Among the many scandals, controversies and lawsuits that have mired the US presidential race, one of the most highlighted has been Trump’s attitude towards his female opponent and it has put every feminist’s teeth on edge. Out of the many low moments that Trump had during the presidential debates, one particular moment that stuck and went viral on media was when Trump called Clinton “a nasty woman.”
This election has been defined by gender politics, and Trump’s comments have sparked some very serious concerns regarding cultural prejudices against strong, accomplished women.
At the Dhaka Lit Fest, a discussion on feminism entitled “Nasty Women” saw journalist Lady Nadira Naipaul, translator and publisher Deborah Smith, British-Australian writer Evie Wyd and journalist Rosamund Erwin on the main stage. It was moderated by journalist and writer Bee Rowlatt. The speakers exchanged views on how feminism was subjected to serious misinterpretation, how it remained a far-reaching concept both in the east as well as the west and what could be done to ensure gender parity.
Evie Wyld said she was shaken to the core as she witnessed how a misogynist was entrusted with the duty of governing one of the most powerful nations on earth. Rosamund chipped in with a comment about how mainstream politics forced women from a diverse range of ethnic background to vote for Trump. Deborah Smith declined to highlight Trump’s statements or Hillary’s defeat. She opined this was a part of the struggles women were going through the ages in every corner of the world. In this male-dominated society, women scarcely get what they deserve in a not-so-woman-friendly system. To much surprise, Hillary was not even supported by a good number of women from all age groups who viewed her as the face of elitism in politics.
Lady Nadira Naipaul, wife of Nobel Laureate in Literature VS Naipaul, reflected on how Pakistan treated women and how they were locked up and tortured by husbands when they raised their voices. About Trump winning the US election, she said lack of faith in mainstream politics and the economic circumstances of the country earned trump a good deal of female supporters. Though sexism is strongly rooted in the US, she said, Hillary lost due to her Wall Street–friendly image. She reprimanded the fact that women, when in power, tried to imitate a man or be a man, which made them worse than their male counterparts. According to her, femininity does not clash with assuming power and women can rule over a nation without compromising femininity. When Rowlatt referred to her article in which she stood against Muslim women wearing burkha or hijab in England or other western countries, quite a few women in the audience opposed her. She wound up the discussion saying she didn't mean to hurt anyone.
The speakers drew attention to the trend of women running a country in Asia. While it still remains an abstract notion in the west, the east has set an example by electing female leaders. Soon a Bangladeshi writer from the audience stood up and shared with the speakers that women leaders were chosen in Bangladesh as well as the other South Asian countries because of family ties and also because no man was found to represent the family.
The conversation then veered towards how women faced the linguistic bias. They are represented in a language created by men. Smith said how some pre-established notions regarding women affected their freedom, making them act according to family or society expectations. Wyld said most women were afraid of coming out, speaking for themselves and being labelled as feminists. The speakers concluded the discussion by remembering Begum Rokeya, the noted 19th century Bengali feminist and how she constructed a feminist utopia in her English novella, Sultana’s Dream
. They wished to create their versions of utopia and before winding up, they also remembered the first “nasty woman” of Europe, Mary Wollstonecraft.
The world needs more of nasty women to make the society better. Nasty and angry women are blessings to be cherished and they are beneficial to both men and women. They partner with men in saving humanity and together they can lift each other up. It is on this wonderful note that the engaging discussion ended.