A collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century
Contributors: Katie Muriel, Kristy Diaz, Claire L. Heuchan, Jen McGregor, Laura Lam, Mel Reeve, Laura Waddell, Sim Bajwa, Becca Inglis, Rowan C. Clarke, Ren Aldridge, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Laura Jane Grace in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco, Elise Hines, Alice Tarbuck, Jonatha Kottler, Chitra Ramaswamy, Christina Neuwirth, Belle Owen, Zeba Talkhani, Kaite Welsh, Joelle A. Owusu.
404 Ink, 2017
Margaret Atwood is not wrong. This book is indeed “an essential window into many of the hazard-strewn worlds younger women are living in right now.”
I was intrigued to hear about this project, proudly contributed the the Kickstarter fund, and excitedly waited for my copy to arrive on my doorstep. I read it, bought copies for my friends, then re-read it. The social media hype is not out of proportion – this book is amazing.
The overarching theme of the book that resonated with me is proudly and unapologetically taking up space:
“I write and speak with the goal of improving the world for women of colour, all the Black and brown girls who will come after me into the feminist spaces, in whatever way I can.” – Claire L. Heuchen
“Sometimes, it feels like rebellion to claim our space without apology.” – Sim Bajwa
“I cannot define my own value by the amount of space I take up at a given moment.” – Jonatha Kottler
“I needed to exist in these spaces, to be seen in these spaces unapologetically, in order to be considered for them in the future.” – Belle Owen
“… to stake a claim for my space not just at shows, but in the world.” – Belle Owen
“I was judged and hated for simply existing – for taking up space which apparently I did not deserve.” – Joelle A. Owusu
“We are now occupying space that was not created for us,” – Joelle A. Owusu
And one that I have adopted as a personal maxim:
“Never apologise for an inch of space you occupy” – Kristy Diaz
The essays cover contraception, rape, race, religion, pregnancy, sexuality, mental health, immigration, disability and more; all told in highly personal stories, that are at once affecting, shocking, eye opening and a call to action. I learned so much from these essays, either seeing some of my own experiences in a new light, or learning something completely new from experiences that are far removed from my privileged little bubble.
It’s difficult to pick highlights from such a standout collection, but stories that really took me aback were Diaz’s account of no longer being the ‘cool girl’: It describes a particular trope of woman that seems to exist to satisfy the desires of men – she shares their interests, is attractive but low-maintenance, is basically ‘one of the guys’. I was that girl for years! At least I tried. And felt so much better in myself when I walked away from that whole scene.
Kaite Welsh’s The Rest is Drag made me laugh so much and I really empathised with her sartorial struggles: It’s not that I think high heels inherently oppress women, I just can’t bloody walk in them. That level of normalised hyperfemininity… sits so at odds with who I am, it feels like an outsize fancy dress costume.
Jen McGregor’s harrowing experience with contraception, and a question from a nurse that echoed my own encounter with a female doctor on the topic of contraception. In an appointment to discuss getting the coil, she asked me – I kid you not – “Yes, but are you really not going to have children in the next five years?” Guess what, five years later – still happily childless! And also “has your partner agreed to this?” Well, that’s none of your business, but he might have. If I had a partner. I didn’t realise being in a relationship was a requirement for contraception. Needless to say I did not return to that doctor.
In addition to these, were essays that taught me experiences such as what it’s like to be a Black woman, to have parents who immigrated to the country you call home, to fight for your right to space for your wheelchair, to be a survivor of sexual abuse and more. This is a powerful book.
If you are unsure what intersectional feminism is, read this. It’s the ideal introduction. In fact, just read this. Everyone should: male, female, old, young, any ethnicity or religion. Amongst other things, it made me realise just how narrow the scope of reading material I’ve generally been exposed to is. It’s embarrassing really. Diversity in publishing is a massive issue; thankfully it is at the fore of talks everywhere now but hopefully it amounts to more than just that. It is sad too that only 1.5% of books published in the UK are translated titles.* How many amazing, diverse voices are we missing out on?
Buy Nasty Women. Buy it now and don’t miss out on hearing these important stories.
If wanting a woman to be able to own her own sexuality, to be able to live life with freedom and dignity and find and make her own choices are these things, then yes, we are nasty women – the nastiest around.
– Nadine Aisha Jassat
*Paula Erizanu, “Translated Book Sales Are Up, But Britain is Still Cut Off From Foreign Literature,” The Guardian, September 30, 2016, accessed April 14, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/30/translated-book-sales-are-up-but-britain-is-still-cut-off-from-foreign-literature.