Of all the insults that flew back and forth during a series of presidential debates that saw more than usual, none inspired as much comment as Donald Trump's jibe at Hillary Clinton on Wednesday night during a discussion of Social Security: "Such a nasty woman."
Twitter instantly lit up with reactions. #offensive and misogynistic comments that I grew weary of being upset by them. I stopped paying attention at some point.NastyWoman and #NastyWithHer proliferated. Even the Janet Jackson song "Nasty" saw a resurgence of interest. But I didn't give it much thought. Trump has been such a reliable fount of
But then my sister sent me a link to Arwa Mahdawi's thoughtful commentary on the insult from The Guardian, and reading it, something clicked into place in my brain. Mahdawi spends some of the piece drawing a comparison between "Nasty Women," who have the gall to reject or even ignore men and speak their own minds, and "Nice Girls." "Nice Girls do not complain," she writes. "Nice Girls know their place. Nice Girls raise nice children. And Nice Girls definitely do not run for president." It hit me that she was describing me.
That description wouldn't always have fit. As an adolescent and teenager, I was decidedly uppity. I pointedly piped up in classes when the other girls stayed silent, I studied karate, I voiced my opinions often and loudly. I was remarked on for my passionate nature. But then came college and my early jobs. My very first job was secretarial, a profession where loud opinions and unbridled passions are unwelcome, and one almost entirely populated by women. As I moved on into other publishing positions I found that loud opinions and unbridled passions were still undesirable, at least from me. A calm demeanor and helpful attitude seemed to be the way to get ahead.
By the time I became president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors in 2012--after waiting my turn for a decade as secretary on the board of directors--I had learned these lessons so well that I earned the nickname "The Queen of Diplomacy." In the often fractious world of freelance writers and editors, nearly everyone was my friend. I spent so much time and effort trying to build consensus and avoid all conflict that the work of the organization suffered during my first months on the job. But at least I was a Nice Girl.
Now here's Hillary Clinton, poised to become the first female Commander-in-Chief our nation has ever had. We think of ourselves as egalitarian and forward-thinking but a long list of other nations, from Israel to Ireland to India have already had one--or more than one--woman as leader. In Pakistan, where forced child marriages are still common, they elected their first female head of state nearly two decades ago. In the Philippines, one of two countries on earth where divorce is still illegal, they've had two.
We're well overdue for a female president. For a long time the idea that it would be Clinton bothered me. I hate it that women most often accede to great power because they're the wives or daughters of popular male leaders. I hated the idea that our first woman president would have started her political life as First Lady. First Ladies are Nice Girls--it's part of the job description. So much so that Clinton was forced to enter a bake-off after making the perfectly reasonable comment that she'd chosen to follow her profession rather than stay home and bake cookies.
But Clinton has proven that she's not a Nice Girl. Nice Girls content themselves with their roles as First Lady and don't go running for the Senate or vying for cabinet positions. Nice Girls aren't known for their ability to out-drink generals, or for their hawkishness. Nice Girls don't refuse to shake hands, or stride over to their male opponents' side of the stage, forcing those opponents to pace around awkwardly.
Nice Girls dress as perfect ornaments to their male candidate husbands and fathers, as Melania, Ivanka, and Tiffany Trump do, in form fitting skirts and shoulder-baring or low-cut tops that show off their breasts to perfection. They don't wear pant suits that hide the flaws in their figures--they're not allowed to have flawed figures. As Mahdawi says, they don't run for president. And they definitely don't win.
I've spent too many decades of my life being a Nice Girl. It's cost me tens of thousands of dollars because I've been too polite to demand higher pay for my work, or raise too much of a fuss when customers pay me late. It's probably cost a few thousand in dental work too because I tend to grind my teeth when I'm sleeping.
So yes, I'm kind of psyched at having a Not-Nice woman in the Oval Office, if only because of the example she'll set--an example I could have used back when I was starting my career. But maybe it's not too late. Maybe I'll finally be able to bring back my own inner Nasty Woman as well.