1st Edition

“Nasty Women” — Reclaiming the Power of Female Aggression A Psychoanalytic Perspective

By Janet Rivkin Zuckerman, Ph.D. Copyright 2025
    184 Pages
    by Routledge

    184 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book addresses the fraught relationship between women and aggression, one troubled by age-old patriarchal forces that disparage women’s ambition, assertion, and voice.

    Told from a psychoanalytic perspective, the book details the sociocultural forces that infect a woman’s intrapsychic dynamics and compel her to sacrifice her goals and dreams. Compelling examples are offered from current politics, the author’s own struggles with aggression, and clinical work with female patients who successfully reclaimed their aggression. The book addresses the critical question of how a woman can ever succeed, through the presentation of the author’s detailed and psychoanalytically informed interviews with six powerful and highly influential women. Each woman brings to life the story of her history, influences, and challenges to provide inspiration for others to reimagine their own “nastiness,” as an innovative, vitalizing tool.

    This book is distinguished by its unique blend of contemporary life, psychoanalytic practice, feminist theory and gender studies, untold in any other forum or publication. It is an essential reading for psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, and all those interested in working with women in a therapeutic setting.

    Part 1: “Nasty Women”—Forging a New Narrative on Female Aggression  1. The Problem of Women and Aggression  2. Big Girls Don’t Cry: A Personal Story  3. Talia  4. Emma  5. The Problem in Context: The Literature  6. “Nasty” as a Badge of Honor  Part 2: Becoming a “Nasty Woman”—Psychoanalytic Conversations with Women at the Top  7. How do Some Women Make it?  8. Charlotte  9. Mia  10. Tess  11. Margot  12. Sandra  13. Shirley  14. Conversations in Context: The Literature  15. Reflecting on the Interviews  16. A Closer Look at Two Recurring Themes: Navigating the Patriarchy and Impact of the Early Emotional Environment


    Janet Rivkin Zuckerman, Ph.D., is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, and previously practicing attorney. She is Former Director, Faculty and Clinical Consultant at the Westchester Center, and Clinical Consultant at the NYU Postdoctoral Program. She conducts supervision and study groups in interpersonal/relational psychoanalysis and is in private practice in Rye, NY.

    "With this engaging defense of Nasty Women, Janet Zuckerman joins the lineage of women writers who have turned psychoanalysis against its origins in the service of inhabiting our power, in this case by knowing and affirming our aggression. As a clinician steeped in contemporary psychoanalytic work, Zuckerman brings a plethora of insight and wisdom to bear on the deep-seated psychological obstacles to self-acceptance and expression in herself and other women. This work of reflection aims to inspire and encourage transformation, a psychoanalytic intervention fitting for our time."

    Jessica Benjamin, Ph.D., author, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the problem of Domination, and Beyond Doer and Done To: Recognition Theory, Intersubjectivity and the Third.

    "With this and other accomplishments, Dr Zuckerman provides us with an in vivo illustration of highly productive nastiness. In clear and jargon-free prose, her long immersion in psychoanalytic thinking helps her lay bare the personal and cultural forces that have limited women forever, while also illustrating to us the dynamics that have enabled some, though not enough women to liberate their aggression. This effort reflects a revolution that is long overdue. We live in a world that desperately needs many, many more nasty women like Dr. Zuckerman and her cohort."

    Irwin Hirsch, Ph.D., NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, The William Alanson White Institute, and the Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis

    "Unapologetically revealing the power of untamed, fierce, and transformative feminine energy, Zuckerman reclaims the narrative of what it means to be an aggressive woman. In a social world organized by patriarchy, aggression as it informs assertion, competition, and ambition has been welcomed, even valued, in men, while women harnessing these same forces are labeled “nasty.” Zuckerman refreshingly illustrates the merit of female aggression using clinical interviews and historical examples and reminds readers that a woman who goes after what she wants can leverage this “nastiness” reclaiming it not as a burden but a gift-- a reminder of one’s resilience and tenacity. Be tough, be ambitious, speak your mind….and if that makes you nasty…so be it!   Zuckerman invites women to make use of their anger, embrace their inner darkness and the full range of their emotional lives, and defy the gender norms that only serve to limit personal experience and maintain existing power structures."

    Jean Petrucelli, Ph.D.training & supervising analyst, The William Alanson White Institute; adjunct clinical professor and clinical consultant, New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. co-editor of the book Patriarchy and Its Discontents.

    "Through fascinating interviews with 6 powerful women leaders, Janet Zuckerman not only elucidates models for cultivating female agency and the constructive use of aggression within patriarchal systems but, more importantly, discerns patterns, founded in the intuitive and sometimes circuitous pathways of feminine-based power, that might be the basis for ethical resistance to the patriarchy and for nongendered, post-binary forms of leadership. Zuckerman’s acute perceptiveness, empathy, and depth of interrogation—she is both a psychoanalyst and a former litigator—shine through her narrative, creating a rich, textured contemporary portrait of “nasty women” leaders that is tender, insightful, challenging, and revelatory!"

    Jill Gentile, Ph.D., psychologist/psychoanalyst, Feminine Law: Freud, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire (Karnac, 2016); clinical professor, NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy & Psychoanalysis