REVIEW: Nasty Women

SCOTT MANLEY HADLEY REVIEWS
NASTY WOMEN  (404 Ink)  BY VARIOUS

404 Ink is a Scottish, independent publisher, and Nasty Women is a 2017 collection of essays that aims to describe “what it is to be a woman in the 21st century”. The pieces included evoke all elements of the female experience and the ways in which female identities coexist with other identities that may be considered non-cis-patriarchal-hetero-white normative. There are essays on what it means to be a woman and Muslim, a woman and working class, a woman and a punk, a woman and a witch, a trans woman, a woman and depressed, a woman and gay, a woman and black, a woman and not able-bodied, a woman and pregnant, a woman who doesn’t want children, and several other topics. Although the essays vary in their style, tone and form, they all have one thing in common, this link, this cohesive (almost accidental) sense of community: that of shared womanhood.

To be honest, there’s probably not much more I can write about Nasty Women that will convince you to buy it other than the above description. This is a link to the website where it can be purchased. If you want to engage with a plethora of female voices raised in unison to describe their experiences and the joys and pains of womanhood, then I promise you will love this. I loved it, it’s great. If that doesn’t sound like the kind of book you want to read, you’ve probably clicked this link expecting Nasty Women to be either the title of a cod Martin Amis-type collection of short stories, or perhaps some picaresque fun, a book to Fernando Sdrigotti’s Dysfunctional Males (La Casita Grande, 2017) what Slaves of New York was to Bright Lights, Big City. But no, as I was desperate to scream in response to all the disapproving looks I got while reading this on public transport, that is not what Nasty Women is. This is a serious, unsentimental, intelligent collection of essays on a very significant subject. I think you should read it, especially if you don’t want to. Because it is anyone who doesn’t want to that probably most needs to.

The highlights – for me (as a class-anxious individual with mental health problems lololol) – were a stunning essay on being working class in a middle class industry from Laura Waddell, and an unexpectedly compelling piece about Courtney Love and depression from Becca Inglis. However, to be honest, I feel a bit uncomfortable singling out any particular writers, as the reason why Nasty Women is so potent is the fact of its polyphony (¡¡¡WEEEAAAAAEEEEE FANCY WORD ALARM!!!).

nasty womenNasty Women is a rallying cry, a call to arms, an assertion of existence and a firm, uncontested statement of intent and existence. Women exist, women’s voices matter, and their lives and their experiences should be shared.

Nasty Women came about in the wake of America’s shameful election of – for want of a better phrase – the dickhead’s dickhead, Donald Trump, as president last year. Conceived, edited and published with a very fast turnaround, the team at 404 Ink managed to get a cover quote from Margaret Atwood, and justifiably so. The writing in here is energetic and diverse, impassioned and personal, angry and sad, optimistic, mournful and urgent. There is a multiplicity of tone that is refreshing in an essay collection, and although there is perhaps a skewed percentile of punks, Nasty Women contains voices and statements and fears from women of many origins, in terms of class, education, race, nationality and religion.

Gender politics as they exist in the world force these women together. This seemingly detached group of individuals becomes a community because of this uniting idea of gender. Many of the problems women face are near-identical the world, but they are exposed and explored and facilitated in different ways. Pregnancy and giving birth*, conflicting ideas of body image and behaviour, male violence and sexual harassment are all fears common to women internationally.**

The Right Now is a charged time to be reading about – and engaging with – ideas revolving around gender (I saw a fascinating show over the weekend about gender, sexuality and race, called Sexy, look it up, I think it’s touring, I’m too repressed to type the word “sexy” into google, though, so you will have to do that yourself), and I believe that 404 Ink have produced a valuable document here, evidencing what it is that is shared and what it is that differs in female experience across the planet. It’s a significant, important, read. It’s evocative and often painful to engage with, especially as a man, but it is true and it is honest and it is real. Buy it. Here’s that link again – and do buy it direct from the publisher because THEY GET MORE MONEY THAT WAY.

Now, I’m going to do what I do most of the time in these “reviews” and break it down into something more personal, something more emotive. The book review is over, if you only want my opinions on Nasty Women, stop reading at the end of this paragraph. Nasty Women is great. I’ve recommended it to many friends irl and will continue to do so, I’ve even lent my copy to a friend, though as I believe in encouraging independent publishing maybe that was the wrong thing to do? That’s a different debate. Go on, stop reading, the rest is ALL ABOUT ME.

I DELETED IT.

I wrote 1500 words here, all about how too many men are both reviewed and reviewing, then got sidetracked into a discussion about Knausgaard vs Ferrante and I essentially did the most “Guy in your MFA” writing of my life (post creative writing degree). I’ve deleted it because it was an example of what it in itself was critiquing, male words overshadowing women’s.

Open Pen, yes, probably should have got a woman in to review this. But it is valuable for men to read Nasty Women, to empathise with and understand better the lives of more than the women they meet in their day to day lives. It is not good enough for men to only consider the thoughts and feelings of women who they are related to, fucking or friends with, but it is essential than a common humanity is understood between all of us, globally. It is important, too, that non-white male voices are represented in literature, but even more so that white men don’t shout over these voices when they do appear, like this bloody bastard was about to do. (And even now still has done for a bit.)

Nasty Women is an important, moving, collection. Highly recommended.

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* Except for trans women. This is a contentious issue, I know. I want to be good, I want to offend the least amount of people, but I’ve also noticed that the people being most vocally abused for not being pro-trans enough are all women, and that makes me uncomfortable.

**Whenever I write about gender for Huff Post Man UK Edition (yes, it’s niche, it’s unpaid, but it’s exposure innit) I always get men in the comments saying, “but men get sexually harassed too”, yeah, and maybe some do, but most of the time it’s other men doing it and it’s not a global fucking epidemic, so men should just shut the fuck up and listen rather than shout. (He writes in a discursive, autobiographical, footnote of a review of a feminist book.)

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Scott Manley Hadley

was shortlisted for Best Reviewer at the Saboteur Awards 2017. He blogs at TriumpoftheNow.com

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