By Rebecca Moore
“Monica Samille Lewinsky (born July 23, 1973) is a former White House intern with whom President Bill Clinton admitted to having what he called an 'inappropriate relationship' while she worked at the White House in 1995 and 1996. The affair and its repercussions, which included Clinton's impeachment, became known as the 'Lewinsky scandal'."
Above, is the first line of Lewinsky’s Wikipedia page. The name “Monica Lewinsky” has changed from a proper noun to an adjective. What a thought - to no longer have your name identify you as a person, but rather a single act.
If you look through the six paragraphs of Bill Clinton’s Wikipedia introduction, there is not a word on the scandal. It does contain things like, “became the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected President twice,” and “left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. President since World War II.” But nothing about this, or any one of his numerous other affairs.
In a recent interview, Lewinsky said that she, “felt abandoned by feminists.” And she was. But it wasn’t only them. The entire country left her to be fed to the wolves, and then be all but forgotten, while we smiled at Bill, who quickly went off to grow the Clinton empire with book deals, speaking arrangements, and well-funded nonprofits.
As a country, we shifted our blame almost completely to her. Now, a few people may say, “Well I don’t like Bill Clinton!” The reality is he is judged as a three dimensional human being by most of the world. There isn’t one defining thing to him, as there is really no one defining thing to any of us. No person is one act, one moment, one mistake.
But Monica Lewinsky is. At least, as far as the American people have been concerned.
Why is this? Why have we pointed to her as the one at fault? The one to blame? The one to name the scandal after so her name goes down in history as nothing more than a blue dress and a blowjob? Isn’t she at worst, only half to blame? After all, the other consenting adult in the room was the most powerful person in the world. Of course, she admits she was in love, and coercion was not a factor in the same way as other workplace sexual harassment cases, but nonetheless, there was an undeniable power dynamic.
I am looking at this through the lens of history, as I was the grand old age of five when the scandal broke. I cannot speak personally to the commentary that may have been given at the time, but I can say what I have witnessed as an adult. I have witnessed Bill go on with his life. Do I know the Clinton’s personally? No. But politically this didn’t touch him. As aforementioned, HE LEFT OFFICE WITH THE HIGHEST APPROVAL RATING SINCE WORLD WAR II.
Even if you don’t subscribe to the idea of a power dynamic, or the mistakes of youth, even if you think that she was a grown adult with a government job, and fully responsible for her half of the actions, history has eviscerated her for a crime that it never punished her partner for. Bill Clinton remained a person, Monica Lewinsky became a punchline.
Why does this matter? Because it’s not only about a 25-year-old scandal. It’s about the culture that reacted to it, and is still not that different. It still asks the rape victim what she was wearing, what she was doing, what she was saying. Because still, the blame lies always with the one who bears the pronoun her.
The treatment of the “Lewinsky” scandal is not the problem. It is an ongoing symptom of something much more pervasive -- a culture that fundamentally believes that being a Woman is the original sin.
Check out Lewinsky's powerful TED talk "The Price of Shame" here.
Image via today.com