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It Takes a Village to Raise a Feminist: 'Nasty Women', an Anthology

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?


Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America

Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Kate Harding (eds.)

(Picador)

October 2017

There are at least two problems with the above proposal. First, it's not that funny the way progressives often use alcohol as a shorthand marker of our need to cope with life under Trump. There are just as many liberal butts in chairs at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as there are conservative butts. A tip of the iceberg footnote to that is the stereotypical image of white ladies drinking wine. Second, if your sense of irony has only gotten as far as the idea that "abnormal" is "the new normal", you're way behind the game.

You're most likely behind because you have not noticed or have not given meaningful weight to the fact that many people have long been oppressed, abused, marginalized, or have otherwise been suffering in America well before Trump's election. Though the extent to which white women voted against their own interests in the 2016 election is indeed shocking, lots of other kinds of women are perhaps most shocked by the fact that white women have finally gotten around to wringing their hands about it. For a protest organized mostly by women of color, the Women's March sure filled the streets full of white ladies, didn't it?

It would be easier to think about how all our drinking jokes ostracize women who are trying to keep away from the firewater. Yes, our empathy can certainly extend to women who struggle with drinking. It can sometimes even extend to women who live in poverty. It can extend even to lesbians -- but not really to transgender or gender non-confirming women. Maybe to black women, but not really to brown ones or immigrants or refugees. Or our empathy does extend to all these kinds of women—but our actions don't. We feel for these women without really seeing them. Or we see them but think we can't help, or can't help right now because their issues are made lesser simply because they're not our issues.

Oh, but they are our issues. All women are covered in skin, use money, know illness, have traveled—need rights, face trouble, hope for better. Don't we know this already? Yes, we do. And yet. (The use of "we" in the above paragraph refers to white women and it pains me to count myself among the blind, but it's also the only intellectually honest approach to pronouns available to me because I'm white and a woman. Also a queer. Also sort of a Jew. Also left-handed. Also a public servant. Et cetera, but no excuses.)

Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding have collected a bunch of women in a really solid book of essays, Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America. Each of the writers approach differing intersections of women's stuff and a variety of other stuff. Even for readers well-versed in the theory of intersectionality, there's a quantity of lived experience and specific testimony here that will surely be eye-opening. Hey, it takes a village to raise a feminist, right? Many of the essays attempt to litigate why we ended up with Trump in the Oval Office; these explanations vary and sometimes clash between essayists. But the deeper work of the collection is focused on the how more than the why.

What emerges above all from Nasty Women is a conversation focused on the particulars of how women suffer, not why we suffer. Injustice has no reason; there's no "why" in matters of unfairness. We defeat unfairness by policing how it operates, by limiting its resources and its means of getting traction. But instead, feminists often end up policing each other—at least, this is the position held by many women who feel attacked when anybody points out that they are white, or wealthy, or privileged in some other kind of way. Nasty Women is filled with call-outs that are well-deserved—from union organizers, from Native Americans, from alcoholics, and so on. The strength of the anthology is that it provides space for disagreement without devolving into unproductive in-fighting.

Because another thing we have in common as people who have been fighting the good fight much longer than Trump has been or will be in office is this: a sense of humor. Many of the essays in Nasty Women are laugh out loud funny. Yeah, I'm pretty concerned that there's a maniac in the White House. But if you're focused on the admittedly big problem of Trump himself, again: you're behind. Women are not fighting against one man; we are fighting against the myriad moving pieces of a system that has always been rigged against us. ("Us": all women, not just newly semi-woke white ones.) A fight as many centuries old as this one is undoubtedly the definition of a war of attrition. Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting—and our sense of humor is easily our most renewable resource.

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