Sorry, I Wasn’t ‘Woke’ Yet

By Puja

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First, let’s get this out of the way: Woke in this context means ‘to be aware of the existence of an issue.’ Urban Dictionary does not have the etymology, but think of it as waking up and realizing The Matrix is real, you can’t not see it’s influence anymore. Got it? Good. On to the post.

Two weeks out from Women’s History Month and I need to issue an apology, and it is not a timely one. Dear Monica Lewinsky, I am sorry. Dear Anita Hill, I am sorry. Dear Janet Reno, I am sorry. Lorenna Bobbitt, Devine Brown, Nancy AND Tonya, Marcia Clark, any woman exposed to an Andrew Dice Clay set, I apologize too.

The end. Just kidding. Why am I apologizing? Because, now that I am woke, it is very clear that women of the 1990s embroiled in any type of scandal were left to flap about in the wind. And we didn’t just leave them there to get whipped around, we continued to victimize them in perverse ways for our entertainment. But hindsight is 20/20 right? I actually remember when I started thinking about gender politics, and it was during Clarence Thomas’ hearings. In 1991, Professor Anita Hill stood up to a man who sexually harassed her, and NOTHING happened. Rape Culture aside, we owe the women of the 1990s a collective apology. Sorry it took us 25+ years to have your back. Sorry we can’t undo the past and be better people. Sorry we kicked you when you were down. Sorry we didn’t acknowledge your pain or accomplishments by making you a story not a person. My one lame excuse is that I was a child, I did not know that these issues would have lasting reverberations or that they were connected to a life that would be forever altered.

I wasn’t yet woke.

To illustrate what I am trying to express, let us examine the case of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. For those who forgot (or are too young) Kerrigan was attacked with a crowbar by Harding’s “henchmen” before the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games. In one fell swoop, we were given a villain and a heroine for our Olympic Figure Skating viewing pleasure. And boy was it pleasurable, Wikipedia says it is one of the most watched events in TV history.

I remember my family watching the women’s championship that year. I remember that when Tonya Harding pleaded with the judges to re-start due to the lacing in her skate (or something, it was a while ago) – I was filled with schadenfreude. Soaking in every moment of watching Tonya flame out because karma ruled the day. Then when Nancy Kerrigan rode in the Disneyworld parade, her microphone picked up her foul language, and we learned she wasn’t all sugar and spice. I say that last bit with derision because rarely is anyone a saint. There is a lot of unpack here. So let’s get started.

Tonya Harding was 23 years old when these things happened around her. It was never proven that she had anything to do with the actual crowbar-ing of Kerrigan, she pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution because you know, her husband was the accused. She was stripped of membership to the US Figure Skating Association, she came in 11th at Lillehammer (shout out to Oksana Baiul), she was not allowed to tour with the pros. She was blacklisted. She could not come back from the games and earn a living as a professional skater, something she dedicated half her life to at that point. This was the first American woman to land a triple axle in the short program. She received a 6.0 (basically technically perfect score) at the US Figure Skating Championships in 1991. But in 1994, no one said anything in her defense. No one said anything to her to acknowledge how hard she worked from a young age to get where she was, no one said anything about how she handled the negative press surrounding her in the middle of the biggest competition in her life. No one helped her. I remember years later that she was living in a trailer home when she and her ex-husband sold their honeymoon tape to Penthouse. She was 19 when that tape was made. But Harding soldiered on, she boxed, she had a gig hosting a TV show until 2013, she even holds some kind of land speed record. She kept on plugging without help, or understanding, or forgiveness from us.

Granted these are broad strokes I am painting with and there is a lot to say if we were to look at this as an issue of class and wealth (a LOT more to say). We are looking at this through the lens of feminism, and as a feminist, sorry Tonya. Sorry you didn’t go through your heartbreak and career ruining moment in the age when Britney Spears can literally go bat shit crazy and end up with a residency in Las Vegas. Sorry we were not as forgiving as we are now. Sorry to all the women who had their souls dragged through the mud as entertainment for our jackal like consumption. Sorry we didn’t take the time to ask you how you were doing, whether or if you were going to be OK…Sorry we failed you.

But, yet thank you. Thank you for being the beacons of modern feminism; you went from victim to martyr and neither were labels you wanted. Thank you for soldiering on and showing your resilience. Thank you for allowing us to use how we treated you as a touchstone of what we won’t do going forward. Look I am not saying all the women in the 1990s were unjust victims. But can we move past talking about Janet Reno’s wardrobe and talk about how she was the first female Attorney General of this land? How in 1993 she busted through a glass ceiling in her blue power suit and didn’t look back? I hope we don’t remember this trailblazer as “the one Will Ferrell played on SNL.”

Get woke people.


Things keeping me sane this week: well every week the pool of escapism is drying up, mostly because reality keeps urgently knocking on my door. But this week it is a basic thing: Food. I am a self-identified foodie. Food is probably the one thing I take very seriously. The connection between food and culture, history, heritage, nourishment, art, science, and comfort are all important and fascinating to me. I love hearing a good food story, work shopping a recipe idea, and most of all eating and catching-up with my friends. You ever notice that when you are with good friends and family having meaningful conversations/tons of laughs, the food tastes better? Yeah me too.

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