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"I sorely wished for some sign of understanding from the feminist camp."
May 28, 2014 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I have lived many of the questions that have become central to our national discourse since 1998. How far should we allow the government into our bedrooms? How do we reconcile the right to privacy with the need to expose sexual indiscretion? How do we guard against an overzealous government demanding our private data and information? And, most important to me personally, how do we cope with the shame game as it’s played in the Internet Age? - Monica Lewinsky for Vanity Fair
posted by porn in the woods (46 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good for her. So many people failed her, absolutely including other women who should have defended her but cared instead more for being on the good side of a Democratic president who was supposedly "good" on other women's issues. I hope the national conversation we're having about misogyny will finally allow for a more decent, nuanced, honest examination of how her name and her life were trashed in order to make political hay and promulgate some of the worst double-standards about women and sex.
posted by scody at 1:30 PM on May 28 [68 favorites]


[Comment removed. Let's try this again.]
posted by cortex at 1:31 PM on May 28 [8 favorites]


And she's entirely right about how much more horrible it would have been for her if she experienced all that humiliation in the age of the internet. OTOH, I suspect the attention on her would have died out quicker in this day and age.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:34 PM on May 28


there's a lot of stuff in there but i got this far and had to share bc it's just funny.

Thanks, Beyoncé, but if we’re verbing, I think you meant “Bill Clinton’d all on my gown,” not “Monica Lewinsky’d.”
posted by sio42 at 1:36 PM on May 28 [12 favorites]


Jong: I think it’s a tribute to how far we’ve come that we’re not trashing Monica Lewinsky.

i would like to add my own "speechless" to that one.

self-unaware much, ms jong?
posted by sio42 at 1:45 PM on May 28 [5 favorites]


This is extremely well-written. I wish her the best.
posted by likeatoaster at 1:46 PM on May 28 [11 favorites]


She specifically mentions this late in the article, but even before that point, I found myself thinking how well-written this was, how smart she seemed, and how that seemed so at odds with everything I thought I knew about her, and then how ridiculous it is that I so readily believed she was just a bimbo, because that was the narrative about her.

Even cursory thinking about it beyond what I saw on TV would have suggested that *had* to be wrong. She met the President while working at the White House. It's not like they hand those jobs out to idiots.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:51 PM on May 28 [23 favorites]


Unlike the other parties involved, I was so young that I had no established identity to which I could return. I didn’t “let this define” me—I simply hadn’t had the life experience to establish my own identity in 1998. If you haven’t figured out who you are, it’s hard not to accept the horrible image of you created by others. (Thus, my compassion for young people who find themselves shamed on the Web.)

this.

this is why all the "ignore the bullies" stuff spouted by adults to children doesn't work.

i hadn't really heard it put this way tho and it makes a lot of sense the way she states it. when you're a kid, you don't know who you are yet. and if everyone your age hates you but your parents say "oh don't listen to them", well heck, you're gonna think there is really something wrong with you and your parents are just being nice.

i had forgotten how young she was and i don't think i've ever realized how close in age she and i are. 5 years.

if my misdeeds from when i was 20-25 were made public, i'd certainly feel as though, like she says, i would die from the humiliation.

i feel so badly for her and how much this affected her life. i had no idea. i can't imagine going through job interview after job interview. having to put projects and your life on hold because of the political season when you aren't even the one running or anywhere near it, just so you don't have to deal with something that is very much in the past. talk about a scarlet letter.

i too wish her all the best and i think she's turned out pretty damn articulate and smart about the whole thing and i hope she is able to be back in the spotlight for some very good reasons that involve what she's doing now and not what she did in another lifetime.
posted by sio42 at 1:55 PM on May 28 [50 favorites]


Monica and I are the same age. I only just realized that. When everything went down, she seemed so much younger than me. So much more naive. I couldn't imagine how she could expect that relationship to end in anything other than tears.

At the time, I was less upset that an affair happened and far, far more angry that Linda Tripp betrayed a supposed friend in such a way. To me, I'm not going to throw a stone at a woman who got involved with someone she shouldn't have. My glass house couldn't withstand it. However, I will, happily, throw as many proverbial stones as I can at Tripp. To pretend to be someone's friend, and then totally throw them to the wolves like she did is unforgivable.
posted by teleri025 at 1:56 PM on May 28 [24 favorites]


not that i don't think she wasn't always smart (i never really thought it about) ,but just that she could be really bitter about and doesn't sound that way at all. she's found a way to get a handle on this thing.
posted by sio42 at 1:57 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


“Ditsy, Predatory White House Intern”
Looking back on how Maureen Dowd painted Monica Lewinsky as a crazy bimbo—and won a Pulitzer for it.

posted by triggerfinger at 1:58 PM on May 28 [11 favorites]


Good for her. So many people failed her, absolutely including other women who should have defended her but cared instead more for being on the good side of a Democratic president who was supposedly "good" on other women's issues.
posted by scody at 4:30 PM on May 28


I remember hearing at the time that some journalist cornered Gloria Steinem at an event to ask her about why feminists were being silent on Monica Lewinsky, and Steinem said that nothing was being said because the relationship was consensual. Steinem also said at some point that she wasn't going to cave to pressure by the right wing and the press to call for Clinton's resignation or impeachment over a consensual relationship.

Lewinsky confirms this in the link: "Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship."

I'm not saying that some feminists weren't wrong in how they addressed the scandal (although I seem to recall that there were some feminists who defended her). But I don't understand why she's talking about feminists and Hillary Clinton, and not talking about the men who really turned her life into a living hell: Bill Clinton, his advisers, the GOP leadership, and other men involved in trashing her reputation.


Now Paula Jones? THERE'S a woman thrown under the bus by American feminists.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:09 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


She was so, so young. I've made enough terrible relationship decisions to confidently say there but for the grace of God go I...
posted by sallybrown at 2:09 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


she knows those men trashed her life. She's just wondering why all (or a lot of) the women jumped on the bandwagon.
posted by sio42 at 2:12 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


One time, when I was 43, Kevin Smith retweeted a dumb thing I said to him and, like, ten people insulted me over Twitter and it was pretty much the worst day of my life.

So I can only imagine what Ms. Lewinski has been through.

I wish her well.
posted by bondcliff at 2:19 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


She met the President while working at the White House. It's not like they hand those jobs out to idiots.

Well...
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:24 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


It's hard to imagine there not being any feminists having Lewinsky's back nowadays, in the third wave era of Tumblr and Slut Walks.
posted by SassHat at 2:30 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I always felt bad for lewinsky in the same way I feel bad for a girl that wants to hook up with a frat boy who will throw her under the bus when he's around his boys.

But those girls aren't really helping someone cheat on their wives and families.

And she kinda liked the media attention. I remember the interview with her and was it Barbara Walters. That's pretty hot shit.

But Clinton was an asshole to her...but what do u expect from him? That's the kin of person he is.

The media though, was way more horrible to her than her frat-fellate. Not cool.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:48 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


And she's entirely right about how much more horrible it would have been for her if she experienced all that humiliation in the age of the internet.

IIRC it was the internet (specifically the Drudge Report) that really fueled the Lewinsky fire. Yes, the internet in 2014 is very different, but 1998 was hardly pre-internet.
posted by chavenet at 2:52 PM on May 28 [9 favorites]


I just want to comment that Lewinsky's cited piece "Clinton and Women" shows just how far we've come: that political desperation is legitimately offensive, and in an ideal world it would have been equally offensive at the time.

And yet I suggest we owe some debt to that political calculus: prioritizing feminism-as-politics over feminism-in-practice may, ironically, have granted us the modern political and rhetorical footing to express that offense.

I mean, look at LGBTA issues: we have gone from the DOMA in 1996, to 19 out of 50 states (plus DC) recognizing the equality of gay marriage. The concept of homosexuality, in law, culture, politics, and day-to-day life, is almost unrecognizable when compared to the Clinton era.

Despite the fact that Bill Clinton himself is very likely a sexist, predatory skeezebag, and is also the man who signed the DOMA and DADT into law, I suspect he was one of the greatest allies to feminist and LGBT goals, in practice.

This changes nothing about Monica Lewinsky's experience. As a culture, we punished her far beyond her transgressions, and left her to that fate because she wasn't worth the political capital to defend. And again, in an ideal world, we ought to be ashamed that we're not using our newfound progressive confidence to stand for her.

I'm impressed by her courage in coming forward, stating her case so eloquently, and reminding us that it's not "all in the game".
posted by Riki tiki at 3:09 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


How do we reconcile the right to privacy with the need to expose sexual indiscretion?

I disagree that there's any legitimate need to expose sexual indiscretions.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:25 PM on May 28 [15 favorites]


sio42: "there's a lot of stuff in there but i got this far and had to share bc it's just funny.

Thanks, Beyoncé, but if we’re verbing, I think you meant “Bill Clinton’d all on my gown,” not “Monica Lewinsky’d.”
"

Nope, I'm pretty sure I was Lewinksy'd... Not Monica... Joe Lewinsky. You don't know him. He's kinda quiet. But yeah. It was DEFINITELY Lewinsky'd.
posted by symbioid at 3:41 PM on May 28


I honestly wish Monica Lewinsky hadn't apologized. She was young, ambitious, charismatic, and she managed to blow the charming and handsome President of the United States.

If a male intern went down on a hot female president, he'd wouldn't have gotten shamed. He would've gotten a whole lot of high fives.

It's total misogyny that anyone looks down on her. Monica deserves a high five.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:44 PM on May 28 [5 favorites]


I disagree that there's any legitimate need to expose sexual indiscretions.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:25 PM on May 28


Every political operative who's ever used sex as a weapon (Delilah, Mata Hari, Nora Astorga, the woman who blackmailed Lonetree, and others) agrees with you.
posted by magstheaxe at 3:44 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


The argument is that if a politician (or a cop or an attorney or a businessperson) breaks the promise of fidelity with his or her spouse or significant other, he or she is not trustworthy enough to make and keep promises to the electorate/people/citizens/etc. That's something that's understandable, and one reason why I couldn't have run for any office back when I was in my 20s.
posted by TrishaLynn at 3:45 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


If a male intern went down on a hot female president, he'd wouldn't have gotten shamed.

Of course not, she would have.
posted by jessamyn at 3:45 PM on May 28 [73 favorites]


She's a gifted writer, for sure.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:28 PM on May 28


I'm glad she's able to speak about so eloquently and seems to have dealt with it so well.

While attacks on Lewinsky herself are and were unacceptable, it's worth remembering some of the "circling the wagons" was a response to the GOP's attempt to use the President's sex life as a way to undermine the very bedrock of our democracy. While Bill Clinton cheating on his wife was certainly not honorable or admirable, at the end of the day it was a private sexual encounter between consenting adults.

Impeachment was intended for cases where the president has violated the Constitution. The grand irony of course, is that the resulting backlash meant that Bush and Obama have expanded the power of the Executive far far beyond what was intended by the Founders, and en excellent case could be made for impeaching either.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:39 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


If a male intern went down on a hot female president, he'd wouldn't have gotten shamed.

Of course not, she would have.


Interesting point. Bill Clinton was excoriated but it was purely political. Frankly most guys on either side of the aisle didn't give a rat's ass that Bill got a hummer from some woman that wasn't his wife because, well, "guys amirite?". It was just another way to score points.
posted by MikeMc at 4:59 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There was one good thing that happened--the Larry Flynt sex scandal reward program. The biggest fish who actually lost his job in the whole brouhaha was Robert Livingston (R-Louisiana).
posted by bukvich at 5:21 PM on May 28


Thank you so much for posting this. The monika lewinsky narrative the time was precisely what she describes -- including a narrative that she got her position at the white house via connections of her parents. Bless ms. Lewinsky's mother for being so supportive, and damn drudge for making sexual behavior an issue. and in retrospect shame on everyone, including me for valuing the clinton presidency over the ruination of this young woman's life. Juxtaposed against the discussion of the hate crime in Santa Barbara, this is doubly poignant.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:48 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I disagree that there's any legitimate need to expose sexual indiscretions.

Well, that sounds nice, but where's the boundaries on that notion? Should a politician engaging in sexual harassment have his privacy respected? How about a politician in a position of high authority having sex with an intern? When there's such a huge difference in authority and power, what issues of consent ARE l involved?

Should a senator having sex with escorts provided by a lobbyist from an industry he regulates have his privacy respected? How about a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff having sex with a Chinese military atache? Would the public have a compelling interest there? Or how about this one: a congressman who is a backer of anti gay-rights legislation, is propositioning men in airport bathrooms. Do his constituents have a right to know?

It's great to favor a right to privacy, but where is the public interest?
posted by happyroach at 6:10 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I hope she gets to do the work she really wants to do, and that from now on she doesn't have to hide anymore.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:39 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I found that really heartbreaking. She and I are (apparently!) the same age, and like teleri025 mentions above, I had no clue about that at the time. Sitting here now and looking back, I think of all of the really bad and stupid decisions I made in my early 20s (some of them involving consent and another person making the same decision concurrently), and holy shit, what if one of those had irrevocably altered the course of my life? What if people still recognized me on the street, today, every day, because of one of those decisions? That is just flat out unfair, and I am so sorry for her that she had to go through it, and is still going through it. That's just, like, an abuse of basic human rights.

Here's an anecdote that comes to mind, and it leads me to two thoughts -- one disturbing, one a little comforting.

The university department I work for offers a Master's-level course on social justice issues, particularly in the context of education. A couple years ago, there was this one kid in class who was weird and awkward and socially inept and prone to saying things in class that prompted total WTF reactions. Like I said, this was a couple years ago, and he was 22 at best, so let's assume he was born around 1990, and was therefore eight or so when this story was all over the news/internet. Eight years old, so able to absorb what was presented on TV, but not exactly politically aware.

In this social-justice-and-education course, two years ago, this awkward kid made some joke during a class discussion about Monica Lewinsky. I don't know what the context was because I wasn't there. (It certainly wasn't Clinton-era politics; what I know from the professor was that whatever he said was a straight-up slut/blowjob reference.) And, I have no idea how he thought it was relevant. (It obviously wasn't.)

What strikes me all these years later is that just saying the words "Monica Lewinsky" indicates that you've landed a punchline. That's been handed down by the media/pop culture, because the kid wasn't old enough to really understand what "Monica Lewinsky" as a punchline meant when it was all happening. And fuck, how devastating that must be for the real, actual Monica Lewinsky, who even today feels compelled to point out, in a glossy magazine dedicated largely to celebrity culture, that "It may surprise you to learn that I’m actually a person."

Thought one: Holy fuck. How unfair that is to her.

But, again, this kid made that comment in a Master's-level course about social justice issues. And as okay as he thought it was, his classmates and his professor thought it very much NOT okay. A whole slew of complaints rolled in, independently of one another, and it was determined that this kid had made a comment in class that was basically sexual harassment in verbal form. (My words, not the university's. Also, I am the person who handles those complaints, so I read them first-hand.)

Anyway, as a result, he was sent to Student Judicial Affairs. They made him write a letter of apology to the class and the professor, and mandated his enrollment in sensitivity and sexual-harassment-awareness training. He was made to sign a contract stating that if he made sexually charged/offensive remarks in a classroom setting again, he would be expelled.

Thought two: I don't know how he ended up. He did eventually get his Master's. And he's out there, somewhere, among us, and maybe his perspective has changed or maybe it hasn't. But what I do know, because I've seen it first-hand, is that the needle towards intolerance of misogyny has moved at least *that* much. (I'm holding my thumb and forefinger together right now.) Because, you know, that kid made a Monica Lewinsky joke in a public setting, and he was disciplined for it. We, in at least some settings, have come at least that far. (Thumb and forefinger again.) That's not enough, but it's not nothing.

Anyway. I'm glad she published the VF article. I'm sorry she had to. I hope it makes a difference for her, in her life. A positive one.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:15 PM on May 28 [14 favorites]


In my view, the line between a private indiscretion and something the public needs to know about is pretty bright. The answer to one simple question determines the issue for me: If the event did not involve sex, would it be of interest to the public?

So yeah, a general sleeping with a Chinese spy should be disclosed, just as if the general were merely consorting with a Chinese spy in a non-sexual way. If the behavior rises to the level of criminality, disclosure is appropriate, because that again is not about sex, it's about whatever criminal activity was being engaged in. If GWB decides to get it on with some lady not his wife, well, that's none of my freakin' business.
posted by wierdo at 7:24 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


HA. I just Googled the student I was referring to. (And it was four years ago, not two.) He has since completed his doctoral degree at an Ivy League school, and he now serves as a "scholar-in-residence" at another Ivy League school, in a department that does research and outreach on minority-serving institutions.

That makes me feel a little weird in my belly. I feel like maybe I should retract my comment about the misogyny needle, but I'm not going to, because I'm choosing to be stupidly optimistic.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:25 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


The answer to one simple question determines the issue for me: If the event did not involve sex, would it be of interest to the public?

What about a person in a position of authority who uses his authority to pressure an employee into having sex with him? I'm not sure there's a non-sexual crime that is really equivalent to that. I wouldn't be similarly outraged by a boss who pressures an underling into accompanying him to boring (to the underling) baseball games or some other social relationship that was completely asexual.
posted by straight at 7:40 PM on May 28


A person in a position of authority coercing a subordinate to have sex with him/her is usually sexual harassment and/or a hostile work environment and is usually a crime and therefore would interest the public. I agree with weirdo that the line is pretty bright.
posted by chrchr at 8:10 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


I would rather not have my experiences as a 23 / 20-whatever year old broadcast to the world for review and judgement. But I also didn't work for POTUS at 23.
posted by 99_ at 11:35 PM on May 28


Also,

Did Bill Clinton cheat? I think highly enough of Hillary Clinton to believe that she knew all about Bill's sexual proclivities. And it is easy for me to believe that her ambition trumps all.

Sure he was married, but you never know what kind of agreement married people have with each other. Especially when those two married people are two of the most ambitious people EVER.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:56 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Bill Clinton was excoriated but it was purely political.

I'm not so sure. You think Republican voters would have given George Bush a pass? I have my doubts. (Fun to think how Democrats would have reacted.)

Sure he was married, but you never know what kind of agreement married people have with each other.

While true, nothing I've read suggests that the Mrs. was exactly okay with this.

As to the public's right to know - we're talking leader of the free world here, the man with his finger on the button. Hound-dogging is one significant facet of a man's judgement and character. If he has that little self control or respect for others in this matter (how does he explain this to his daughter, closer in age to Monica than he was?), how much will he have in anything else?

Something to think about, anyway.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:13 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


What about a person in a position of authority who uses his authority to pressure an employee into having sex with him? I'm not sure there's a non-sexual crime that is really equivalent to that.

Those sorts of activities are already covered under Federal sexual harassment rules and should be, in general (barring additional criminal behavior), kept private like any HR situation.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:43 AM on May 29


Yeah, but an "HR situation" involves reporting problems to the employee's superior, who, in the case of the President of the United States, is the American people.
posted by straight at 10:53 AM on May 29


Given the number of passes Republican voters gave to GWB, I don't think one more for sexual indiscretion would be a stretch. It amazes me what excuses people will make to justify their proclivity for prying into other people's sex lives. It seems almost universal, regardless of party affiliation.

The excuse that the President (theoretically) has his finger on the nuclear button ignores that we're just as open about our prying when it comes to other politicians, celebrities, or anyone whose life is in the least bit public. The only time we bother to be discreet about our embarrassing interest in other people's private lives is when it's the neighbor, and even then most of us can't help but gossip, just more quietly.
posted by wierdo at 11:09 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I've actually never given Monica Lewinsky a second thought. Now I'm wondering if i've ever used her name as a punchline. I'm so grateful that she wrote this and is going to move on with her life as best as she can. Let Monica live, paparazzi. Go away. Fighting, Monica!

I think about Tyler Clementi from time to time and shake my head whenever things like 'revenge porn' pop up. And I had no idea about Linda Tripp--what an awful person you must be do to such a thing to Monica Lewinsky. Thanks for posting.
posted by one teak forest at 11:51 AM on May 29


I turned 16 in 1998, and was really excited to start voting for Democrats because I had already been one since birth and I was (still am) extremely enthused about being able to participate in direct action democracy outside of protests and GOTV. I was very confident in my belief that the Democratic Party was the one I could trust to champion the interests of poor folks and women, the intersection of which I had lived at all my life. And then the Monica Lewinsky thing happened.

So 1998 was the first time I realized that my own party would happily torpedo a woman's life, impugn her motives and intelligence and outward appearance just as readily as the Republicans always had, the moment they thought her actions or words might somehow undermine or threaten their power. Monica Lewinsky was characterized as either an empty-headed ingenue with a mile-wide fetish for elected officials or a sad, skanky narcissist drunk on her supposed "relationship" with the President. Also, fat! And so plain! Even downright ugly! Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was made out to be a ball-busting bitch who would've been damned for leaving her husband -- stand by your man, amirite -- but was instead doubly-damned for staying: first because she was a calculating shrew hell-bent on political gain no matter the personal cost, then because she was a pathetic pushover whose actions were going to teach younger women that it was OK to let your husband cheat on you and get away with it scot-free. Democrats reviled these women just as gleefully as Republicans. I felt so scared and betrayed. And I wasn't even old enough to vote yet.

1998 was also the first time I understood with chilling clarity that even the topmost members of the American political party that supposedly prided itself on socioeconomic and gender equality -- my political party, ours, the one everyone I had ever known belonged to since forever -- would fall all over themselves to spew the same vile sexist garbage I had grown to expect only from loathsome sacks of shit like Rush Limbaugh and Charlie Sykes. A full decade later, when Hillary Clinton had the gall to run for POTUS and Sarah Palin had the temerity to get the nod for VP, I had to stop reading every single male-derived politically-minded website I knew of because the misogyny was so scouring and relentless.

It's fucking gross and infuriating and I don't know how to fix it. But I'm grateful to see that Ms. Lewinsky is speaking up now. I'm grateful for her voice and her ideas and her ongoing bravery in the face of blistering shame. And I'll stand by her side as a feminist any damn day. It's incredibly depressing that with all of her accomplishments and education, she's still relegated to the position of punchline for a thousand jokes about blowjobs and slutty interns, while the other half of the equation that dragged her into the public eye is painted as an apex of international political achievement who just so happens to be an aw-shucks ladies' man.

I dutifully pulled the lever for Gore in 2000 and I've never stopped voting for Democrats. Assuming they're never seriously challenged from the left, I probably never will. But the way my own party treated Monica Lewinsky showed me that women are the first ones under the bus no matter what, and that's a lesson I'll never forget.
posted by divined by radio at 12:58 PM on May 29 [12 favorites]


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