As quiet passivity goes out of fashion for women, fearlessness comes sashaying in, whistling and rattling her charm bracelet.
Having heard Hillary Clinton referred to as “such a nasty woman” by Donald Trump was like hearing the signal delivered in the midnight ride of Paul Revere, the one warning patriots that the enemy was closing in and that people made of stern stuff had to muster their resources and make a stand.
Citizens who hadn’t rallied before were startled into action by Trump’s muttered, puckered-mouth insult.
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If Hillary Clinton is “nasty,” then we’re all nasty. Presumably the only women who are not, by Trump’s definition, nasty are his female supporters. You’ve seen these nice women: They’re the ones wearing ‘Trump that Bitch’ T-shirts.
Gina Barreca, English professor
Women looked around the room and wondered what he meant. He couldn’t be talking about the woman in the white suit making lucid arguments about health care and tax reform, right? Because if Hillary Clinton is “nasty,” then we’re all nasty.
Turns out we are. Presumably the only women who are not, by Trump’s definition, nasty are his female supporters. You’ve seen these nice women: They’re the ones wearing “Trump that Bitch” T-shirts.
So women are nasty, but it wasn’t until Trump’s spittle-mouthed snarl aroused women (and the men who respect and enjoy the company of women) that we heard not a dog whistle, but a cat whistle, and had an almost primordial reaction.
Even women who’d previously shrugged off “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her … wherever,” “grab them by the …” and “furniture shopping” were startled into response. Suddenly small women stood taller, timid women discovered boldness and older women found moxie.
(Younger women Googled “moxie” and learned that not only was it a popular soft drink and a synonym for courage, daring and spirit, but would be a great name for their pet.)
And while Donald Trump has an uncanny ability to make women grit our teeth and straighten our shoulders in defiance, he is not historically unique in this ability raise our hackles.
It’s happened for thousands of years. Women have been patronized, undercut and dismissed while our lives are set up for target practice when a man’s ego fails. Yet we’re supposed to make cooing noises, flatter the accuser, smile and twirl.
Is it really a surprise that, having been taught that if they couldn’t say anything nice they shouldn’t say anything at all, women’s history is a record of silence?
How long can people be expected to bite their tongues without rendering themselves entirely mute?
The word “nasty” emerged from the concept of untidiness and filth. What is “nice,” in contrast, is fastidious and concerned with detail. “Nice” is also derived from the Latin term for ignorant. Nice women aren’t supposed to know anything and, if they do know anything, they’re meant to know better than to admit it.
Because what’s really scary for men who find women slightly less than fully human is the idea that they’ll start banding together. If one woman could lead us out of Eden, imagine what an organized group of them could do.
This explains the nightmare scenario perpetrated by old institutions run by old men insisting that women hate each other; it’s only by keeping women from speaking truthfully with one another could we be kept from power. (Oh, and birth control has helped.)
You see, if one woman started to tell her story, then other women would realize our stories were the same.
“I want women younger than I am to not be fooled by the trappings of progress, to realize how fragile our gains are, and to fight to consolidate those gains against what looks like a nasty backlash of reactionary conservatism to me,” explains my friend Jylene Livengood.
Here’s what’s happening during this election: It’s not that women are learning we’re better than anybody else but that we’re learning we are everybody else.
Women have been, for far too long, the keepers of everyone’s secrets, including our own. We have been the hushed guardians and whispered apologists for the most sordid stories. It’s as if the world expects us to lift up the rug while it sweeps its dirt underneath, relying on us to smooth down the surface back down and pretend nothing’s happened.
We’re done with that part. As for the rest, we’re just getting started.
Gina Barreca is an English professor and a special contributor to the Hartford Courant. Readers may email her at ginabarreca.com.