While this year’s presidential debates have provided plenty of fodder for memes and late night skits, it was the third and final debate that seemed to create the largest trend the fastest. In fact, Forbes claims that an entire economy was created: “The Nasty Woman Economy.” From “wrong” to “no, you’re the puppet,” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has not shied away from interruptions during the three presidential debates. However, it was those four words — “such a nasty woman” — that resonated with people, particularly women, across the country. “Weird Al” Yankovic made a parody song about this particular phrase as well as Trump’s “bad hombres” comment. Clothing retailer Nasty Gal changed their website’s title to Nasty Woman. The domain “Nasty Women Get S—t Done” now redirects to Hillary Clinton’s campaign site. Any quick browse through Etsy will turn up hundreds of items for purchase — there are “nasty woman” pillows, t-shirts, totes, necklaces, pillow, prints, pins and more.
After sexual assault accusations against Trump stacked up, and made during the same debate in which he used the phrase “bad hombres,” the nasty woman comment was not at all uniquely offensive, however, it was uniquely mobilizing. Nasty became a cultural touchstone overnight. In fact, Spotify’s official Twitter reported that streaming of Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit “Nasty” went up 250 percent the night of the debate. Not only did people resonate with the term, people began to sympathize with and relate to Clinton. In an interview with ABC News, Emily DiVito, a 23-year-old former supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, said the nasty woman comment created a “moment of connectivity” for her with Clinton.
Clinton, of course, is no stranger to sexist attacks. So it may come as a surprise to some that it took this particular insult toward women — particularly younger women — to relate to her. One of the dominant narratives during the primary season was that millennial women were voting for Sanders, not Clinton. In a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote Poll, millennial women were less likely than millennial men to support Clinton. Despite attempts to woo younger women by enlisting support from actresses like Lena Dunham and Ilana Glazer, millennial women still seemed apathetic about Clinton at best. And while nasty woman may not secure Clinton the young female vote, the insult, in conjunction with the infamous Trump tape, certainly marks a turning point.
Hillary Clinton remained composed when Trump called her a nasty woman. She hardly batted an eye. It was almost a sad moment: this accomplished, composed presidential candidate had to stand on stage while sexist insults were hurled at her. For every woman who has had to ignore a catcall or hold back tears after being called a derogatory name, this moment was surely a reminder that a woman’s position does not erase her vulnerability to this kind of attack.
Nasty is a particularly biting word. It evokes all kinds of stereotypes and toxic ideas about women. It manages to encompass both uncleanliness and immorality, while attempting to malign a woman for expressing her ideas. The power in reclaiming it then is equally powerful.
On the campaign trail for Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, “Nasty Women are tough, nasty women are smart, and nasty women vote.” With the election just around the corner, the “nasty woman” vote will be an important component.
Lena Melillo is a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law and gender studies. Her column, “Pop Politics,” runs every Thursday.