What did you do the day that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America? Stare in disbelief at the TV, searching for answers? Did you cry? Contact friends and family who might be directly affected?
Laura Jones and Heather McDaid made a book. More specifically, a series of essays written by women. Entitled Nasty Women, it’s a "collection of accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century". “There was a sense of sadness and deflation with a number of our friends. The idea just came to me: to reclaim a phrase that he [Donald Trump] used and to really explore the realities of being a woman today – rather than slap it arbitrarily on merchandise”, Heather told Refinery29.
Heather and Laura had met in passing several times before working together on a virtual book festival as freelancers in June 2016. They discussed their ambitions to set up a publishing company that was “more transparent and accessible, and less gatekeeper-y”, using social media and crowdfunding to shout about the writers that mattered to them. Two weeks after the festival, they launched 404 Ink. “We work across every area of making a book, from marketing and events to editing, so we’re used to erratic schedules and multiple projects, but neither of us expected 404 Ink to take off quite so quickly!”
That, it seems, is thanks to their first book, released to coincide with International Women's Day 2017. Heather and Laura set up a Kickstarter campaign for Nasty Women and within six days, smashed their goal of £6,000 (in fact, they raised £22,000). Four months after the initial conception, the book was published.
The first essay the women commissioned was Katie Muriel’s "Independence Day", which looks at being a woman of Latinx heritage in Trump’s America, but Nasty Women – although named after the sexist slur fired by said president at Hillary Clinton – is not exclusively about being a woman in the US in 2017. The writers explore such topics as how family history can shape your identity, the fetishisation of black women, being a survivor, and women online. The title, Heather explains, “seemed to capture the essence of a collection of women sharing their experiences where they can often be silenced, talked over, or undermined in today’s climate. We wanted to give it over to others to tell their own stories.”
It’s that ‘giving over’ that makes the book a stellar lesson in intersectionality. “We could have easily put together a collection by our friends, but it would be an echo chamber of people with largely overlapping experiences. What’s the point?” Heather explains that 404 Ink are aware of their privileges. “We were conscious to offer new voices, while not telling people what to write – that’s not our place. When people say it’s hard to be intersectional, to be diverse, we’ve long felt that that’s at least partially laziness." They opened up submissions via their website and the result is a textured, varied plethora of women’s voices.
Belle Owen writes about “living with a disability (and how she won’t be forced out of a mosh pit because society deems she should be in a certain, designated space)” and Kristy Diaz uncovers the internalised sexism that comes with being the ‘cool girl’ on the punk rock scene. The account that resonated most with Heather? Jen McGregor’s "Lament: Living With The Consequences of Contraception". “It’s funny but frank, and at the end you wonder: why? Why isn’t this spoken about? Why are women potentially opening up whole other health issues when they're not being warned of the consequences? When you read her experiences, it's quite clear how far we still have to go – in making the implications and impact of contraception widely known and more thoroughly researched, and the importance of taking women at their word when it comes to their health and lifestyle choices in regards to sex and children.”
This is just it – the more we write and speak about these realities, the more progress we’ll make. Without platforms like 404 Ink promoting underrepresented and silenced voices, there would be little light left in the future of the media. Heather explains: “There’s a responsibility for others to boost voices as a counter-narrative to the 3am Twitter rants that those regardless of reality have. The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla, is a great example. It’s an incredible collection that considers what it is to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you. For us, publishing with our gut is publishing real stories, standing against the (re)rise of misogyny, racism, and hatred.”
Read Nasty Women. Supporting an independent publishing company run by two women, who in turn offer a platform to more women, can only be a great thing. Read the writing of a range of women in all their rich, miscellaneous complexity. It’s surely one of the most hopeful ways to fight through an era of fake news, discrimination, and fear.