Absence and rhetorical (non) circulation: "Nasty woman" Kamala Harris in 2020



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This project is an activist one that adds to digital scholarship, applies to praxis in writing classrooms, and has the potential to inform future political practices. In particular, this project traces the absence, presence, and—ultimately—the transformation of nasty-woman rhetorics related to Kamala Devi Harris during the Fall 2020 presidential election in the United States. Nasty-woman rhetorics entail the persistent, deeply embedded practice of containing, silencing, and demonizing women in public spheres by labeling and stereotyping them. This project weaves a womanist perspective with Actor Network Theory, a weaving that accounts for the intersectional dynamics of nasty-woman rhetorics in terms not just of sexism but also racism. Then-president Donald J. Trump labeling Harris “nasty” in 2020, in short, is inherently different from calling Hillary Rodham Clinton “such a nasty woman” in 2016. This difference surfaces in the absenting of Harris in circulating news-media headlines and social media, in overemphasis on the “nasty” label, and in tweets about Harris as a Jemima or Jezebel (two stereotypes often applied to Black women). Transformation—a hallmark of rhetorical circulation—is also revealed as ebb and flow of nasty-woman rhetorics over time, as well as changes in affect. These transformations were driven by the intra-action of news-media coverage, social-media posts, and events related to Harris. Through such findings, this project offers an ethical framework for feminist scholarship; it also offers a set of strategies for countering nasty-woman rhetorics, from reclaiming our time to understanding (y)our media ecology.



Rhetorical circulation, Black feminism, Womanism, Political rhetorics, Presidential rhetorics, Cultural rhetorics