What happens if you’re nasty


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.”

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • I kind of wonder what he’s done to his wife. Her recent interviews were awful. Was she scared stiff to say or do anything that might set him off?

    • Meghan Murphy

      I do too. He seems just brimming over with violent anger.

      • Yisheng Qingwa

        What a shame if he has a heart attack from all that rage.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks Raquel!

  • Cassandra

    This is all so true. “Nasty” is a very common slur lobbed at women. There was a British female politician, I can’t remember who, who made a remark somewhat recently about how men already have everything, or something like that, and she was inundated with tweets of “nasty.”

    • Meghan Murphy

      It’s basically like saying, “not a lady,” you know? “You haven’t behaved in a feminine way…”

      • Cassandra


  • ChoderlosdeLaclos

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Lucia Lola

    I saw red when he did that. His delivery of the comment was particularly infuriating because it was obvious he felt he was speaking to an audience who’d “get it”.

    Yeah, we’ve been there. All of us. Fuck that.

  • LordofLight

    Spot on, and among the many reasons this has been the most depressing election season ever. As Ezra Klein hinted in his analysis of last night’s debate, Trump was frustrated that the bully tactics that worked so well during the Republican primaries don’t work on Hillary because she doesn’t respond in kind.

    After incidents like Rush Limbaugh losing virtually every major sponsor in response to his vile unprovoked attack on Sandra Fluke, I really thought we were beyond this — at least for prominent figures. But Trump’s candidacy shows that America not only has a long way to go on race relations, but on sexism and misogyny. It makes me angry, but mostly it just makes me feel sad that anyone would find it acceptable or try to rationalize it.

    • Cindi Gold

      This is exactly why this claim of ”post feminism” is total bullsh*t!

      And it’s *men* who always do all of the crazy horrible irrational things in the world,usually towards women and children,it’s not women often on the news shooting up students at high schools,nightclubs, and who when they are fired from a the post office or restaurant they worked at,kill all of the people there and then themselves,it was crazy horrible *men* who stalked and killed the great John Lennon,actress Rebecca Schaeffer,and recently 22 year old singer,piano player Christina Grimmie etc etc And all of the crazy serial killers who torture and rape girls as young as 12 and younger and women both before and after they murder them for a hobby,and some cannibalize them,out of irrational hatred of girls and women,are men!

      And the most irrational,cruel,incomprehensible thing is that men are born from and nurtured by *women* the very group of people they have been hating,dehumanizing,discriminating against,and brutalizing for 1000’s of years,as long as women have been giving birth to them! Women are the only hated,discriminated against group of people that actually gives birth to,and has ”romantic” and sexual relationships with and often marries their haters and discriminators.Jews and Black people don’t have to,and Jews can’t and don’t give birth to Nazis and Black people can’t and don’t give birth to racist Klu Klux Klan members!

  • Richard Rabinowitz


  • Meghan Murphy

    I missed that! But yes, he is scary. The whole time he just looked like he was about to hit her.

  • Independent Radical

    The fact that he stopped at calling her “nasty” is a testament to the way in which political power shields one from the worst consequences of misogyny. Of course, she’s still a woman and therefore still subject to misogyny, but it just doesn’t have the same impact, so I’m not going to feel sorry for her or enthusiastically support her.

    It takes more than being biologically female or not being Donald Trump to be a feminist. At the very least she would have to take a stand against the sex industry. Otherwise I’m going to assume she’s just another sex liberal fake feminist which is the default for people, especially politicians, claiming to support women’s rights. I don’t think she should receive hate for being biologically female, but she shouldn’t receive blind support either.

    I don’t like the fact that she tolerated her husband’s cheating. Cheating, especially with younger women, suggesting a lack of control over one’s sexual desires and a belief that the fuckability of women is more important than forming a relationship with them. If she had condemned that kind of behaviour in her husband, I wouldn’t fault her for having been the victim of it, but it seems she’ll tolerate misogynistic behaviour on the part of people who are on her side, like a typical liberal feminist (such “feminists” only condemn the misogyny of conservatives, never “sexually liberated” men). I don’t know for sure that she’s a sex positive liberal, but I’ve never lost a bet by assuming the worst in politicians.

    • Wren
      • Independent Radical

        I’m not impressed. For one thing, the quote is from 2007, almost a decade ago, when women were far more likely to get away with not being totally on board with the sex industry. Will she have the guts to stand for that position now and after the election at the expense of losing the support of liberal feminists? I especially dislike by this part.

        “I understand Nevada has a regulated system and it is within the
        authority of the state. So that is not a federal issue that we will have
        any role to play in when I am president.”

        Sounds like politician speak for “I’m not actually going to do anything to stop prostitution”. Not legalising it further isn’t good enough.

        “But I would obviously speak out against prostitution and try to persuade women that it is not — even in a regulated system — necessarily a good way to try to make a living.”

        She’s right of course, but shouldn’t the focus be on discouraging men from using prostitutes (i.e. the Nordic Model), rather than on persuading women not to be prostitutes? And shouldn’t a politician be able to do more than speak out?

        This may sound a little nitpicky, but we’re only talking about the potential ruler of the United States and thereby the ruler of the “free world”. I’m allowed to have high standards, especially since I don’t even get to vote for the supposed “ruler of the free world”. I don’t even think such a position should exist at all. What kind of free world has a single ruler, that is only elected (usually unenthusiastically) by people from one country.

        If someone who lacks political power expresses an anti-sex industry attitude, that’s good enough for me, but when it comes to politicians they need to back up their talk with action. Of course, she’s not the president yet, but I would like to see her put forward an actual policy for combating the sex industry, not just say that she dislikes it.

        If she opposed an actual threat to it, the pornographers would be furiously trying to stop her from being elected. Nobody who poses a real challenge to the system would ever be allowed to run, at least not without all mainstream institutes rallying against them, that’s why I don’t think change can be brought about through electoral politics. Perhaps she isn’t a sex positive liberal in her mind and heart, but thoughts don’t liberate women, action does.

    • Cindi Gold

      Yeah we really need a new president’s commission on harms of pornography to women and children like president Reagan’s 1985 & 1986 Meese Commission which found strong evidence on the harms of sexually violent pornography and a good amount of evidence on the harms of what they accurately called the common degrading,dehumanization of women as just submissive,subservient sex objects for men,which they said almost all heterosexual pornography is.This was the best thing that president Reagan ever did.

      • Independent Radical

        It’ a pity Reagan was a libertarian who completely deregulated the mainstream media so that it could preach a similar world view to pornography (that the value of a woman depended on her fuckability) and force gender roles onto children. The system is made up of different interconnected aspects and I think we need to fight all of them. I don’t trust Republican or Democratic politicians to do that. We don’t need more research into the harms of pornography. We’ve already got all the evidence we need to know pornography needs to be abolished. What we need is action and I think it should come from the masses, particularly women.

  • shy virago

    Great points, Alienigena!

  • Alienigena

    I have to acknowledge SNL’s depiction of the first town hall debate as one of the funniest. Trump in shark attack mode lurking behind Hilary Clinton and zooming by her (she only glimpses something out of the corner of her eye). Finally he sweeps in for the kill … or the fizzle (reality). His behaviour has been so bizarre sometimes I feel that the only way to deal with it is to parody it. The shark attack begins at 4:24.


    • Morag999

      I’m with you! Some of the SNL skits on the debates and Trump’s behaviour have been spot-on. And VERY funny. They also poke some pretty good, but mild, fun at Hillary, too.

      • Independent Radical

        I don’t like the way they make fun of women who don’t like being cheated on and imply that we should praise Clinton for being “strong” enough to cope with that shit. Otherwise, it was pretty funny.

  • Cindi Gold

    And men are born out of women’s vaginas.

  • Cindi Gold

    Testosterone isn’t what makes him or any other sexist woman-haters be like they are.

  • Anthocerotopsida

    Yes. Bookmarking this for the next time some dude is too stupid and self-absorbed to figure out why women feel the way we do about the “nasty” comment.

    I want to add that the word “nasty” always sounds to me like something you would say to a kid. Like a parent scolding a kid “stop being nasty to your brother!” It adds to the undertone of the statement that she doesn’t deserve to be on that stage with him, she’s too silly, childish (hypocracy alert), incompetant, unworthy, and invalid to be running against AND BEATING him.

  • Marla

    “In this case, though, Trump’s pathetic attempt to belittle Clinton failed…”

    I disagree with the article somewhat in the sense Trump’s continuing childhood antics are not so much intended to belittle Clinton as they are to prop up his fragile ego with men who can (and do) use the word “cunt” on a daily basis. Trump dwells in a fantasy world that confuses him. Women are objects of use when they fit his commercialized archetype of beauty and to a lesser part, subjugation. When he see a woman in a position of power that is not a beauty contestant or a mere pussy grab he loses his frail ability to balance out the two. The only avenue he has is to lash out and I think his target is other men who have the same mindset.

    Trump thrives on ego reinforcement and it doesn’t matter it if stems from a support system that is just as negative. His “nasty” comment goes well beyond Clinton and well beyond “cunt.” To him, women only qualify as women when they are “weak”; “insecure”; “dependent”; and most of all, “obedient.” Trump needs to purport the myth that what makes men strong is a woman who has no identity of her own. After all, a woman with no identity is much easier to respect.

  • oneclickboedicea

    Funny how many men are impressed by his brooding, angry bullying. Watching him pace backwards and forwards , interrupt, lie, twist and insult Hillary reminded me powerfully of two of mu exes discriminatory violence. If she hadnt been on stage with witnesses he would have hit her.

  • Kamilla Vaski

    Only he will not sink away…

  • NagaMorich

    The more effective evil. Just as Obama was.

  • Neighbor

    wow are you guys claiming he raped Monica? she admitted seducing him, she was 22 and older during the affair, thats college grad age. Not rape.

    • Cassandra

      You don’t understand the dynamics of power. At all.

  • Mister K

    Trump is a sexist and a climachange denialist, which is plenty bad. But it is actually even worse than that.
    The things he suggest in order to keep workplaces in USA and keep import products out, is what economists call protectionism. Protectionism is the fastest way to collaps the worlds economi, last time it happend, it was one of the main factors that lead to world war 2.

    So there is really no reason to think Trump can help America in any way. The ways he will create jobs is eventually gonna make more people unimployeed.

  • Cassandra

    Nowhere in my original comment did I say that he raped her. Also, she did not seduce him. That’s the point. And I do indeed know what you understand.