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Clinton supporters leaned into Trump's "nasty woman" insult and turned it into a compliment

Donald Trump tried to insult Hillary Clinton by calling her a "nasty woman." It completely backfired.

Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

During Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, there was a moment when Donald Trump felt everything slipping away.

Hillary Clinton made a brief dig about how Trump has avoided paying taxes for 18 years, saying that she would raise taxes on the wealthy in order to put more money into the Social Security trust fund and noting that both she and Trump would have to pay higher taxes as a result — "assuming he can’t figure out a way to get out of it." As Clinton continued speaking, Trump couldn’t stop himself from letting one final insult escape his thin lips.

"Such a nasty woman," the Republican nominee for president said.

As insulting as the "nasty" comment may be, it’s not especially new for Trump, whose demeaning comments about women have become a gasp-inducing flashpoint in the home stretch of the election. The man has bragged about grabbing women by their genitalia. In response to allegations from multiple women that he sexually assaulted them, he has called his accusers ugly liars. And now, on a national stage and as part of his campaign to be elected leader of the free world, he has insulted his opponent in a crass and gendered way.

What Trump did in that moment is a microcosm of the behavior politics that women are routinely subjected to in all areas of society — the idea that if women don’t behave in certain way, or if they behave the way men do, they will be called "shrill," or a "bitch," or, in this case, "nasty."

And as soon as the debate ended, Trump’s "nasty woman" insult morphed into an empowering phrase. The hashtag #NastyWomen began trending on Twitter. Someone has purchased the URL and set up a redirect to Clinton’s campaign website — perhaps as a sly, smirky remix of Saturday Night Live’s 2008 Weekend Update sketch about Clinton "Bitches Get Shit Done":

Meanwhile, it was difficult not to immediately equate Trump’s insult with "Nasty," the 1986 Janet Jackson hit that helped define Jackson’s career and not only lionized Jackson as a feminist hero but also impacted pop music. The song is about Jackson dealing with "nasty" men; the lyrics declare, "My last name is ‘Control.’ No, my first name ain't ‘Baby.’ It's Janet; Miss Jackson — if you're nasty."

That song, as Jackson explained to Rolling Stone, was about dealing with abusive men in her life and abusive men who would approach her.

"They were emotionally abusive, sexually threatening," Jackson told the magazine in 1993. "Instead of running to [her producers] Jimmy [Harris] or Terry [Lewis] for protection, I took a stand. I backed them down. That's how songs like 'Nasty' and 'What Have You Done for Me Lately' were born, out of a sense of self-defense."

As the debate came to a close, Trump got mad that Clinton took a jab at him for not paying taxes and tried to insult her in one of the only ways he knew how — by tearing her down, by trying to point out that her behavior doesn’t match how he believes women should act. What he failed to realize is that how Clinton behaves isn’t up to him. And he clearly failed to realize that there are plenty of "nasty" women (and men) out there who completely disagree with him.