After GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton “such a nasty
woman” in the third presidential debate, the internet meme factory lit up overnight.
Trump, whatever his intentions, had evoked one of the oldest tropes in misogyny. Why is
the notion of women’s nastiness so provocative and persistent? What kinds of women
have been labeled nasty, bitchy, bossy, witchy, slutty, and so forth, and how have these
claims varied in different times and places? What purpose(s) have claims about women’s
In this course we examine how myths around disgust, shame, (dis)honor, dirtiness and
nastiness have been used to designate women as inferior, justify violence against women
and support women’s exclusion from, or subordination in public life, often while
enhancing the power of specific groups of men. We also examine moments when the
supposed nastiness of certain women has been used to bolster exclusion and violence
based on race, class, ethnicity, sexuality and other traits. Finally, we consider how
thinking of gender as a “performance”, or as “socially constructed”, or as something we
can change about ourselves can challenge and enrich our understanding of gender and
power, both historically and in the twenty-first century.
We will consider a wide range of topics from many countries and time periods, from
antiquity to the present day. However, case studies will primarily address the U.S. and
Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, their imagined “Western” past in
classical and biblical antiquity, and their encounters with outsiders or “others”. The main
task of the course is to engage with the readings, many of which are intellectually
demanding; we will work through them and the authors’ concepts together.