Janet Jackson’s Nasty was a response to “emotionally abusive, sexually threatening” men. It was born, she said, “out of a sense of self-defense.” While Jackson’s “nasty” was aimed at predatory men, tonight the word was aimed in an entirely different direction.
During the final presidential debate at the University of Nevada, it was the sexually threatening, abusive man who took up “nasty,” hurling at Hillary Clinton while she was mid-sentence. Though Trump himself has bragged about the fact he’s weaseled his way out of paying taxes, it seems he didn’t like when Clinton brought it up. While explaining that she planned to raise taxes for the wealthy, the Democratic presidential candidate joked that Trump’s Social Security payroll contribution would go up, as would hers, “assuming he can’t figure out a way to get out of it.”
“Such a nasty woman,” Trump hissed.
Childish, to be sure, the comment was more than just that. Trump has said far worse about Clinton and countless other women, but that one would dare snark at his own proud admissions made her, apparently, “nasty.”
I think most women know what that word meant. I can tell you it’s been hurled at me before and its meaning was clear. Like “cunt” and “bitch,” “nasty” is aimed at women who step out of line. Forced to avoid the more vulgar versions on television, Trump chose an insult that had nothing to do with Clinton’s reference and everything to do with the fact he believes she shouldn’t even be on stage with him, never mind bringing him to task for his own words and behaviour.
Clinton had already outlined Trump’s approach to women, saying:
“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
And indeed — I do know exactly what that feels like. During the debate I commented that, while I hated to use the word “triggered,” the whole thing was, in fact, triggering. The way Trump behaved in this debate, as well as the last, was all too familiar — and I know I’m not the only one to feel this way.
Throughout these debates, Trump’s behaviour has reminded me much too eerily of my abusive ex’s. Not only in his physical efforts to intimidate Clinton, but in his condescension, interruptions, derailing, manipulations, and dishonest personal attacks. Numerous times it seemed clear the man wanted to hit her — I know that look… This debate, wherein Trump was not only forced to treat a woman as an equal, but was mocked by her, must have driven him to the brink.
“Nasty,” in this case, meant “cunt.” It was Trump’s last resort, faced with a woman who had outsmarted him and called him on his shit, but who he couldn’t punch. “Cunt” is generally what men say to me when they’ve run out of arguments or know they can’t compete on fair ground, but can’t go for the literal hit. “Cunt” is a reminder: “You’re still just a woman.”
In this case, though, Trump’s pathetic attempt to belittle Clinton failed. She and all the rest of us know that “nasty” means she stepped out of line — she talked back to a man, surely the worst of all sins according to Trump and other abusive men like him. It couldn’t shake her because she knew all it meant was that he was losing… To a girl.
Though many women took the attack and ran with it, proudly taking on the label, “nasty woman,” the threat behind it remains. In public, we can mock Trump’s response, but I know, as so many other women do, the harm men like him do to women off camera, when they aren’t forced to stop at “nasty.”