Many women learn to be lovely from a young age, but Nicky Pellegrino is done with it.
I’ll let you in on a secret – I’m not lovely. This may not come as a huge shock to the woman down the street who failed to apologise for her house alarm blaring for half the night and keeping everyone awake, or the specialist vet who simultaneously patronised me while trying to bilk me for thousands of dollars, or the man in the grocery store who accused me of queue jumping then called me rude (I’ll show you rude, I thought).
In fact, I suspect my lack of loveliness has always been evident. On my high school report card, the very perceptive Miss Barlow inscribed the words “Nicky doesn’t suffer fools gladly”, and I have definitely got less lovely since then. In midlife, the loveliness has leached from my system – along with the oestrogen.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going about the world being randomly unkind and unpleasant. In general, I try to treat other people with respect and consideration. But in the process of growing older and wiser, I’ve realised that loveliness is not appropriate for every occasion. And it turns out I’m not the only one. Not being lovely is an actual thing.
In the final debate of the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump leaned into the microphone as Hillary Clinton spoke about social security and called his opponent “such a nasty woman”. The phrase inspired a movement: it became a hashtag, an international rallying call for feminists. You can even buy a Nasty Woman T-shirt – celebrities like Katy Perry and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have been seen sporting them.
Trump (yes, him again, sorry) tried the same sort of put-down with US Vice President Kamala Harris – he called her “totally unlikeable”. Well if you are unlikeable because you fight for what you believe in and you smash glass ceilings and don’t ever let yourself be bullied, then sign me right up.
In my opinion, loveliness is holding back too many women. They don’t push hard enough for jobs they have the skills to do. They say no when they ought to say yes – and yes when they ought to say no. They are taken advantage of.
Nasty women, on the other hand, are confident and self-empowered – they stand up for themselves.
Of course women who aren’t constrained by loveliness, who speak out boldly, can find themselves getting punished for it. Look at microbiologist and ace science communicator Siouxsie Wiles and all the harassment she has suffered in the past year, purely for taking a place in the public eye and sharing her knowledge during the pandemic – one abuser called her a “pink-haired fatso”.
Then there are the statistics. A shocking 24% of New Zealand women report having experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, compared to 6% of men. One in three Kiwi women experience violence from a partner – one in three! I’d like to get them all a Nasty Woman T-shirt.
“I was raised in a very old-fashioned Ireland, where women were reared to be lovely,” award- winning writer Anne Enright said in an interview. Anne, it seems, isn’t terribly interested in being lovely. She is too busy being sparky, spiky, brilliant, challenging, thoughtful and clever.
Mostly I keep a lid on my “unloveliness”. I go about my everyday life playing nicely, but still it’s there, bubbling under, ready to spurt out like a lahar if I’m provoked. There are times when you have to speak your mind, times when it’s important.
I go about my everyday life playing nicely, but still it’s there, bubbling under, ready to spurt out like a lahar if I’m provoked
Actually, there are times when you don’t have to speak at all. Recently I’ve acquired what I refer to as “the menopausal glare” – a withering look that says more than words ever can, and could stop a man at 20 paces. I’ve actually seen someone do this. Years ago, I was being harassed by this really drunk guy at a party and I sought refuge with an older woman who unleashed “the glare” and sent him packing. Now I have the power, I intend to make the most of it.
Loveliness is overrated. Well, it is when it leads to us putting up with things when we shouldn’t. To being downtrodden, abused or overlooked. Or even prey to persistent, vodka-breathed creeps at parties.
I admire women who dare to be unlovely. Once I was doing a phone interview with an extremely famous Hollywood star. I asked her an intrusive and, frankly, un-feminist question and she responded with, “F*** off, women like you make me sick”, before hanging up. After I’d got over being flabbergasted, I was lost in admiration. The extremely famous Hollywood star didn’t care whether I liked her, not one jot, because she didn’t like me.
So, I’m kind to animals, nice to small children, polite to strangers, loyal to my friends and family, fair with colleagues. But no, I’m not lovely.