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Monica Lewinsky will soon get to talk of scandal on her terms

by Jennifer McShane
20th Jan 2021

It was on this day, January 17th, 1998, when news broke of Bill Clinton’s affair with a then 22-year-old intern.  We know Monica Lewinsky will produce the long-awaited third instalment in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story franchise (it will centre on Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton, and the impeachment trial of the late ’90s), and it’s finally her chance to tell the story from her perspective – after a trial by media which has lasted for decades. She deserves this, writes Jennifer McShane

The price of a mistake as Monica Lewinsky will tell you, can follow you around your entire life. It will see you associated with shame of such magnitude that you might consider changing your name because you can’t get a job. You will be expected to take this judgment on the chin; you knew what you were getting yourself into, that it was hugely wrong and so you will reap the percussions. Though you don’t expect them to follow you around from the age of 22 for two decades while the man at the centre of your story is more or less forgiven in quick succession.

Related: Hillary Clinton won’t discuss her Monica Lewinsky comments, but that’s not the point

Lewinsky was the young intern at the centre of the scandal; an ill-advised affair with the then president of the United States Bill Clinton. She was 22 and he 49, but it was Lewinsky who was seen as the manipulator. He was forced to admit to the affair but not before he publically denied and lied about it to millions of people. Yet, years on, Clinton has come out relatively unscathed.

Clinton is seen and described by many a US media outlet as charming and charismatic to this day, but Lewinsky still gets quoted in rap songs about a now-infamous blue dress.

The Starr investigation. The slut-shaming. The public torment and humiliation. It’s these labels that have followed her throughout her life.

A change in narrative 

The narrative was never in her favour – it remains this way, even though she has come the other side wanting to use her experience to help raise awareness of the damaging, ever-lasting effects of cyber-bullying and public shaming.

She has tried to use her voice but how can the narrative change if it’s only reported from the same perspective? The one which says the woman will pay the ultimate price for an affair – despite the man committing the same mistake.

She deserves a chance to show the world how the scandal went down from her perspective because it had a life-altering effect on her person – and how she would forever be perceived by the general public.  

Lewinsky has been asked of only this relationship for 20 years. Men, until recently, rarely are called upon to account for themselves. Clinton, to this day, maintains that he “did the right thing,” while his wife refuses to accept that he was in the wrong as much as Lewinsky.

The series 

According to Vanity Fair, news of Murphy’s want to adapt Jeffrey Toobin’s 1999 book, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, broke in 2016 but at the time, Lewinsky wasn’t on board.  Murphy had only wanted to do it with her insight.

Related: Monica Lewinsky should be admired for how she continually deals with public shaming

It’s officially in the works, even after some delays due to the pandemic; Lewinsky will produce American Crime Story: Impeachment. Sarah Paulson stars as Linda Tripp (who taped her conversations with Lewinsky and turned them over to the FBI), with Lady Bird‘s Beanie Feldstein as Lewinsky and Annaleigh Ashford as Paula Jones (a former Arkansas state employee who sued Clinton for sexual harassment). No word yet on who will play the Clintons.

“I was hesitant, and truthfully more than a little scared to sign on. But after a lengthy dinner meeting with Ryan, I came to understand even more clearly how dedicated he is to giving a voice to the marginalized in all of his brilliant work. I’m privileged to work with him and the other talented people on the team, and I’m privileged to have this opportunity,” Lewinsky said in a statement.

“People have been co-opting and telling my part in this story for decades. In fact, it wasn’t until the past few years that I’ve been able to fully reclaim my narrative; almost 20 years later.”

“But I’m so grateful for the growth we’ve made as a society that allows people like me who have been historically silenced to finally reintroduce my voice to the conversation. This isn’t just a me problem. Powerful people, often men, take advantage of those subordinate to them in myriad ways all the time. Many people will see this as such a story and for that reason, this narrative is one that is, regretfully, evergreen.”

It’s been over two decades, Lewinsky deserves a chance to have her voice be heard – once and for all.

Main photograph: @barstoolsports

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