I went to see the film I, Tonya recently and was reminded of how much I like bad girls. In fact, many years ago, my friend Mary Fleming and I started The Bad Girls Fan Club of which we were the co-presidents and only members. Tonya Harding was one of the bad girls of whom we were fans.
Many of you will remember Tonya. Hers is a hardscrabble story of a girl from a poor family, physically, emotionally and verbally abused first by her single mother, who worked as a waitress till she was beyond exhausted to pay for her daughter’s skating, and then by her boyfriend/husband.
Tonya could skate like nobody’s business (she was the first American woman to land a triple axel successfully in competition), but she was never accepted by the American competitive figure skating elite, possibly because she had an attitude that could fill a room. When she did not get the scores she felt she deserved in a skating competition, she skated up to the judges and yelled at them. She smoked and she swore. She could get pretty physical herself. She did not have an attractive loving nuclear family. She had dropped out of high school. She shot and skinned rabbits.
Her Olympic hopes were dashed when she became involved to some extent in a very strange plot hatched by her ex-husband and a friend to scare her chief competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, and her life went downhill for some time after that.
Sleeping with the enemy
Another bad girl on our fan club list was Gillian Guess. Gillian slept with the accused in a murder case, while she was on the jury. This is a very bad thing to do.
In 1995, Peter Gill and a number of co-accuseds were on trial in Vancouver for the gangland-style killing of two men. He and Gillian began a relationship that lasted for almost a year before she was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice. During the course of their relationship, which she says became abusive almost immediately, Gill persuaded her he was innocent and, eventually, all the accused were acquitted.
Gillian was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in jail, of which she served three. Gill was also charged and found guilty of obstruction of justice, for which he received a six-year sentence — but apparently he got away with murder.
Run Bambi Run!
Laurie Bembenek, known as Bambi, was a classic bad girl. She appeared in a Schlitz beer calendar as Miss March. She worked at a Playboy club. She smoked marijuana.
In 1982, she gave the concept of bad girl a whole new meaning when she was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of her husband’s ex-wife and sentenced to life in prison. She always proclaimed her innocence. After eight years in prison in Wisconsin, she decided she had had enough and escaped and fled to Canada. She was on the run for almost a year, spending time in the Thunder Bay area, during which time she became a bit of a folk hero.
“I just tripped!”
In 1999, Nadia Hama was walking across the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, holding her 18-month-old daughter Kaya in her arms and accompanied by her 3-year-old son, when Kaya fell from the bridge, landing, unbelievably uninjured, on a ledge about 45 metres below the bridge. Nadia insisted that Kaya slipped out of her arms when she tripped as she was trying to take her son’s hand.
She was charged with attempted murder but the Crown declined to pursue a prosecution.
Our fan club would not have been complete without Lorena Bobbitt who, as many of you will recall, cut off her abusive husband’s penis while he was asleep. John Bobbitt had his penis reattached and made the best of a bad situation by starting a band called The Severed Parts. He was later charged and found guilty of domestic abuse with a subsequent partner, while Lorena started an organization to assist battered women.
What’s to admire in a bad girl?
Mary and I did not want to be any of the women we created our fan club to honour. We did not agree with everything each of them had done; but we did admire some of their characteristics: their willingness to step outside society’s images of what a good girl is supposed to be, their courage to stand up for themselves even in very bad situations, their ability to thumb their noses at propriety. And, we were struck by how many of them had backgrounds of abuse directed at them.
We chose to set aside their imperfections and bad acts in favour of believing their versions of events, even when they were pretty unbelievable.
Why? Because we knew that girls are often bad because of something bad that has happened to them; because we believed that lots of bad girls get that label for all the wrong reasons; because we, sometimes, wished we could be a little less good ourselves.
My friend Mary died of cancer almost three years ago, and I closed the Bad Girls Fan Club but, as I watched I, Tonya the other night, I started to think it might be time to resurrect it. After all, there are more bad girls out there who deserve to be admired.