Loosely Literal: Introduction to NASTY WOMAN: The Melania Trump Autobiography
Melania Trump never set out to be a hero. She was already 46 when her husband, the late Donald Trump, began his campaign for the Presidency in 2015, and claims that, unlike Mr. Trump, she had no interest in the public eye. In the prologue to her autobiography, she writes, “I never wanted to be on campaign, are you kidding me? It like throwing self into crowd of hungry dogs” (iv).
Yet Mr. Trump’s numerous transgressions throughout the campaign season eventually behooved the reticent Ms. Trump to take a more active role. She was required to defend her husband’s predatory behavior toward women, hard-line immigration policies, and insubstantiated claims of greatness on more than one occasion, including a rather bewildering interview in October of 2016 with then-CNN host Anderson Cooper. During this interview, she explained her then-70-year-old husband should not be held responsible for the things he had said, since he was nothing but a child. “He’s led on -- like, egged on -- ...to say dirty and bad stuff.”
The interview, as many readers may recall, went over well, or as well as a bucket of cool water can go over a burning building. Soon after, Ms. Trump retreated back behind the scenes. That is, until the fateful night of the final Presidential debate, an event Ms. Trump felt obligated to attend. (“The campaign people, they make me go. I say, my husband throw tantrum every day, I not need to see one with live audience” (6)). It was here that Ms. Trump, along with the rest of America, heard her husband call soon-to-be President Hillary Clinton “a nasty woman” after she criticized him for not paying his income taxes.
Though Ms. Trump, in footage from the debate, appears nonplussed, in the following pages she expresses the shock she was unable to express at the time. “My husband, he call her nasty woman to the whole United States,” she writes, “and I am thinking: oh no, he did not. At the time I have smile on my face, but in my heart I am ripping out each hair plug from his skull. Even for my husband, that is too far” (19).
Ms. Trump stood silently beside her husband, per the terms of their prenup, as he lurched toward a defeat so catastrophically humiliating even Fox News called it “a rather poor showing for the Republican Party.” Yet the day following the general election, November 9th, 2017, Ms. Trump filed for divorce in the state of New York, citing “irretrievable breakdown in relationship for a period of at least six months” and “cruel and inhuman treatment” as legal grounds.
Immediately after the news broke, Ms. Trump become something of a feminist icon with the help of the popular social media hashtag, #freemelania. “Though it was nice, having, how do you say, moral support,” she writes, “I also wanted to say to everybody, shut up already, yes? This private matter. Also I am getting distracted all the time, checking my likes on Facebook” (45).
Yet whether Ms. Trump liked it or not (“Eventually I like it” (47)), her decision to leave Mr. Trump became a defining moment in third-wave feminism, with some scholars even likening it to the Seneca Falls Convention or the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. “Though it’s overly facile to report the construction of the feminine was deconstructed and drastically reconstructed in the wake of Trump v. Trump,” Professor Winifred Yeats writes in Trump Untrumped, “one can assert the mores surrounding the valuation of the feminine, particularly within the pulchritudinous category Ms. Trump occupied, began a paradigmatic shift toward the non-marital.”
Put more simply, in the words of famed fitness blogger Amber Thies in her blog, Limber Amber, shared as a rallying cry in the wake of Ms. Trump’s divorce: “It’s like, I’m realizing that just because I’m a pretty girl doesn’t mean I have to get married to one of the gross old rich guys that hits on me, you know?”
It took some time for Ms. Trump’s icon status to become integrated with her roles of mother, casual philanthropist, and very wealthy divorcée. “It takes time to get used to a different life,” she writes. “I wake up every night, unable to sleep, thinking, oh no, one butler instead of three, I must boil my own egg in morning” (100). But eventually, her willingness to endure hard times reaps ripe fruit. “Eventually I make 25-year-old boyfriend who -- well, a woman does not kiss and tell, but I tell my girl friends he puts the ‘iaiaiaiaiaia’ back in my Slovenian, if you know what I mean” (175). She also started her own advocacy group for single mothers and began traveling around to colleges to implement assertiveness training for female students. “It was that, or, what, I sit at home watching soaps and doing Pilates exercises? In Slovenia we have a saying: either work or be killed by Communists or Soviets or Serbs or -- there is always somebody trying to kill us. So I work, so I don’t die” (204).
Her work paid off. Within ten years the Melania Trump Fund was helping thousands of women every year leave abusive relationships, and women’s studies departments all over the country were teaching classes on Melaniassertiveness™, as it was aptly named. While her ex-husband spent his golden years declaring multiple bankruptcies and bullying paparazzi, Ms. Trump became her generation’s Jackie O. “Jackie O with a cruel streak,” she writes (247). You are lucky to be holding the work of such a woman in your hands. “I nasty woman, you nasty woman, we all nasty woman,” she writes. “Let us be nasty together and make our dreams come true” (274).
Sally Franson received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota and was a 2012 GRPP Fellow. Her work has recently appeared in Witness, Room, elimae, and Bartleby Snopes, among others, and she was the winner of the Loft’s Fall Writing Contest in 2012. She is also a recipient of a 2014 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. In addition to teaching and finishing her first book, Sally is a contributing writer toThe Fiddleback and Paper Darts. sallyfranson.com