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100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

Regardless of the outcome of their particular struggle, all of these 100 women were brave.
100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

Book cover image: 100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell via Hachette.

Taking the inspiration for its title from Donald Trump’s snide insult of Hillary Clinton during the final presidential election debate in 2016, 100 Nasty Women of History is a celebration of women, like Clinton, who refused to toe the line. Written with a clear feminist agenda, this book of 100 profiles details the achievements and biographies of dozens of the most inspirational and interesting women from history that many of us have never heard of and is an entertaining starting point towards further investigation.   

Through a blend of humour and facts, former senior Buzzfeed writer, Hannah Jewell profiles a range of women from all over the world, important for a vast number of different reasons. We are introduced to scientists, scholars, activists, journalists, royalty, spies, pilots, warriors and rebels, all included because they ‘managed to piss off a man for not behaving as was expected. Or for having unladylike ideas. Or for murdering him’. Unfortunately, the framing of these women as significant in opposition to the patriarchal systems in which they lived still serves to put men at the centre of why these women have been brought together at all, which seems somewhat contrary to the intention of the book.

Jewell’s humorous voice and occasionally colourful language would not be out of place in a Buzzfeed article or blog post, but takes some getting used to in this context, sometimes detracting altogether from the achievements of the women being profiled. Some of the profiles that feature in the first section of the book ‘Wonderful Ancient Weirdos’ especially suffer in this way, leaving the reader wondering if Jewell’s commentary and asides are simply a means of bulking up the rather few details available of women about whom very little is known.

This book is firmly wedged in a particular moment in time: it reflects the current listicle approach to online content, is brimming with millennial slang (conveniently collected in the ‘old people glossary’ at the end of the book) and comments on the current political and social climate. As a result, one cannot help but wonder if these women’s stories, all so compelling and important individually, are somewhat diminished by being slotted between those of 99 other ‘brilliant, badass and completely fearless’ women. It is a mighty feat to remember the names, let alone details, of all 100 women featured, so what the reader is left with, in addition to many brief introductions, is the strong argument that women all over the world have been underestimated and undervalued by history for centuries.

100 Nasty Women thus highlights the many biases that decide how history is recorded and remembered. Jewell very powerfully exposes the predilection towards a white-washed male-centric telling of history at the expense of acknowledging the experiences and contributions of the groups and individuals that do not fit this mould.

While extensively researched, 100 Nasty Women of History is not a reference book in the traditional sense, but rather a humorous and sarcastic commentary on the times in which we now live. This is a book set to empower those who are struggling with the repercussions of Trump’s presidential win by introducing a list of women who ‘conquered, and flourished, and enjoyed their lives too much for the comfort of those around them’, alongside others who ‘tried to make change, but couldn’t’. Regardless of the outcome of their particular struggle, all of these 100 women were brave, whether standing in the face of oppression, narrow-mindedness or danger, and Jewell does well to remind us that we too, in the face of such obstacles, may find ourselves to be ‘more powerful than [we] think’.  

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

100 Nasty Women of History
By Hannah Jewell

Paperback, 304 pp, RRP $32.99
ISBN: 9781473671263
Hachette Australia

Laura James

Monday 22 January, 2018

About the author

Laura James is a Melbourne-based reviewer and blogger, currently working in community radio.