After the Clinton scandal of the 1990s, Lewinsky spent years speaking about regret, humiliation and the corrosive effects of online shaming. Then #metoo happenedby Katherine Angel / August 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
Monica Lewinsky is killing it on Twitter. Last week, US Vice-President Mike Pence was quoted by the Washington Times as saying: “Spend more time on your knees than on the internet.” (He was talking about prayer.) American writer and journalist Lauren Duca wrote “OK, who’s gonna tell him?” Monica Lewinsky replied, “def not me,” adding a side-eye emoji. It pretty much broke the internet. And it encapsulates a shift in the way she has publicly related to her own past.
Lewinsky’s affair with President Bill Clinton between 1995 and 1997, and her subsequent part in his 1998 impeachment trial, catapulted her into an unprecedented level of fame and scrutiny. The events coincided with the burgeoning of the internet, its circulation of gossip and judgement, and the 24-hour news cycle. Clinton claimed that she had come on to him, and that he’d rebuffed her, upon which she threatened him. Men in positions of power know that to claim that a woman wanted sex can derail her life, while he can hide behind the closing ranks of male solidarity. Lewinsky was dealt a cruel fate: an ill-judged, risky, and exciting mutual involvement morphed into a spectacle in which she became the object of, and the synonym for, vicious jokes and misogynistic slurs by right-wing and left-wing critics alike. She was portrayed as a stalker, a histrionic young woman, desperate for the attentions of a powerful man. News anchors and TV pundits had a field day; Lewinsky’s life skidded manically out of her control, and no-one came out of it well.
In the years after the scandal, Lewinsky tried her hand at various enterprises—talk-shows, a handbag company—all of them attempts to regain control over the narrative about her. But she was caught between a rock and a hard place; either her life was swamped by the past, or her attempts to move out of that position were mocked. She couldn’t win.
In recent years, Lewinsky has moved towards, not away from, the scandal. In a 2014 article in Vanity Fair, ‘Shame and Survival,’ she wrote eloquently of her experience, and in 2015 gave a TED Talk about shame and bullying that was viewed by millions, many of them presumably with no memory of what happened in the mid-90s.
Both are dignified,…