Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has always been a master of the zeitgeist. His quip that Hillary Clinton was “such a nasty woman,” made in the waning minutes of the final presidential debate of the 2016 campaign, was another stellar application of The Donald’s legendary branding skills. Unfortunately for him, his snide remark pinpointed something that is ultimately his biggest weakness. He named the power that had no name: that female voters don’t need men like Donald Trump to approve of them. In fact, there’s very little that matters less.
Reaction to the “nasty woman” line was ebullient on the left, trending on Twitter thanks to women appropriating the designation for themselves. Cable news was a garden of “nasty” chyrons for days afterwards. NastyGal clothing rebranded itself NastyWoman clothing in honor of the errant insult. Streams of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” ballooned on Spotify. And on Monday in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton surrogate Senator Elizabeth Warren fully embraced the nasty. “Get this Donald,” she said. “Nasty women are tough. Nasty women are smart. And nasty women vote. And, on November 8, we nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.” The crowd of 4,000 nasties whooped.
Elizabeth Warren swirling the word “nasty” around in her mouth like a sommelier enjoying a fine wine only served as the latest reminder to a certain Trumpy flavor of man that, at this point in the 2016 campaign, women don’t need their approval to exist, or even to succeed. In Tina Fey’s 2011 memoir Bossypants, the comedy maven recounted an exchange between former SNL castmates Jimmy Fallon and Amy Poehler. The story goes that Amy told a dirty joke, and Jimmy fired back that he didn’t like it. Amy responded, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Fey advises all women in the workplace to conduct themselves similarly: do what you want, fuck ‘em if they disagree.
Two years ago, in 2014, Rebecca Traister used Fey’s words to headline a piece she wrote for The New Republic. In it, she laments an Esquire piece that declared 42-year-old women hot. She noted, with dismay, that while it’s fun to imagine flouting male approval at every turn, the reality is that women still must seek the approval of men—in the court system, at work, in their social circles—because for better or for worse, men are the ones in positions to hire, to prosecute, to evaluate.
But that’s not true when it comes to voting.
The post-debate explosion of nasty proves that Trump still doesn’t understand that this election isn’t a golf outing with a group of guffawing yes-men, and that women are finally facing the full extent of their electoral power.
Voting is one of the few arenas where the approval of men like Donald Trump doesn’t matter a lick. A voting machine cannot tell the gender of the voter and count it for only 77 percent as much as the vote of a man. A voting machine can’t pass over a female vote in favor of a younger male vote that reminds it of itself at that age. A voting machine can’t throw out the vote of a woman if she refuses its sexual advances. It won’t tell a female voter that she’s a New York City 6 but a Chicago 8. A voting machine doesn’t grope.
Women make up over 50 percent of the voting population in the U.S., and on November 8, any of them can imagine canceling out the vote of any man they’d like as they fill out their ballots. Donald Trump can’t insult them into submission.
Nor can Trump insult Hillary Clinton into submission. The world has coddled Donald Trump into believing that women who have somehow failed to meet his antiquated standards of femininity should feel chastened. Men like Trump expect women to feel like failures when a man calls them anything less than pretty, sexy, pleasant, nice. But the world outside of Trump Tower has been moving at a much faster pace than the creaky machinery between Trump’s ears. In the voting booth, compliance is optional. Deference to the whims of men is unnecessary, if not undesirable.
Women voting for Hillary Clinton don’t fucking care if you like it. They don’t care if men like Trump think they’re such nasty women. In the booth, removed from what shards of sexism remain in the modern world, women are allowed to be indifferent to Trump’s standards as they please.
On November 8, there’s nothing men like Donald Trump can do about the fact that women don’t care what men think nearly as much as men think they should. To women who are just realizing this, the feeling must be intoxicating. To men like Trump, it must be terrifying.