“Such a nasty woman.”
During the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 19, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 addressed her plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to continue funding Social Security. In response to Clinton’s jab about his undisclosed tax returns, Republican nominee Donald Trump delivered one of his trademark interruptions. Shaking his head, as if to say “what a shame,” he branded his opponent with a now-viral phrase: nasty woman.
No one can deny Trump has a gift for catchy nicknames. And with this one, he may have solidified Clinton’s lead in a key demographic: women, whose support for him was already plunging after the release of 2005 Access Hollywood tapes in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
From mid-September’s pre-debates NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll to one conducted post-tape leak in mid-October, Clinton’s lead over Trump in a four-way matchup swelled from 6 to 11 percent. As of Oct. 11, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight had compiled 12 national polls to find that Trump trailed Clinton by 15 points among female voters. For comparison, in 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is estimated to have lost among women by 8 points. In the last few weeks of the election, as her lead widens, Clinton has eased up on direct campaigning, lending her influence to tight Senate and House races.
Among college voters, even those who temper their support for Clinton, Trump’s statements have finally united self-identified “nasty women” around the Democratic nominee. At Yale, Trump’s debate comment set off a Twitter firestorm and launched multiple t-shirt campaigns. Eleanor Slota ’17 recalls her mother’s reaction during their viewing of the debate: “Has nasty women merchandise started circulating yet? Because it will.” And indeed, the Yale College Democrats have begun selling t-shirts emblazoned with “Nasty Woman” and “Bad Hombre,” another Trump debate quote.
Azeezat Adeleke ’17, vice-president of the Dems, can’t wait to wear her t-shirt. She believes students have taken to the term as a rallying cry, citing photos they’ve posted with absentee ballots — Clinton/Kaine box checked — captioned with a Trumpian epithet. At Yale, 80 percent of students support Clinton for the presidency, according to an October survey by the News. Among students who identify as Republicans, 29.92 percent plan to vote for Clinton, more than the 26.14 percent who support Trump.
It’s entirely safe to say Hillary Clinton has won Yale, though it’s no surprise that the undergraduate population has swung Democratic. (The University’s undergrads have essentially tended towards the leftmost fringe of political discourse since before the last footsteps of William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 echoed over the threshold of Skull and Bones.) But Clinton’s 80 percent is more complicated than it appears. According to a mid-October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Clinton stood 13 points ahead of Trump among younger voters. A September New York Times/CBS poll showed that more than a third of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 planned to vote for a third-party candidate.
Though many at Yale supported Clinton from the start, as evidenced by the three-year tenure of Yale Students for Hillary, there was no shortage of ambivalence about her on campus. In August 2015, the News conducted its annual survey of incoming freshmen. The survey found that 38 percent of the class of 2019 supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–Vermont), while Clinton trailed with 23 percent.
To the left, to the left
For many students at Yale during the primary season, Bernie Sanders was a more appealing choice for president. During his visit to New Haven in April, Overheard at Yale was flooded with photos of the back of Sanders’ head — the closest one could get through the crowds that followed him.
Gabrielle Diaz ’18, the current Ward 22 Democratic Committee co-chair, characterizes college-age voters as generally further left than the Democratic Party. Esul Burton ’20, who has canvassed a few times for Clinton through the Yale Dems, remembers the primary season as follows: “One week I’d be feeling the Bern; the next, I’d be with her.” As a woman of color, Burton found Sanders’ positions on criminal justice reform and the Black Lives Matter movement appealing.
Though she voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, Rita Wang ’19, the political action coordinator at the Yale Women’s Center, says she did so to encourage the Democratic Party to embrace more progressive policies as she still expected to support Hillary Clinton in the general election. Wang believes her ability to see herself as a political person stems from seeing Hillary Clinton throughout her life. “She has been in the public sphere as a politician for as long as I have been alive, and her loss in 2008 was all too reminiscent of the high school campaigns I have lost.” For Wang, women in power promote broader gender equality, especially given the obstacles they may face in being elected.
Musing on Clinton’s lack of support during the primary season, Wang said, “Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t speak the ‘woke’ language easily that us Yale students are so used to hearing from Bernie and on campus.” Layla Treuhaft-Ali ’17, former chair of the Party of the Left, believes the animosity from leftists toward Clinton reveals “pretty serious sexism.” But she argues that millennials, unlike their parents, are more interested in candidates’ policies than their identities. That opinion would resonate with the many millennial feminists across the U.S. who refused to support Clinton solely on the basis that she might break the last “glass ceiling” aspired to by their mother and grandmothers. “Is Hillary a good candidate for feminists? Her policies are much better for women than Trump’s, in terms of reproductive rights and health care, and that’s what I care about,” Treuhaft-Ali said. “Is she, personally, a feminist icon? Probably not, and that’s okay with me.”
In early February, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a controversial statement: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Many believed her remark was directed at women, especially younger women, who were not planning to support Clinton.
As if to underscore the shift from generation to generation of feminists, a senior at Yale, sitting in the Women’s Center during their voter registration drive, responded to Albright’s comment with an explosive “fuck you!”
Yet women may still need to help each other. There’s no denying it: simply because she is the first woman to be a major party nominee, Clinton has faced some unprecedented difficulties on the national stage. Sarah Rose ’17, a member of the Party of the Left, mentioned that, for her, Clinton lacks a charismatic stage presence — but sarcastically noted that charisma, for many Americans, is “much easier to display when presenting as male with a deep voice.” Burton acknowledges the deep and subtle power of entrenched gender expectations, saying “part of me bought into the sexist portrayal of Clinton. She seemed untrustworthy and cold, and I didn’t want that in my president.”
Burton now enthusiastically supports Clinton. She believes that the labels assigned to her — “liar,” “crook,” “untrustworthy” — would not have been assigned to male politicians on either side of the aisle, mentioning Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 and Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Florida). Burton argues that “politicians across the board aren’t genuine and aren’t transparent, but we expect Clinton, as a woman, to be held to a higher standard.”
Though she acknowledges many are thrilled to shatter the glass ceiling, Rose believes that electing women as leaders must extend beyond the White House, and that the wage gap and social gender norms need to be addressed as well. Emaline Kelso ’17, who previously supported Bernie Sanders, agrees, but more bluntly. “Hillary will not ‘shatter the glass ceiling.’ A white, wealthy, highly-educated woman with deep political connections becoming president does not, cannot and will not signal the end of the patriarchy.” Kelso points to President Barack Obama’s election, arguing that it did not eliminate racism or resolve racial tension.
Eleanor Runde ’17 tempers Kelso’s argument. “Our national narrative changed when Obama was elected. The stories that we tell ourselves about what America is, and what America can be, changed. The same is true this November.” Runde argues that facets of a candidate’s identity matter to Americans who share those identities, and beyond that, to those who advocate for greater equality.
In her 1995 speech at the United Nations as First Lady, Hillary Clinton said, “Women’s rights are human rights,” a statement she echoed in her 2008 concession speech. During that campaign, Clinton had not stressed her identity as a female candidate, lest she receive the same criticism as 2000 Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole, of whom one GOP consultant complained, “she has to have a message beyond ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’” referencing Helen Reddy’s 1971 feminist anthem. The idea among millennial feminists that gender should not be a primary motivating factor is not new.
But on July 28, 2016, Hillary Clinton was introduced by the voice of God, Morgan Freeman, to accept the Democratic nomination. Opening the convention, she had appeared after the portraits of all the men she hopes to succeed in the White House on a massive screen, in the midst of shattering glass. Into “18 million pieces,” as Clinton put it in her 2008 concession speech, referring to the number of votes she received in the primary. Despite a less ardent desire to see a woman in the White House from younger feminists and criticism of her behavior from both sides of the aisle, Clinton had decided to embrace the historic nature of her candidacy. Ironically, it is her opponent who has unintentionally allowed her to capitalize on it in the final weeks of the election.
The Trump Touch
When Trump closed his eyes, shook his head and called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” he appears to have underestimated how many women had yet to cast their ballots.
Josh Altman ’17, president of the conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale, believes Trump’s attitudes toward women everywhere have now drawn far more focus than Clinton’s own gender. He believes the tapes seriously hurt Trump’s candidacy due to a wives-and-daughters effect. “Republican men cannot fathom having to justify these comments … to their female family members.” Emmy Reinwald ’17, co-president of the Yale College Republicans, calls the tapes “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for many Republican women who had previously backed Trump, ignoring his personal behavior and prioritizing conservative values and Supreme Court nominations. But for some Democrats on campus, this shift is too little, too late. “If the majority of those middle-range voters cared about women and respecting women, they would have been suspicious of Trump before his pussy-grabbing comments,” said Diaz.
The “nasty woman” comment also touched a nerve among younger voters. It made Burton “livid,” shocking her in a way the Access Hollywood tapes did not. “Maybe it was because he said it during a presidential debate on national TV, which meant he intended it to be heard publicly, but I was pretty upset.” said Burton. “To say that directly to Clinton when debating her on live television? It’s disgusting.”
Helen Price ’18, co-director of Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale, argues that this election in particular has “put a spotlight on the kind of subtle sexism that virtually every woman is familiar with — the obsession with Clinton not seeming “likeable” and that being discussed in very gendered terms; the fact that she — the most qualified candidate to ever run for president — has to stand on a stage and debate with a man who is wildly unqualified and misogynistic as if they were equals.” Price said that the “nasty woman” moment has electrified many millennial women and allowed them to identify more closely with Clinton. “Women at Yale, and educated women everywhere, are so often characterized as aggressive, mean or pushy for voicing our opinions or being ambitious.”
From her years as part of the Yale Political Union, Treuhaft-Ali remembers men criticizing her as “too aggressive,” and “too angry,” while men speaking alongside her were praised for being “assertive and convincing.” She was instructed to lower her voice so as not to sound too feminine. Men in the audience gestured for her to cut her speeches short.
However, the effect of #NastyWoman has some doubters. Bree Peilen, a junior at the University of Michigan who previously organized for Bernie Sanders and now does so for Clinton, said the phrase seems to be uniting feminists already committed to Clinton, rather than swinging undecided voters.
On the right, Amalia Halikias ’15, a former member of the Yale College Republicans, the Tory Party and the Buckley program, thinks the “nasty woman pride response is laugh-out-loud hilarious.” She wonders if her social media feeds would have “blown up” had Trump called Hillary a “stupid woman” instead. Reinwald, also of the Yale College Republicans, characterized the phrase as a great sound bite, saying, “the Clinton campaign couldn’t have scripted anything better; it was a hashtag waiting to happen!” She says, “It’s become a rallying cry for feminists; they’ve reappropriated the insult and wear it as a badge of honor.”
Runde couldn’t agree more. She believes the reclaiming of the epithet on social media has allowed women to create power out of disempowerment, celebrating their “nastiness.” “To self-label as a ‘nasty woman’ is to acknowledge prejudice and to proudly proclaim non-conformity to restrictive standards,” said Runde, who will perform tonight with the Sphincter Troupe, a feminist political comedy sketch group, at their “Nasty Women” show.
“It is to laugh in the face of that prejudice, and sometimes, that’s all you can do.”
The Impossible Election
In her commencement speech at Wellesley in 1969, before she was Secretary Clinton, HRC, Hillz, Hil(liar)y, or simply Hillary, Hillary Diane Rodham told her graduating class, “the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”
Many things that seemed impossible are now quite possible. A thrice-married tycoon was chosen as the evangelical standard bearer in a primary landslide, from a field of 17, including senators and governors. The Speaker of the House has refused to continue campaigning with his party’s candidate. A self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” gave an establishment candidate a run for her money that ultimately threatened to split the Democratic convention. And a woman is running for president.