Nasty Women is a book that has taken the Edinburgh literary scene—if not the world—by storm. It’s a collection of essays by what the US president has dubbed ‘nasty women’: women who aren’t afraid to own their spaces, to make their voices heard, and to ruffle a few feathers along the way.
Saturday’s event was a reading and conversation between three Nasty Women authors: Nadine Aisha Jassat, Laura Waddell and Joelle Owusu. The chairperson was Kirsty Logan, author of The Gracekeepers. The speakers’ essays cover everything from race and the struggle to fit in as children, to ‘passing’ for white or for middle-class in the arts industry, and of the importance of names to identity.
The crowd, as I waited for the event to start, was full of boisterous women, chatting, laughing. The men in the audience, few as they were, were more subdued. A cursory glance around revealed none of them in conversation with anyone else. At most they looked at their phones or chatted quietly.
The reading and discussion of each essay took up the bulk of the talk, and as the wind began to blow and shake the canvas roof of the George St tent, making us all lean forward on our wooden benches in an effort to hear, I couldn’t help wondering if we, the “nasty women”, had all been banished to the wilds—though, of course, the organisers couldn’t have known what the weather would be like. The speakers spoke up, we persevered.
The discussion echoed many of the sentiments I’d heard in talks throughout the Book Festival: Waddell, Owusu and Jassat stressed the importance of—as you might expect from the title of the book—reclamation. But also of existing unapologetically and striving for one’s art, and of intersectionality: it was not a coincidence, I think, that the speakers chosen for this event spoke not only of their experiences as women but as working-class, Muslim, mixed-race and black women.
Overall, The most prevalent point I took away from today’s talk was a strident one: we’re not making a fuss over nothing. The struggles that each speaker discussed, identities dismissed, assumptions made, slurs, and insults tempered with backhanded compliments, are things they—and most women—deal with daily. It’s through open discourse in public spaces like book festivals and books that we can tackle these issues, but we’ve got a long way to go yet.