Don’t hide your light under a bushel. State what you do for a living. Wear what makes you feel good. Take all the damn selfies you want. And most importantly, speak up.
A few nights after the final presidential debate, I met my friend and former colleague Magin LaSov Gregg for dinner. The dynamic between the candidates still fresh, our conversation predictably drifted into election territory. Magin pointed out that nasty—now infamously part of the “such a nasty woman” line Donald Trump levied at Hillary Clinton while she was speaking—suggests a state of being filthy, dirty, vulgar, and otherwise debased, which is why it’s frequently used to silence women. As I listened to Magin dissect this word, I wondered if it would join other pejoratives like bitch and slut that women have reclaimed over the years.
I didn’t have to wait long for women to embrace Trump’s label and use it as fuel for the fire. The Atlantic, the Huffington Post, and Vox (among others) published editorials the next morning deeming nasty woman a “feminist rallying cry.” Referencing Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit, the Internet exploded with merchandise featuring lines like, “Miss Clinton if you’re nasty.”
Fast-forward to the morning after the election.
As many of us did, I awoke feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. I had tossed and turned all night and every time I came into consciousness, I had to walk myself through what just happened. Once I dragged myself out of bed and made it to my office, I saw the aftermath hanging over D.C. like a cloud. Everywhere I looked—on the train, on the street, in restaurants—people were openly weeping.
Working from the reclaimed definition, I didn’t feel very much like a nasty woman. I remembered a coloring book for girls that I opened a few years ago, a drawing inside of a pantsuited cartoon, sleek ponytail and hands determinedly on her hips, captioned, “Women can be President, too!” At the time, I saw this as a foreshadowing of Hillary Clinton’s run, not knowing that I’d eventually wake up to find her campaign steamrolled by a serial abuser of women.
I want to believe. I want the little girls in this country to believe. And so even though we mourn, we should be prepared to fight any future policies and actions that may contribute to an unsafe climate or erode our human rights. As one woman in the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation advised, “Cry today and put on your pantsuit tomorrow.” Here’s a short list of how Nasty Women can keep their fire alive during the next four years.
Nasty Women Don’t Apologize For Existing
One of my favorite pieces from the satirical women’s magazine Reductress is titled, “Woman Changes E-mail Signature to ‘Sorry.’” We learn early that little girls “should be seen and not heard,” and that being a woman means keeping your thoughts to yourself, diminishing your accomplishments, and apologizing a lot.
While I was teaching, I went through a phase where I introduced myself, particularly to dates, as a teacher rather than a professor because I didn’t want to seem too…something. After all, the unconscious bias professional women face is rampant: Studies have found that men feel less masculine around intelligent women and read female successes as their own failures.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel. State what you do for a living. Wear what makes you feel good. Take all the damn selfies you want. And most importantly, speak up. Men are conditioned to talk over women as Trump repeatedly did in the debates. “Stop interrupting me,” are three of the most important words a girl can learn.
Nasty Women Take Charge Of Their Sexual Health
Pro-life politicians consistently demonstrate that they haven’t the faintest idea how women’s bodies, contraceptive options, or abortion procedures work. And throughout this election season, Trump’s posse has made it clear that they’d like to return to a time before women could make their own reproductive choices.
I am among the hordes of women in this country wondering what will become of their health options. Many professionals are encouraging women to swap their pills for an IUD, which is currently covered under the Affordable Care Act and will likely last beyond Trump’s term. However, an IUD isn’t right for everyone given that many of us rely on birth control for reasons other than contraception. My particular brand of oral contraception treats symptoms of dysmenorrhea and possible endometriosis, and my body rejects certain types of progesterone that some IUDs contain.
Don’t be afraid to ask your gynecologist what you should do next, and/or to research alternative options if birth control coverage disappears. Prjkt Ruby provides a variety of options without a prescription. Even if you haven’t made a decision as to what you’ll do before January, it may be wise to order some emergency contraception to have on hand.
Nasty Women Inspire Nasty Girls
I know plenty of strong, intelligent women who love Disney and its princesses, but just as many who seek out alternatives for the young girls in their lives to idealize. One of the primary criticisms aimed at “princess culture” (Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter is an excellent resource on this) is that girls who imitate these figures are subscribing to unrealistic romantic fantasies and defining themselves solely in relation to men.
Fortunately, there are materials and toys designed to instill the same kind of confidence and sense of autonomy in girls that we already instill in boys. Roominate manufactures build-it-yourself playsets that encourage girls to take an interest in STEM skills. A line of paper dolls called Famous American Women is rife with teachable moments about female writers, activists, and pioneers—many of whom are women of color. And Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls subverts fairy tale fantasy by giving girls tangible opportunities to dream of.
Nasty Women Join Pantsuit Nation
I took a Facebook hiatus in November in part to get some personal affairs together, but also to step back from the post-election social media dumpster fire. The one thing I truly missed? Reading the posts on Pantsuit Nation.
Since Election Day, the secret Facebook group has become a support network for women and men looking for light in dark times. It’s a place for us to share everything from bravery in the face of harassment to encouraging stories of love and trust. Two of my personal favorites: one member’s 95-year-old climate scientist father who suggested we trim The Wall in solar panels to provide sustainable energy for communities in need, and another member finding a post-it note on her Clinton yard sign telling her not to give up.
A Nasty Woman Is An Educated Woman
An educated woman has long been regarded as dangerous. If you put a book in her hands and teach her to read, she may suddenly see the invisible strings that have kept her economically disadvantaged. She may involve herself in political affairs or pursue a career outside the home. She may run for President.
If you have the time and money to return to school, now may be the perfect time to study something you’ve always loved. If not, Coursera offers affordable online instruction from top universities in everything from water resources management to Hebrew. You can also purchase a subscription to a publication like The New York Times, the Atlantic, or TIME and support quality journalism while you learn. Under an administration that largely came to power by way of blatant lies and misinformation, one of the most patriotic things we can do is to fight back with knowledge.
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.