Twenty years ago this week, a masked man attacked Nancy Kerrigan with a metal police baton in Detroit's Cobo Arena, leaving her unable to compete in the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship. Whether her rival Tonya Harding was involved in the attack remains a subject of speculation.
Writer Sarah Marshall takes a slightly more sympathetic view of Tonya Harding in her article about the incident, "Remote Control," in the current issue of The Believer.
Marshall joined The Daily Circuit to talk about the Kerrigan/Harding story. Some highlights:
A fascination with 'the angry woman'
"The media and audiences were kind of primed to seize on the violent woman, the angry woman, which became a very compelling fantasy for them. ... there were a lot of Tonya Harding jokes, there were a lot of Lorena Bobbitt jokes. Writing about both of those cases and others, one of the things I've come to think ... is that we're so focused on instances of female violence because it allows us to distract ourselves from the real fact of male violence against women, which actually plays a huge role in the Harding scandal."
Harding's story makes as much sense as others
"Is it possible that we can believe her story that she wasn't involved? And I think that we absolutely can. ... All the evidence is pretty slim. And her argument about it, which is that her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, who had been abusive and had found out that she was just making nice with him so that the Olympic committee would allow her onto the team, because they didn't want a divorced woman to compete for the United States, she argued that he was trying to ruin her career by framing her. And honestly, I don't find that any more unbelievable than his story."
Relevance to today
"It troubles me to see the more jubilant approaches to this, little fluff pieces saying '20 years ago, isn't it funny, 1994, what a crazy time.' When really the issues that were in this case are still relevant to our life today and the way we treat female athletes, the way we treat women in the public sphere, our desire to dismiss a woman's claims if they don't jibe with the story that we want to hear."
Troubled young woman, or shameless harlot?
"Tonya Harding did not make a secret of any of the abuses that had plagued her life as she was growing up. It was public knowledge that she'd taken out restraining orders against Jeff Gillooly before divorcing him, that she had come from an abusive home, her half-brother had attempted to rape her when she was 15 ... We knew all this information, or it was accessible to us. But we chose to ignore it and to see her not as a troubled young woman who was being used by people around her but to see her as this shameless harlot, because that really gelled with the story we wanted to tell and made it sort of funny and trashy and interesting."
Harding let her muscles show
"To be a female figure skater, you have to be strong. ... Really the striking difference between Tonya Harding and other skaters isn't that she was so much stronger ... but that she didn't conceal that strength. You could see that she was muscular. You could see she had kind of a stocky build. She was trying. You could see her effort. You could see her sweat."