I owe Monica Lewinsky an apology

Sexual politics were different in 1998. We didn’t seek immediately to publicly redress and condemn flagrant sexism and bullying like we do today, or attribute co-responsibility for a duo’s lack of judgment related to consensual sex. Any assignment of responsibility for a reckless sexual encounter to a male, let alone a beloved male public figure, was ornamental, at best. The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, arguably the first case of cyber-bullying, predated (most) public reports of sexual assault by Bill Cosby. It predated Emma Sulkowicz carrying a mattress to and from class and at graduation to protest her alleged rapist not being expelled by Columbia University. And it was before the use of Title IX by students to make universities that receive federal funds accountable for sexual assault or sexual discrimination on campus. Today’s parasitic outbreaks of slut shaming, victim blaming, trolling and random gamers’ threats to rape women gamers’ eyeballs for daring to encroach on their male space, exist at the whim of their host, social media.
Then, I didn’t have the window into global misogyny and the in-my-face view of second-class citizenship, oppression, torture and utter disregard of women’s human rights in 1998 that I have today, either. The founder of Ms. Magazine said: “When men are oppressed, it’s tragedy; when women are oppressed, it’s tradition.” What I recognize now as systematic disempowerment and bullying, I didn’t have the words for then. Monica Lewinsky didn’t either. She was 25 in 1998. And she would become arguably one of the most vilified women in American history.
She is back in the spotlight in a Guardian newspaper interview, “Monica Lewinsky: ‘The shame sticks to you like tar.’” Lewinsky, who says she thought about suicide in the years following the scandal, is now sought after as an anti-bullying advocate. Writer Jon Ronson called Lewinsky’s 2015 anti-bullying TedTalk “dazzling” and wrote, “Back then, the world basically saw Lewinsky as a predator.” Lewinsky points out in the interview that online hate is gender neutral: “A lot of vicious things that happen online to women and minorities do happen at the hands of men, but they also happen at the hands of women. Women are not immune to misogyny.”
Maybe not, but I watched Sen. Arlen Specter and his cronies attempt to annihilate Anita Hill while she testified in his confirmation hearings that Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her at the U.S. Department of Education and as his special assistant when he was chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That was despicable enough to turn me into a card-carrying feminist for life. Inasmuch as the outrage I felt when I watched Thomas’ confirmation hearings preceded the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal by several years, one would surmise I would have defended Lewinsky.
Alas, my bias toward the charismatic former president Clinton prevented me from doing so. Or was it my bias against Lewinsky because she was so naïve. She was 25 when the scandal broke. I was 29. Surely, I would have at least destroyed the dress. That I identified more with Hill and less with Lewinsky and loved Bill Clinton, made Thomas’ remark about Coke and pubic hair easier to swallow than believing a sitting president could not muster enough self control.
Ronson suggested in the Guardian interview that Lewinsky believes blaming former president Clinton for the affair is as unwarranted as solely blaming her for it, because Lewinsky maintained through the scandal and beyond that it “was a mutual relationship.” Who I never blamed, but many did, then and now, was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The refrains of the famous, including Chris Rock, as well as the ordinary, that Hillary Clinton is unqualified to be president based on her husband’s wandering penis, are getting loud again as she gets closer to winning the presidential election, because if she can’t take care of her personal business and keep her man happy, how is she gonna run a country?
In no form of logic does that make sense.
It may take two to tango, but at least in hetero encounters, the male counterpart always seems to keep dancing without consequence, while the female is branded, scapegoated, blamed, slut-shamed and held as an example of where not to go, what not to wear and how not to act, in order to not get whatever is coming to her, she asked for or deserves. Almost 20 years later, rather than assign blame, maybe it’s time to focus on education and social programming to prevent sexual assault and developing healthy attitudes toward consensual sex people enter into as equals.
Monica. I am sorry. You are a stellar example of surviving public humiliation and turning it on its head to combat bullies and predators. What a way to take your power back.