Monica Lewinsky should be admired for how she continually deals with public shaming
Not one of us can hold up our hands and say we didn’t make a big mistake during our early twenties. We regretted it, but found a way to move forward – we can even laugh at it now. But if you’re Monica Lewinsky, arguably, you can never laugh at your very public mistake. Not when that mistake was an affair with the then-president of the United States, Bill Clinton.
Not when you’re 22 and he is 49, yet you’re the one seen as the manipulator.
She did what so many of us do when we’re young; she fell in love and made a mistake. It was a big one., Lewinsky admits this repeatedly. It hurt many people and it’s no excuse but in layman terms, that’s what it was. Sure, Clinton was investigated, called out. But today, he is still lauded as a charismatic public figure, despite his many mistakes which included lying to the public – and everyone else in his family – and denying a long-term affair and involvement with an intern. Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky may have been consensual but it was, on his part, nonetheless a clear abuse of professional and sexual power.
Related: Hillary Clinton won’t discuss her Monica Lewinsky comments, but that’s not the point
For Lewinsky, she is still synonymous with a blue dress; featured in over 100 rap songs – even Beyonce has sung about it, poking fun at all that her life resembled. She was outed and ostracised back then – and she still has to speak about it today.
The Starr investigation. The slut-shaming. The public humiliation.
But turned her life around in recent years, determined to use the profile she had not asked for to help those who might also be a victim of cyber-bullying. With elegance and candidness, she continues to create awareness around the life-long effects that such public torment has on a woman.
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In a new interview with John Oliver for his show Last Week Tonight, Lewinsky talked candidly about the way she was publicly shamed. She made mistakes, she said. She has done and said stupid things. But nothing could compare to what she endured afterwards, an experience she called “terrifying.” In her words:
“It was an avalanche of pain and humiliation. I think that at 24 years old it was really hard to hold on to a shred of dignity or self-esteem when you’re just the butt of so many jokes, of being misunderstood.”
“It was not only just the slut shaming, not only having had an intimate relationship with someone who was now describing me in a way that no young woman would want to be described, there was also my looks,” she said. “I was very about the touch-ups and makeup. Part of my vanity now comes from the wound of having been made fun of for my weight, people saying I was unattractive,” she said.
SHORT SAPPY THREAD: ?? overwhelmed by + grateful for the lovely comments + reactions to @iamjohnoliver ‘s piece on public shaming on @LastWeekTonight. john’s regret over his past jokes about me (mild in comparison to many others), has had an inspirational knock-on effect.
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) March 19, 2019
She explained that she struggled to find work following the scandal and even considered changing her name.
“There was this wide range of not being able to support myself and also have a purpose, which is equally important to feel that you matter in some way.”
But why does she keep having to repeat and constantly explain her actions, admit her mistakes? She’s raising awareness on one hand but caught in a cycle of her past on the other.
Why should she still be judged about the same mistake when Bill Clinton is instead praised for writing books and supporting his wife in her political endeavours, instead of his part in the affair?
Lewinsky should be admired for her handling of what is (still) constant public shaming and her part in doing the greater good to end it.
Perhaps we could all do to forget about a blue dress and focus on the woman who wore it – and came out the other side.
Main photograph: @Jojanneke