath the largest glass ceiling in New York City, Hillary Clinton's campaign planned to celebrate victory at the Javits Center, on election night 2016. I gathered there along with thousands of others to witness Clinton make history as the first female president of the United States.
In the lead-up to the election, polls had the former senator and secretary of state leading reality-TV star Donald Trump by at least 4 to 6 percentage points. The New York Times gave Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning. As an editorial director at Mic, an online news and culture website for millennials, I had also planned for a Clinton victory, assigning a dozen or so stories, and had written and revised a two-thousand-word piece about this big, albeit fraught, moment in feminist history.
We all know how this story goes. At around 10 p.m., CNN called Ohio for Trump. The mood at Javits turned grim, but viewers held out hope. Idaho and North Carolina followed, and then the tipping point: Florida. By now, small groups of women were sitting on the ground crying; hundreds left the building in droves. Amid the chaos, I realized I had to make my way back to the office. We had to rewrite everything. Donald Trump was going to be president.
The intact glass ceiling at the Javits Center turned out to be a metaphor even more apt than the Clinton campaign could have imagined.
The 2016 election wasn't just a loss for Clinton, it was a loss for feminism. Not only did the first female candidate from either major party lose, she lost to an open misogynist — someone who called a former Latina beauty queen fat and was caught on the record bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. Despite that the election played out like a morality tale gone wrong, in which the smart girl who had done her homework loses to the class clown who barely shows up for school, in its wake progressives seemed to bristle at discussing the role sexism and racism played in it. Instead, they openly debated whether the campaign — and the left more generally — had focused too much on "identity politics": on Clinton being the first viable woman candidate for president and catering to minorities and their concerns, instead of speaking to the economic anxieties of the white working class.
Born of the civil and women's-rights activism of the 1970s, identity politics seeks to recognize and organize around the complex and interwoven ways race, class, gender, immigration status, and sexuality, among other factors, impact how life is lived in America — and who has access to the American dream. Both a political and intellectual movement, identity politics offers a critique of privilege and the ways it is meted out. It has been pilloried by critics on the right and left who say its focus on difference is divisive. At the heart of the debate is the fundamental question of how we conceive of ourselves as a country: Do we recognize that different groups of people experience unique challenges based on their identity and organize around and embrace those differences, or do we ignore them in service of a more universal, uniform understanding of Americanness?
Clinton's campaign banked on the former, speaking directly to the interests of women, people of color, sexual minorities, and the disabled. Her campaign's rallying cry — "I'm with her" — was a clear reminder that she was the first woman presidential candidate for a major party. In what would come to be regarded as a tactical faux pas, Clinton dared to refer to Trump's supporters as "deplorables" for their regressive views on race and sexuality. In the third presidential debate, she ardently supported the right to an abortion: "I will defend Planned Parenthood. I will defend Roe v. Wade, and I will defend women's rights to make their own health care decisions," she said. In a powerful ad, she juxtaposed shots of women, people of color, and people with disabilities with footage of Trump denigrating these groups. The campaign included women and people of color in senior positions, and the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner appeared at several campaign stops, after Clinton personally met with the women and promised to advocate on their behalf.
This is not to say that Clinton had always done right by the communities she courted during the election. When her husband was president, she supported the passage of NAFTA, which some have argued exported well-paying American jobs; the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, which is credited with fueling the mass incarceration epidemic that disproportionately impacts black men; and the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, Bill Clinton's attempt at welfare reform, which is known for leading the way to criminalizing and stigmatizing welfare recipients. Her own ties to Wall Street — whose subprime lending practices caused the housing crisis, which disproportionately impacted the black community and its decades of progress in financial growth — dogged her as a candidate.
After Clinton lost the election, criticism of her campaign's approach came swiftly. In a much discussed op-ed for The New York Times, Mark Lilla argued that "American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism's message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing." Lilla's views were reinforced by liberals also warning of the electoral consequences of following Clinton's strategy. In a Washington Post op-ed, John B. Judis wrote that the left "overestimated the strength of a coalition based on identity politics."
Echoing similar sentiments, Senator Bernie Sanders regularly criticized Clinton for failing to focus on issues of class. "We need a Democratic Party that is not a party of the liberal elite but of the working class of this country," Sanders said in March. "It's not good enough for someone to say, 'I'm a woman! Vote for me!'" he said at a rally in Boston after the election. "What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry."
Sanders is right in suggesting we need more than token references to identity to galvanize authentic support from voters, but it is important to remember that most identity politics are about class. And Clinton did talk about class during her campaign — about equal pay for women, paid family leave, increasing the minimum wage, a fair tax system, and revitalizing American manufacturing. She proposed a $10 billion investment fund to encourage companies to produce goods in America as well as tax credits to help revitalize areas devastated by deindustrialization. "Manufacturing is coming back," she said during the campaign. "My job as your president will be to do everything I can to create more good-paying jobs, to get wages rising again for American workers and families."
Exit polls also failed to substantiate the claim that Clinton's campaign didn't speak to economic anxieties in the electorate. Black women — the poorest demographic in the country — voted for Clinton at a rate of 94 percent. According to an analysis of exit polls by The New York Times, 53 percent of Americans making less than $30,000 per year voted for Clinton versus 41 percent for Trump. In those same exit polls, 52 percent of voters who listed the economy as their top political issue of concern voted for Clinton (as opposed to 42 percent who voted for Trump).
To suggest that progressives move away from identity politics, in the service of a broader "American" narrative, is also to suggest that we ignore the heavy-handed role that sexism played in Clinton's loss. In both her 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns, people critiqued her voice, her demeanor, and her appearance. She was considered "untrustworthy," while her opponent, who wouldn't release his tax returns — the first candidate ever to refuse to do so — was supposedly a straight-talking, no-bull breath of fresh air. The press and the public became fascinated with Clinton's private server and leaked emails, both used to bolster the argument that she played by her own rules. Meanwhile, Trump was caught on the record repeatedly lying about everything from the unemployment rate, to his own tax plan to ultimately refusing to disclose his own tax documents. But Clinton's critics persisted — they just didn't like her.
Lost in the hubbub of debate on the left over identity politics was that Trump, too, ran a campaign based on identity, but it was white identity and white fears. During the election cycle, he deflected criticism of racialized language as unnecessary "political correctness" — a derisive term used to describe liberals' attempts to express sensitivity toward minorities. An outgrowth of identity politics, political correctness has become an obsession of thinkers on the right and left who are focused on the impact of "PC culture"— or rather, on students running amok on college campuses demanding gender-appropriate terminology who have simply hamstrung the progressive movement. Left-leaning writers like Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have caricatured, prior to the 2016 election, "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" as evidence that today's college students are intellectually coddled. New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait called PC culture "exhausting," that being held to the standards of political correctness is difficult and ineffective and therefore tiresome. These critiques first came from staunch conservatives: in his 1998 Illiberal Education, author Dinesh D'Souza argued that political correctness impairs free speech, preventing society from talking openly about "brutal truths."
Trump built his campaign around speaking those "brutal truths," which gave way to the rise of the alt-right and other white ethno-nationalist sentiments in the 2016 election cycle. He stoked fear of the "other" when he proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States. He aggravated class anxieties by insinuating "illegals" would take jobs and used that fear to push forward the idea that we need a bigger, taller wall to keep Mexicans out of the country. As Laila Lalami argued in The New York Times, Trump won the votes of the white majority on a campaign that "explicitly and consistently appealed to white identity and anxiety."
Senator Sanders made the claim that not all Trump supporters are "racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks." Yet a series of studies suggests that they share a fear of and antipathy for the "other." In The Nation, Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel published an analysis of a survey from the Cooperative Congressional Analysis Project and found that fear of diversity made voters more likely to vote for Trump. In an analysis of data from American National Election Studies, political scientist Philip Klinkner found racial resentment was a key motivator in voting for Trump. He told Mehdi Hasan at The Intercept, "whether it's good politics to say so or not, the evidence from the 2016 election is very clear that attitudes about blacks, immigrants, and Muslims were a key component of Trump's appeal." Trump galvanized existing racial animus by stoking fear of America's increased diversity to bring out white voters in droves.
That Trump's explicit appeals to white identity and resentment were considered legitimate rallying cries that supposedly united an unheard working-class base, while Clinton was called divisive, suggests that calls for "universality" generally mean centralizing white, male experience. Whereas the experiences of people of color are marked as nonstandard, white identity — white concerns, sensitivities, anxieties — is taken as representative of the whole; anything that deviates from that identity is "diversity" or "difference." In practice, it is impossible to have a liberal politics devoid of identity: to eschew identity politics is to ignore the experiences and concerns of a vast segment of American society. Take, for example, how we conceptualize the plight of the working class — politicians are focused on coal miners and factory-line jobs, not the retail, fast-food, or health care industries, which employ predominantly working-class people of color.
From a tactical standpoint, identity politics may be alienating to working-class voters who see their privilege as earned and that the cause of their economic stagnation is due to competition with other lower classes, such as working-class people of color or immigrants, as opposed to a system that privileges the rich. But the answer is not to shy away from uncomfortable truths about race, gender, class, sexuality, and disability. As the country grows more diverse — by 2050, whites may well become a minority of the population — these truths become harder and harder to ignore. Beyond the necessity of grappling with identity on the left, much of the successful political organizing in recent years has been rooted in identity. The robust, extensive, and complex Movement for Black Lives' rallying cry is based on identity: "Black lives matter." Not only have activists been successful in changing the public conversation on race and the criminal justice system, they got the presidential candidates to talk about policing practices and have brought out protesters against racially motivated violence in droves. Immigrant-rights organizers have focused their efforts on communities targeted by racial profiling. These coordinated efforts led to record-high turnout at protests, like the one at New York's Kennedy airport when Trump issued the Muslim ban and the May Day protests in 2017. And of the many "isms" impacted after the Trump election, sexism was the target and the organizing principle for millions of women around the world who participated in the Women's March protests the day after the inauguration.
Identity-based organizing is our best tool in the fight for equality. Granted, it's not always easy. Within each of these communities there are robust, sometimes difficult, and sometimes agonizing discussions about the fickle borders of identity. What issues should be included? How can we include all of these issues and still stay focused on a common goal? How do we prioritize our agendas with so many different factions involved? But those questions shouldn't divide the left; instead they pressure-test beliefs and ensure the fight for justice and equality is expansive, creative, and inclusive. For example, considering how the fight for trans rights is an important part of the feminist movement doesn't weaken the feminist movement but instead strengthens it, forces it to be more comprehensive and truly inclusive.
And it is exactly those conversations that need to enter the mainstream political discourse rather than our hiding from them in the service of a false narrative about America. How do we navigate a world that gives us Beyoncé's groundbreaking album Lemonade, a tribute to black women's sexuality, and the rise of the alt-right? We live in complex, sometimes mind-numbingly confounding times and the only way to understand them is to understand each other: the good, the bad, and the sometimes extremely ugly.
It is in service to these complex conversations that Kate and I put together this anthology. In the chapters ahead we have curated some of the strongest voices writing at the intersection of feminism, identity, and personal experience with their own identity to meditate on what we lost that fateful night in November 2016 and what lessons we can take from it. In "Country Crock" Sam Irby writes beautifully on being a queer, working-class woman of color who moves to Trump country. Reflecting on her travels in Ghana, Jill Filipovic shares a gut-wrenching story about a young woman she meets in her travels and how her life may be impacted by Trump's unleashing of the global gag order. In "Beyond the Pussy Hats" Katha Pollitt makes it plain how we can lose our abortion rights in Trump's America. Zerlina Maxwell reflects on her time as a black woman working on the Clinton campaign in "Trust Black Women." Jessica Valenti shares her feelings the day after the election in "Permission to Vote for a Monster: Ivanka Trump and Faux Feminism," and the inimitable Cheryl Strayed, in "She Will," discusses how she felt after Clinton lost. Meredith Talusan, in "We've Always Been Nasty: Why the Feminist Movement Needs Trans Women and Gender-Nonconforming Femmes," makes the case for how we have an opportunity to redefine gender in the women's movement and we should absolutely take it.
Excerpted from "Nasty Women"
Copyright © 2017 Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. “ ‘I’m a Woman, Vote for Me’: Why We Need Identity Politics” by Samhita Mukhopadhyay
2. “Are Women Persons?” by Kate Harding
3. “She Will” by Cheryl Strayed
4. “As Long as It’s Healthy” by Sarah Michael Hollenbeck
5. “We Have a Heroine Problem” by Carina Chocano
6. “Advice to Grace in Ghana: Trump, the Global Gag Rule, and the Terror of Misinformation” by Jill Filipovic
7. “Beyond the Pussy Hats” by Katha Pollitt
8. “Is There Ever a Right Time to Talk to Your Children About Fascism?” by Kera Bolonik
9. “Country Crock” by Samantha Irby
10. “Refusing to Numb the Pain” by Sarah Hepola
11. “Dispatches from a Texas Militarized Zone” by Melissa Arjona
12. “Pulling the Wool Over Their Eyes: The Blindness of White Feminists” by Collier Meyerson
13. “A Nation Groomed and Battered” by Rebecca Solnit
14. “The Pathology of Donald Trump” by Sady Doyle
15. “Nasty Native Women” by Mary Kathryn Nagle
16. “Farewell to Meritocracy” by Jamia Wilson
17. “Permission to Vote for a Monster: Ivanka Trump and Faux Feminism” by Jessica Valenti
18. “Donald Trump’s War on the Working Class” by Sarah Jaffe
19. “We’ve Always Been Nasty: Why the Feminist Movement Needs Trans Women and Gender-Nonconforming Femmes” by Meredith Talusan
20. “X Cuntry: A Muslim-American Woman’s Journey” by Randa Jarrar
21. “Trust Black Women” by Zerlina Maxwell
22. “How to Build a Movement” by Alicia Garza
23. “All American” by Nicole Chung
About the Contributors