Monica, Marcia, Tonya and Anita - the ‘scandalous’ women of the '90s
April 28, 2016 2:05 PM   Subscribe

The media frenzies that once surrounded Marcia Clark, Monica Lewinsky, Tonya Harding and Anita Hill all have a pleasant sheen of ‘90s nostalgia about them. Yet their most meaningful lessons remain timeless, as do their most enduring questions—chief among them the mystery of why we are so able, so often, not just to happily watch the story of an abused and marginalized woman unfold in real time, but to see her powerlessness as wicked, shameless strength. The four women whose stories we are reconsidering now—and others still on the horizon—have one thing in common: they indicted America.
posted by narancia (25 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
Perhaps in 2030 those of us who are not underwater or dead of plague will read this same type of story about Zoe Quinn, or that woman who got fired because the dudes behind her at the conference were making "dongle" jokes and she had the nerve to complain, etc.
posted by Frowner at 2:22 PM on April 28, 2016 [17 favorites]


Oh my god this was a fabulous read. Thank you.

p.s. I love the 90s
posted by Dressed to Kill at 2:23 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was a young adult when all this happened, and I don't have a lot of nostalgia for the era (although there's been a lasting effect on my musical tastes, I'm afraid.) This article is brilliant. Thank you for posting it.
posted by gingerest at 2:47 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well, you can see that we haven't really learned anything, given the way people on Twitter and Instagram are hounding Rachel Roy once it was suspected that she might be the "Becky with the good hair" referred to by Beyonce.
posted by peacheater at 3:12 PM on April 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


I was pretty young at the time of the Harding/Kerrigan thing, but man did I ever have that narrative wrong. Guess I learned something today.
posted by Hoopo at 3:19 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


In related news, "Hounding Karla Homolka exposes our hypocrisy."
posted by No Robots at 3:39 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reposting in the correct thread this time.

This is an excellent find. I am really soaking up this renewed attention on the 90s, specifically, how absolutely shitty we were to women. Because the 90s were when I came of age, and I discovered my first feminist books and zines as a teenager in high school in the 90s. This was the era of riot grrrls and Lillith Fair and I wold absorb that stuff and then look around and see how the public was treating people like Marcia Clark and Tonya Harding and feel so confused and dismayed.

There was an FPP awhile back on a fantastic article about Tonya Harding that I'll drop in here in case anyone missed it: Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and the Spectacles Of Female Power and Pain.

The “scandals” we have yet to revisit—and whose stories we have yet to listen to—are legion. Looking at stories from about the same period as Marcia and Anita and Monica and Tonya’s, the names Jessica Hahn, Tawana Brawley, Patricia Bowman, Robin Givens, Desiree Washington, Amy Fisher, Paula Jones, and Anna Nicole Smith all come to mind. And there are many, many more where those came from. But as we reexamine these stories, the most crucial lesson we can learn will apply not to our shared history, but to our shared future. If we pay enough attention—not just to these women, but to our own snap responses to their stories, the ones that turned their tragedies to “scandals” and still tempt us to ignore the inconvenient truths those tragedies expose—we can learn how to act differently in the future. When the next woman comes along with a story that we do not want to hear, we will know how to listen to her.

Indeed. I think we're entering a new era of awareness around how we treat women. And I am cautiously optimistic as to some of the outcomes that (I hope) we may see.

Thanks for posting this!
posted by triggerfinger at 4:05 PM on April 28, 2016 [23 favorites]


I can't read the article this second but I made the Tonya Harding FPP triggerfinger refers to above, and MAN has that piece stayed with me. I believe this piece is by the same author so I'm looking forward to digging in. This is good stuff.
posted by lalex at 6:10 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


What at first amazed me and continues to sadden me is how often more level-headed analysis of "scandalous" past news stories turn out making "villainous" women into actual victims. I've known for years that News Media was over-obsessed with coming up with a "narrative" for ongoing stories and sticking with them; I just only realized how many of the "narrative makers" were/are woman-haters.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:54 PM on April 28, 2016


I believe this piece is by the same author so I'm looking forward to digging in.

Good catch! It is the same author! I agree, that Believer article has also stayed with me and at the time I shared it with everyone I knew. It remains one of my favorite articles that I've read in at least the last five years, if not longer. I'm going to go read it again now.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:14 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


In related news, "Hounding Karla Homolka exposes our hypocrisy."

now this one is a bit harder for me to swallow. i just can't accept that her story was told unfairly. She is a serial rapist and murderer. Anyone who did what she did and served only 12 years would be getting hounded.
posted by Hoopo at 7:21 PM on April 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


Well, you can see that we haven't really learned anything, given the way people on Twitter and Instagram are hounding Rachel Roy once it was suspected that she might be the "Becky with the good hair" referred to by Beyonce.

No? That isn't even remotely the same thing as relentless media scrutiny? And having articles in literally every media outlet for months on end? I don't even think it arises from the same impulse - the Beyhive is explicitly going after a person perceived as a threat to their girl, not just trying to find out every aspect of her life because of prurient interest. Still reprehensible, still partly about punishing a woman, but different in pretty much every other respect.
posted by gingerest at 7:43 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


From the Homolka piece:
But we have to be clear on our moral hypocrisy. What does it say about us that certain criminals who have served their time will be hounded out of or made unwelcome in any community they try to settle in? Either we accept the premise that a criminal who served her sentence (however light) is entitled to rebuild her life and become a full fledged citizen again or we psychologically and socially throw away the key. No acceptance for you.

What a crock of shit, and an appeal to a false dilemma. Justice was not actually served. She helped her husband kill and rape people in horrific ways, how is that equivalent to someone who bravely complained about sexual harassment from her former boss?
posted by benzenedream at 9:49 PM on April 28, 2016 [13 favorites]


Hounding Karla Homolka exposes our hypocrisy
It does literally expose our hypocrisy though. Do I think someone who has served their time deserves to live the rest of their life in peace? Yes, because that's how civilization has to work. Do I want to step up and befriend and support someone like this? No, I want someone else to do that. That's hypocritical of me but it's true.

Thank you for posting this article. I was in a kid in the 90s but my household consumed and discussed all the news so I remember all of these stories. I don't remember hearing anything about the women themselves and what they were going through. I just remember the uproar and the witch hunts. On the one hand I feel like, things are different now, this doesn't happen anymore, the landscape is too splintered for any particular one-sided narrative to get any traction. But that's not right either of course, I'm sure it happens every day.
posted by bleep at 11:31 PM on April 28, 2016


I graduated from high school in 1995. These stories were literally my coming of age. I spent the next 20 years fighting against the internalized misogyny I learned as a kid. I'm still a work in progress.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:08 AM on April 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Excellent article. Many of these same points were raised by Elizabeth Wurtzel in Bitch, and at a time when this was all very fresh. Amy Fisher's story is, to me, especially heartbreaking.

Also, that New York magazine cover story makes me want to set something on fire.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:50 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


This was the era of riot grrrls and Lillith Fair and I wold absorb that stuff and then look around and see how the public was treating people like Marcia Clark and Tonya Harding and feel so confused and dismayed.

and

I graduated from high school in 1995. These stories were literally my coming of age. I spent the next 20 years fighting against the internalized misogyny I learned as a kid. I'm still a work in progress.

are turning on all kinds of lightbulbs in my head. I graduated high school in 1994. I was a girl/young woman caught up in the idea of the "cool girl", that I had to be riot grrrl tough and hang with the boys and most normal women were awful, petty, and materialistic. It has been a long road to come back from that.
posted by misskaz at 7:02 AM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


Do I think someone who has served their time deserves to live the rest of their life in peace? Yes, because that's how civilization has to work.

Homolka cut a sweet deal that left a bad taste in everyone else's mouth. 12 years per murder (including that of her sister), served concurrently, for her testimony. No one felt she served the time she deserved.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:17 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


in horrific ways,

Truly horrific. Not talking manslaughter here, some crime of passion. She and Bernardo planned the kidnapping, enslavement, torture, rape, and murder of two girls, and the opportunistic rape and murder of her sister.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:23 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Reporting on Homolka is luridly focused on her physical appearance and her sexuality. Does anyone ask if she would have committed these crimes if she hadn't fallen under the power of a psychopathic rapist? Is she to remain forever the focus of the male gaze?
posted by No Robots at 8:36 AM on April 29, 2016


Does anyone ask if she would have committed these crimes if she hadn't fallen under the power of a psychopathic rapist?

She probably wouldn't have, but she did, I think is the problem. Was it a folie a deux, probably. A deux. (My sense of it at the time of the trial - I was young, mind, bit younger than Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French - was that once she discovered Bernardo had that little "hobby", she did what she felt was necessary to keep him interested.) I don't know if there was a way of splitting off her sexuality, it was at the core of the events in question and very much at issue in the evidence.

Is she to remain forever the focus of the male gaze?

I don't know... I think it's more a question of people being deeply unsatisfied with the delivery of justice, in this particular case.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:05 AM on April 29, 2016


Does anyone ask if she would have committed these crimes if she hadn't fallen under the power of a psychopathic rapist?

FFS...she *was* a psychopathic rapist...and murderer. The evidence found after her plea deal showed she actively participated in the sickening crimes, but by then it was too late to withdraw the deal.
We need to stop assuming (like the crown prosecutors did) that all women are "under the power" of their men and don't have control and accountability for their own actions.

That said, we need to end this steaming turd of a derail.
posted by rocket88 at 9:23 AM on April 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


Uhhhh Wikipedoia says Karla Homolka scored a 5/40 on the psychopathy checklist...her husband scored 35/40. Nothing is definitive with mental states, and her crimes were horrific, but I don't like hearing the term psychopath thrown around.
posted by agregoli at 10:46 AM on April 29, 2016


I am old enough to remember seeing the whole Tonya Harding thing play out. What I remember most is how familar the expression on her face always looked. It was the same expression in every published picture of her. I saw that same expression every time I looked in a mirror. The angry, desperate, exhausted, look of someone constantly fighting to keep alive a tiny shred of self worth under an avalanche of abuse dished out by the very people who were supposed to love and protect you. I can't say I cut her break at the time, but deep inside, I felt like I understood her a bit.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:59 PM on April 29, 2016


Recent thread on Anita Hill in case anyone missed it: "I had to tell the truth"
posted by homunculus at 4:36 PM on May 4, 2016


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