October 2016 was a busy month for journalists covering Donald Trump and sexism. First, a recording of him bragging about forcing himself on women was released to the public. Next, women began stepping forward, accusing him of sexual assault. And moments after declaring “nobody has more respect for women; nobody” during the final presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, the nation watched as he leaned into his microphone with a frown and called Clinton a “nasty woman.”
The internet exploded into glorious nasty woman memes and punchlines. We laughed and listened to Janet Jackson and clinked our pint glasses in celebration as the reclaimed term become one of empowerment. We were hopeful that a month of blatant sexism and sexual assault allegations would cost Trump the presidential race.
The world faced another reality on Nov. 8, and so people began mobilizing en masse. Since the women’s marches in January, which saw a record number of 4.8 million estimated demonstrators worldwide, actions and activist groups have continued fanning out in resistance across the planet.
One such action is a series of international Nasty Women art exhibitions, featuring work from female-identifying and gender nonconforming artists. So far over 30 events, which have popped up globally from New York to Brussels and Phoenix to London, have raised nearly $200,000 for Planned Parenthood.
“A free woman. One of the things we’ve had a lot of conversations about is yes, this is a ‘nasty woman’ show but we can’t define what is ‘nasty’ for someone,” says Christina Campbell, an organizer with Nasty Women Oakland. “I feel like it’s freedom; it’s freedom to define what nasty means to you. For me personally it means being outspoken, being powerful, being sexy, being free.”
Campbell was inspired to hold the Oakland event after the inaugural Nasty Woman exhibit in New York in January. As a black woman who voted for Obama — and viewed his two-term presidency as a sign of social progress in the U.S. — Trump’s win came as a shock to her. She teamed up with fellow organizers Victoria Ayees and Paula Commerford to mobilize against what she sees as threats to roll back on women’s rights, access to healthcare and general safety in an increasingly hostile world.
“I just read an article about how Republicans in different states are rejoicing because they are getting to pass policies that will hurt women because they know they will pass now — before they didn’t have a chance,” says Campbell. “This is what I’ve been fearing and it’s just starting to come about.”
Campbell points to a recent mandate in Texas which requires burial of fetal tissue after abortion or miscarriage as just the beginning of laws that have a negative impact on women’s lives and serve as a precursor to criminalizing reproductive care. Racism, homophobia and hate crimes across gender lines are also a concern for Campbell.
“When Obama was elected, people [who opposed him] were crying like they were gonna die: ‘Isis is coming!’ I guess for them, they made it up in their heads but for us, it’s not made up — it’s actually happening,” says Campbell. “People are in danger and people are going to die and it is very serious.”
Campbell acknowledges that not every female-identifying person wants to bear the label of “nasty woman,” because of negative connotations associated with the term. She also says the event producers have received some minor internet trolling from anti-feminists. But Campbell has no time to engage with hateful, anti-woman commentary.
“I think a lot of that is being uncomfortable with being a powerful woman, with being a woman who is outspoken, being a woman who takes ownership of herself, of her body and her voice,” she says of the female critics. “It’s like they are losing ownership of that power.”
The 100 women who have work featured in Nasty Women Oakland are definitely not at risk for losing that ownership, she says.
“To see other people define [nasty woman] in different ways has been really amazing,” says Campbell. “A lot of the work is very personal about their bodies, a wide range of how they see other women, how they feel about Trump; it’s running the gamut.”
The opening night reception includes musical performances from Annie Bacon, Diana Gameros, Alexandria Love, Maya Songbird, Qing Qi, and DJ Breezy EZ. Nasty Women Oakland also hosts a talk with participating artists on Friday, April 14.
As we move deeper into the current administration, Campbell is hopeful that Nasty Women Oakland will be an inspiration for others to organize solidarity actions as well.
“Where my mind is and where I am invested in,” she says, “is re-investing in community, re-investing in people who are interested in change.”
‘Nasty Women Oakland’ is on view April 7-28 at Oakland’s Omi Gallery at Impact Hub (2323 Broadway St.). For more information, click here.