I was two-years-old when Monica Lewinsky was dragged through hell in 1998. For me, 1998 was about wreaking havoc on my mother’s organized kitchen and eating whatever I could get my hands on. Meanwhile, a thousand miles away, 25-year-old Lewinsky was held by FBI agents in a hotel room threatened with prosecution for lying about her now infamous affair with the most powerful man in the world.
In the two decades that followed, Lewinsky was made the butt of countless jokes and the subject of over 100 rap songs. She’s been harassed, humiliated and faced countless consequences for a decades-old lapse in judgement.
Lewinsky is the first to admit that she made a mistake. She’s not proud of the fact that she had an affair with a married man. She remained silent for years after her time forced in the spotlight, sacrificing any ambitions she had for a future political career. However, her silence and regret didn’t make her immune to the references to her name she’d have to live with forever. Her spotlight didn’t disappear, it grew.
You could turn on any late night talk show at the time and see the hosts mercilessly making fun of her appearance and background. She was talked about as a villain in the situation, not a young girl being influenced by a man significantly her senior in age and power. They called it “the Lewinsky scandal”, making her the extremely public face of a hostile national conversation on sex, power and marriage.
I wasn’t totally innocent of Monica Lewinsky jokes myself. I found them funny. When someone told a joke where she was the punch line, I laughed. I shamelessly sang along with songs detailing intimate details of her life. I thought of Bill Clinton as a good man, someone who couldn’t have been at fault in this or any other situation. I was wrong.
In 2015, I watched Monica Lewinsky bare her soul in her incredible Ted Talk on bullying and shame. She spoke candidly and bluntly about how the country branded her as an enemy in the dawn of the digital age.
I was moved by her story and her commitment to pull others who faced the devastating consequences of bullying out of the hole she had found herself in years earlier. The rise of social media and cyberbullying was a call to action for Lewinsky to reach out a helping hand to young people facing similar situations.
Can you imagine facing ridicule and hostility from an entire country for decades after making a mistake at the very beginning of adulthood? Can you imagine then turning around and committing your life to ensuring young people going through similar situations have the resources and support that you didn’t have? That was a major punch in the gut and it forced me to do some deep reflection. I think it’s time for the entire country to do some similar reflecting.
It shouldn’t take a victimized woman doing good deeds to make me or anyone else empathize with and respect her. Monica Lewinsky should be able to do whatever she wants and expect privacy and courtesy.
As a society, we have a real problem with painting people as either heroes or villains. There is no nuance, no context. We especially do this in situations involving women. In this case, it was intensified due to the involvement of a highly controversial President of the United States and the newly constant stream of cable news. It was a perfect recipe for the destruction of a woman’s life.
As cable news and social media platforms continue to become hotbeds for scandal and outrage, and women are regularly used as political pawns, how do we move forward? The path isn’t necessarily clear. If there’s one thing I can tell, though, it’s that it’ll take the majority of people actively wanting to do and be better.
When situations present themselves to judge or demean the Monica Lewinsky’s of the future I hope we choose not to take the bait. Not only that, I hope that we refuse to remain silent. With the Kavanaugh hearings still fresh in our memories, it’s important to realize that the idea of using women as political bait is far from history. If we don’t recognize that, there’s no way to move forward.
Monica Lewinsky has acknowledged that she’s worked to leave behind the anger and disappointment she has felt about how she was treated by the world. Frankly, Monica Lewinsky deserves to be angry. She was used by a powerful man who cashed in on his charm and name. She was betrayed by trusted friends. She was used as political leverage against the man who started the problem in the first place.
Monica Lewinsky is a survivor. No matter what she’s been through, she’s kept her head up and focused on moving her life forward in a positive way. Though she went through hell alone, she makes sure no one else will ever have to.
We owe Monica Lewinsky an apology. We owe it to her to acknowledge that what happened to her was wrong and should never happen to anyone ever again. I truly believe that if we as a society put our minds to it, no one ever will have to go through her hell again.