Waves were made at the third and final presidential debate of 2016, but nothing made the internet erupt more than Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman.”
The response was swift: Those exhausted by this racist, sexist, and inexperienced blowhard steamrolling a qualified woman took to Twitter.
MAKE AMERICA NASTY AGAIN— Carina Hsieh (@carinahsieh) October 20, 2016
MISS CLINTON IF YA NASTY— TrickorTracy Clayton (@brokeymcpoverty) October 20, 2016
Be the nasty woman you want to see in the world. #debatenight— Emily Arata (@aratatweets) October 20, 2016
But long before this contentious election season, women suffered through worse insults from the Republican nominee.
Trump is a career sexist who has owned beauty pageants and used his position of power to enable odious behavior. Recently surfaced tapes from 2005 show him bragging about being able to sexually assault women, and even before the leak, Trump has made inappropriate comments to and about women, including his own daughter. In his time as a Republican candidate, Trump has picked fights and lobbed misogynistic insults at former rival Carly Fiorina, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, and of course, the former First Lady and secretary of state he calls "Crooked Hillary." Trump used sexual assault victims as human shields in a publicity stunt and even defended himself against assault accusations by victim blaming and shaming. "Believe me, she would not be my first choice," Trump said of one sexual assault accuser. (Reminder: Sexual assault and rape are not about attraction, but power.)
Yet there are still those who excuse Trump’s behavior with a “boys will be boys” mentality, calling his inappropriate remarks “locker room talk” and saying that bragging about sexual assault is “just a man being a man in a man’s world.”
But the issue is beyond whether or not we're willing to forgive Trump's words—it's about the context that allows him to build a reputation as a sexist man and still flourish. As New York Times lawyer David McCraw said in response to Trump's libel claims, nothing we say about Trump has "the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself." Beyond the language we use to talk about Trump and beyond the language he uses to normalize misogyny is a palpable pattern of dangerous behavior.
In fact, when Trump said “Nobody has more respect for women than I do” during the debate, the audience literally burst into laughter. And they kept the last laugh—minutes later, Trump called Clinton “nasty.”
According to “The Etymology of Nasty” by Ralph de Gorog, the word's origins are obscure but likely derived from 12th century Old French nastre, meaning bad or strange and applied to persons. Nastre was derived from villenastre meaning ignoble, or not honorable in character or purpose or of humble origin and social status. Author Deborah Hicks writes in Class Readings: Story and Discourse among Girls in Working-Poor America that class connotation is still imbued in modern use of the word nasty—especially when applied to women. Hicks concludes that "nasty" is deeply rooted as a class-specific insult in "the consciousness of young girls" growing up in American poverty.
So when Trump (a notoriously litigious billionaire celebrity and white man) chose "nasty" (a word seeped in classism and sexism) as his weapon of choice against the first woman nominee of a major political party, the incident rocketed past the terrifying theater of the absurd and into an enigmatic—and truly laughable—instance of ridiculousness.
Women are fed up with being the scapegoat for all of Trump’s failings, moral and otherwise. Trump is one of only thousands of billionaires in the world, but his character—demonstrated by decades of exercising twisted power over the disenfranchised—reveals that he is truly the nastier candidate.