The Massachusetts Democrat harnessed an alleged jab from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Let your detractors make you stronger.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently seized onto the label “impolite arrogant woman” after BuzzFeed News reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had described her as such in a private email exchange last year.
“What an impolite arrogant woman,” Kelly, who was then homeland security secretary, allegedly wrote after a call with Warren to discuss the administration’s travel ban. “She immediately began insulting our people accusing them of not following the court order, insulting and abusive behavior towards those covered by the pause, blah blah blah.”
Warren, in turn, published an entire post on her website about the incident. “There’s nothing impolite about people’s right to speak out and hold their government accountable,” she wrote. “And sometimes, people are right to be angry.” As the Washington Post noted, someone also registered the domain name impolitearrogantwoman.com — which redirects to a clip of President Trump’s “Access Hollywood” hot-mic remarks — after the BuzzFeed report went live.
The rumored 2020 hopeful’s move marked the latest co-opting of a slight: Onetime gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon reclaimed the “unqualified lesbian” slight slung during her campaign by former City Council speaker Christine Quinn — harnessing it to welcome “all qualified and unqualified lesbians” to her campaign launch, and later selling “Unqualified Lesbian” buttons on her website. (Quinn, who is a lesbian, later walked back her comment. Nixon, for her part, has both identified as bisexual and resisted labeling her sexuality in the past.)
“When I announced yesterday that I’m running for gov, one of Cuomo’s top surrogates dismissed me as an “unqualified lesbian.” It’s true that I never received my certificate from the Department of Lesbian Affairs, though in my defense there’s a lot of paperwork required.” 🤷♀️
— Cynthia Nixon (@CynthiaNixon) March 21, 2018
Trump’s alleged remark in January calling some African nations “s–thole countries” inspired T-shirts proclaiming, “Proud descendant of a s–thole country.” Many Trump supporters, in response to Hillary Clinton grouping half of them into a “basket of deplorables” in 2016, wore the nickname as a badge of honor.
Adult-film star Stormy Daniels, meanwhile, corrected an internet troll who misspelled “skank” as “scanc.” “Slut and whore are words used by people who feel threatened,” she tweeted in March. “I find power in them.” And writer Roxane Gay, who has argued against using “fat” as an insult, swung back at one Twitter user’s attempt to do so: “Jake, I’m fat. You really worked out a mystery. I’m fat and powerful,” she wrote. “In a few minutes I will forget about you. You’ll be hearing about me for the rest of your life.”
Jake, I’m fat. You really worked out a mystery. I’m fat and powerful. In a few minutes I will forget about you. You’ll be hearing about me for the rest of your life. https://t.co/aKnzrKNdJL
— roxane gay (@rgay) February 23, 2018
One particularly memorable case: Clinton’s plugging a “nasty woman” shirt, engineered by comedian Samantha Bee to benefit Planned Parenthood, after then-candidate Trump uttered the phrase during a presidential debate.
“Prior to that, if I called you a nasty woman, that’s not a compliment,” executive coach John Baldoni told Moneyish. “(Clinton) defined the term ‘nasty’ as assertive, bold, aggressive and in charge: ‘You want to call me that? Then I own that. And yes, I’m a woman.’”
In order to successfully make an insult work for you, Baldoni said, you have to “own the label” and “define it on your own terms.” “You deflate the insult and make it work for you by pointing out your strengths,” he said. Baldoni invokes former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who urged people to “hang a lantern on your problem.” “If somebody’s attacking you for something, confront it head on,” he added. “It’s a form of jiu-jitsu, where you’re using the energy of your opponent against him.”
Say you’re a slow worker and a coworker tags you with the nickname “slowpoke” (assuming, of course, this isn’t a manager legitimately criticizing you for inefficiency). “OK, what you call slowpoke, I call thorough — I’m detailed and conscientious and my work speaks for itself,” Baldoni offered. “That’s how I would turn it around.”
It’s best to “insert facts about your qualifications” in co-opting an insult, career coach Julia Harris Wexler told Moneyish. Clocking in at 4’11, Wexler recalls enduring constant remarks through the years about her stature — or, as she calls it, “the last acceptable physical bullying.” So she chooses to lead with her height — and make it work for her. “I often say, ‘I’m 4’11, so I have to have a really big message’ … ‘I might be small, but I have a pretty big resume,’” she said. “They’re thinking it, so I just claim it and then I use it to my advantage.”
“The spotlight’s on you; you’re performing; they’re watching you,” she added. “Make it work for your agenda.”
This story was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated.
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