What Was the ‘Nasty Woman’?

A writer digs up an old T-shirt from the 2016 election that feels like a relic from another civilization

Jennifer Swann
GEN
Published in
9 min readSep 22, 2020

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Photos courtesy of the author

“A Nasty Woman in the White House?” read the subject line of an email sent to me last month. It was a reference to vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who Donald Trump recently called a “nasty woman,” but I couldn’t dissociate it from the same nickname he’d given to Hillary Clinton during the third presidential debate when she needled him about avoiding taxes. Seeing the phrase in my inbox alongside an avalanche of pandemic-related campaign emails — Bernie Sanders urging me to support a bill to tax billionaires who’d gotten richer over the last several months, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez asking me to donate to feed hungry families in public housing — made me feel as if I had traveled back in time.

The email was from an online retailer I purchased a T-shirt from four years earlier. The shirt had cost $25, with half the proceeds going directly to Planned Parenthood, which gave me a reason to feel good, maybe even righteous, about my purchase. If you spent much time on Instagram in late 2016 or attended the Women’s March three months later, then you likely already know the one. It’s white with a peach-colored heart in the center and two words printed across it in black capital letters: NASTY WOMAN. The simple graphic was vaguely political yet inoffensive. It did not advocate for a particular policy or even a particular candidate — though it obviously catered to Clinton supporters, many of them women like myself, who took issue with Trump’s misogyny.

The company that makes the nasty woman T-shirt has expanded since Trump’s rise to power. Having rebranded as the retail platform Shrill Society in 2017, its website now hosts products from nearly two dozen designers: sweatshirts plastered with the phrase “she persisted”; $300 ceramic “booty” vases (“because Trump and his despicable policies can kiss our ass); a line of “nasty woman” cosmetics, which features lip glosses in colors like “Power to…

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Jennifer Swann
GEN
Writer for

Writing about culture, sex, and politics. Founding editor, theLAnd magazine. Bylines: Rolling Stone, Washington Post, LA Times. jennswann.com