Why We Must Reconsider Monica Lewinsky, Lorena Bobbitt, and Tonya Harding | Opinions | NowThis

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'90s Bitch' author Allison Yarrow says we need to start reckoning with the ways '90s media portrayed women like Monica Lewinsky and Tonya Harding, or we risk repeating the same sexist mistakes.
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Our 90s nostalgia is really 90s amnesia. We’re romanticizing a decade that was incredibly complex, especially when it came to women.

Today, 90s nostalgia is everywhere.

But we haven’t fully reckoned with the decade’s treatment of women. We must confront this recent history, because it has a lot to teach us about our current moment.

When I started writing 90s Bitch, a book about how media sexism shaped the millennial generation, I was nostalgic for my own 90s childhood. I had collected American Girl dolls, and hoarded Victoria’s Secret catalogues. I listed to TLC and Lauryn Hill on CDs, and read teen magazines.

While researching the 90s, I realized that almost every major news story from the decade involved women. But the more research I did, the more depressing my findings were.

The stories of 90s women have become sexist mythology, a problematic history that saps women of their power, just as it is intended to. We’re still experiencing the aftershocks.

The Clinton Impeachment scandal, then covered as the ‘Monica Lewinsky scandal,’ cast Lewinsky as a ‘blow job queen’

During the O.J. Simpson trial, lawyer Marcia Clark was framed as an unqualified teenager and a bad mom. The judge called her male colleagues ‘Mr. Darden’ and ‘Mr. Cochran,’ but called her ‘Marcia.’

Anita Hill testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. Hill was called ‘a scorned woman,’ and ‘a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.’

The 90s were characterized by a phenomenon that I call “bitchification.” Any woman covered by the news was maligned, objectified, and dismissed, often with the word ‘bitch.’ There are countless examples of this.

The media revolution of the 24-hour news cycle focused on these stories. And an insatiable audience followed.

Women quickly became relentless content.

Lorena Bobbitt cut off her husband’s penis after alleging years of rape and abuse. The press mocked her, celebrated him, and covered her as a perpetrator, not a victim.

Champion figure skater Tonya Harding became a cat-fight punchline.

Politicians like Hillary Clinton and attorney general Zoe Baird, who we’ve practically forgotten, were felled by sexism.

History has remembered these women negatively; I remembered them negatively when returning to their stories.

The media’s ‘bitchification’ didn’t treat all women equally

While white women faced sexism, black women faced racism and sexism. Black women were portrayed as jezebels and sapphires—hyper sexual, angry, or threatening because of their race.

We saw this with Anita Hill, best-selling girl group, TLC, the first black woman surgeon general Joycelyn Elders, and even fictional women on the hit show, Living Single.

We still live in a sexist culture. Discrediting women because of their race and gender, and sexually harassing and objectifying them, endures today from the school yard to the boardroom. But now, we see 90s sexism for what it is.

The media that bitchified women back then, and continue to bitchify women today, must be held accountable.

This is an ongoing process.

Progress is that more women are telling their own stories today.

Hill has been reconsidered as an American hero, especially during the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.

A new documentary about Bobbitt recognizes that she is a survivor of domestic abuse, and an immigrant woman, if an imperfect victim.

A Harding biopic humanizes her by juxtaposing her accomplishments with hardships she suffered.

Lewinsky gave a TED talk, writes for Vanity Fair, and is widely followed on Twitter. She’s also an anti-bullying activist.

Today, we are faced with a very different media revolution. The social media revolution. Through the lens of #MeToo and #TimesUp, we can see the harm the ‘90s caused.

And while the internet can be a harsh place for women, it’s also home to supportive spaces for survivors, viral campaigns to fight injustice, and community.

#Sexism #1990s #90s #MonicaLewinsky #LorenaBobbit #TonyaHarding

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