Let me tell you about being publicly separated from your truth.
October 22, 2014 3:08 AM   Subscribe

"But having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive too. I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past."
Monica Lewinsky gives her first major public speech to speak out against online abuse. Full transcript here.
posted by iamkimiam (48 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
That was well said. Good for her.
posted by HuronBob at 3:32 AM on October 22, 2014

Thanks for this link! Good for her. I have always felt for her.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:47 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Monica Lewinsky broke a decade-long public silence on Monday morning, delivering a speech to 1,000-plus young entrepreneurs and achievers at Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia.

The same Forbes that posted this article? Must have been awkward.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:24 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Monica Lewinski got abuse from all corners. Singling out her online abuse specifically strikes a wrong chord for me, for some reason.
posted by Yowser at 4:24 AM on October 22, 2014

That Forbes article by Helaine Olen is absolutely horrifying. I know the National Enquirer has cleaned up their act, but quoting them still is sketchy as hell.
posted by Yowser at 4:29 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Singling out her online abuse specifically strikes a wrong chord for me, for some reason.

Yowser, I think she would be the first to admit that, but she's become an anti- cyberbullying advocate because among all the vectors of abuse she was assaulted with, she was essentially the first proto cyber bullying victim (or at least the first high profile proto cyber-bullying victim). This speech was as much about (and if possible, more so) what she wants to do with her past to help other people as it is about what was done to her in the past by other people.
posted by KingEdRa at 4:37 AM on October 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

I thought it was being publicly brought together with the truth that was her problem.
posted by Segundus at 4:37 AM on October 22, 2014

I think all of us without PR reps would find ourselves knee deep in it if the "truth" of our lives was everyone's water cooler gossip, Segundus.
posted by Yowser at 4:45 AM on October 22, 2014 [28 favorites]

I'd claim that if your congressional testimony is on the shelves in the grocery store checkout line the day after it's released, it's not so much about the cyber.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:19 AM on October 22, 2014

""truth""? What "so-called truth" are you disavowing there?
posted by Segundus at 5:29 AM on October 22, 2014

Well, look: there was the truth that Monica Lewinsky gave Bill Clinton a blowjob. That was true, and it became public. But the truth of who Monica Lewinsky was, that she was a human being who was more than that one fateful blowjob, got completely lost in the media frenzy. I don't go through my life being totally defined by the worst relationship decision I ever made, and presumably you don't, either. And if either of us did go through our lives like that, it wouldn't be true to who we were.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:35 AM on October 22, 2014 [60 favorites]

No argument with her, and a pox on the media.

But I still don't understand why Clinton isn't tending to lepers in Arkansas. Like Charles Van Doren. As an example of contrition. For the children.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:42 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

To insinuate that a young woman is deserving of having her life ruined because "the truth" is that she had oral sex with the wrong man (a man who continues to receive near-universal admiration) is so sexist that I don't even know where to start.
posted by lunasol at 5:43 AM on October 22, 2014 [88 favorites]

Also, seriously, watch the speech. She's pretty clear about what she means about being publicly separated from her truth: that the media constructed a version of her that wasn't the real her, that wasn't recognizable to anyone who knew her personally, and that publicly defined her to people literally all over the world. And she had to live with the fact that there was a world-famous creature who looked like her and had her name but wasn't actually her, and that experience nearly destroyed her.

Seriously: it's an impressive speech, and she's a good speaker.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:50 AM on October 22, 2014 [27 favorites]

It's also a good reminder that for a very long period of time (years I think?) since the news initally broke, Monica Lewinsky was not allowed to speak or be heard by order of law. Nobody really knew what she sounded like, how she held herself, moved, laughed, walked, etc. Yet, for months and months onto years a charicature of her was presented, on Saturday Night Live in ongoing skits, and god knows where else. This representation was completely fabricated and filled in with stereotypes of how we wanted her to sound, to move, to laugh, to walk. For us to laugh at. While at the same time, she was being labeled fat, slut, and worse. Her voice, her response to all of this? It was the representation of her on TV and the internet. And her real response was silenced. By law.

The truth being separated here isn't just in the labels lobbied at her, it's down to every last detail that they depicted of her. They didn't know what she sounded like, what she looked like when she ate, how she cried. But they sure had fun painting their picture.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:21 AM on October 22, 2014 [35 favorites]

Wonkette: Andrea Mitchell Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Have you heard the story about the president who got a blowjob from a lady who wasn’t his wife? Sure you did. Because that blowjob would be old enough to drive a car by now, and lots of hack “journalists” cut their teeth typing out the scintillating details of semen stains and cigars. Which is why they are the one subspecies on this planet, and probably any other in the universe, that can never forget. The world marches on, a president leaves office, another one steals his seat, then another takes his place — but the Very Serious Journalists will never let go of The Blowjob.

I'ts about Hillary rather than Monica, but seems related.
posted by dismas at 6:23 AM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I only read the transcript but damn is that some good weaving of the personal and the political. I was in high school at the time and I forget how young she was.

The Internet really was important in creating a person for her that didn't exist. The traditional news only covered so much detail and would skip over the most salacious aspects. But if you had an Internet connection you could read every frenzied claim (made mostly by Clinton hating conservative personalities) and discuss them with others. When the Starr report came out, the traditional media isn't going to read off the details - but you could read it yourself (and find confirmation for whatever image you had of Clinton, Lewinsky, etc.) That was pretty new. And just like today, the "truth" constructed by consumption of online media feeds into what and how you discuss the news of the day with friends and coworkers.
posted by R343L at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

It was a very good speech.

The public lynching of Monica Lewinsky showed humanity at its worst. The story was about Clinton having (arguably) committed perjury. There was never any call for Monica Lewinsky to even by named in the press; "a White House intern" would have served the story just as well. Instead, we turned a young woman into the permanent international whore effigy for committing no crime at all.

I'm so glad that Lewinsky seems to have survived and grown stronger. Many of us would have been killed by what we put her through.
posted by 256 at 6:43 AM on October 22, 2014 [22 favorites]

Monica Lewinsky was not allowed to speak or be heard by order of law

It's certainly true her (and Bill's) caricature got more air-time than her own words, but it's not true that she was gagged. She did an interview with Barbara Walters in prime time before tens of millions of viewers. And co-authored a book about the scandal. And did a cameo on SNL. All of this took place years before her immunity agreement expired.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:02 AM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I admire what she's doing and of course I admire how she has overcome the pain of a period that was clearly lots of fun for a lot of people other than the principals.

Can the culture change? Is there a future when teenagers will not bully one another, or say vicious things behind the backs of their victims? When the mass media will not stoop to cover the humiliations of public people and those close to them?

I really don't think so, but I give a lot of credit to Lewinsky for sidestepping what could have been a bitter, angry life and instead trying to make something positive of it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:35 AM on October 22, 2014

Monica Lewinsky was indeed under a gag order after the scandal broke in January 1998. She asked for it to be lifted in January 1999, and later that year in March she gave her Barbara Walters interview.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:36 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I admit I was a little annoyed when I heard in passing yesterday that Monica Lewinsky was talking about cyberbullying. I'm grateful for this thread because otherwise I would never have read that absolutely wonderful speech.

The last I heard about her she had moved to London to escape the public eye, so I was curious as to why she decided to re-enter it. From Wikipedia:

During her decade out of the public eye, Lewinsky lived in London, Los Angeles, New York, and Portland, but due to her notoriety had trouble finding employment in the communications and marketing jobs for nonprofit organizations that she interviewed at. By 2014, she had still not held a full-time job since leaving the Pentagon in 1997.

Monica Lewinsky is an ambitious, educated, intelligent 41 year old woman and cannot get a job because of what she did, and what subsequently happened to her, when she was 22. That is a goddamn crime. We all made stupid decisions when we were young; that she has been unable to use her gifts and talents to find her place in the world as a result of what happened almost twenty years ago is crushingly sad. It's no wonder she's finally speaking publicly - does she really have a choice? I'm wondering if she felt like the only option left to her was to take back her name, and use it for good in the only way she might have available to her if she wants to affect some kind of change in the world.
posted by something something at 7:41 AM on October 22, 2014 [42 favorites]

I really, really enjoyed this speech, and if anyone was going to give it it should be Monica Lewinsky, but I doubt this will come to pass:
Either way, what we need is a radical change in attitudes — on the internet, mobile platforms and in the society of which they are a part.
A radical change in attitudes on the internet isn't going to happen, to say nothing of the society at large. Civility is largely controlled by the individual site that someone is posting on. And that site hopefully has a process for reporting abuse and hate speech, but the goal of that process is to shield that site from liability, not to make its members more tactful people.

It's a positive development to me that death threats and doxxing are increasingly being pushed out of reddit and 4chan to darker corners of the internet, but 4chan without doxxing is still 4chan. And Lewinsky isn't even talking about that stuff, really; she talks about being driven suicidal just by the catty things people were saying to her, things that individually wouldn't be reportable on Twitter if they happened today but which collectively add up to a tsunami of humiliation.

I don't think she's wrong. I wish we were all nicer people. But I don't see how we get from here to there. The next target of the Internet Hate Machine could very well end up killing themselves, but I doubt even that would shock people out of their snark. It's a stoning, except instead of 50 people throwing rocks at someone, 300 million people each throw a tiny aquarium pebble, hence nobody feels responsible.
posted by savetheclocktower at 7:55 AM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've always thought that Ms. Lewinsky was poorly treated. She was 24 years old, working for one of the most powerful and charismatic men on the planet. Frankly, under those conditions I would have blown Clinton if he'd expressed an interest.

A powerful speech. I'm happy to see that she is (at last) finding herself.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:08 AM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Many people are still unfortunately working on the idea that the internet is not separate from Real Life, that people on the internet are real people. The internet provides anonymity, which makes bullying easier. It does not make being the target of threats and harassment easier. It can't be easily shrugged off as not real. The 4chan crowd might not grow a sense of empathy anytime soon, but look how many major news sources only just recently realized that this is a thing. Twitter still doesn't have anything close to an adequate way to deal with this. Third parties will still dismiss it as, "Oh, it was just words."

What changed first on the playground, before the bullies decided punching wasn't worth it, was that the parents started complaining, the teachers started watching. Maybe you can't make it never happen again, but you can make sure people have somewhere to turn when it happens.
posted by Sequence at 8:19 AM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

While crap people are going to continue to be crap, I like to think that there is much more opportunity for people (like me) to become enlightened and no longer accept the barbaric attitudes and practices of humanity.

While tabloids will continue to cater to the bottom-dwellers, I hope that communities on the Internet such as this one will continue to remain visible, offering support and encouragement, and a different way of looking at things.

If a similar scandal broke today, sure we'd have the same garbage people frothing at the mouth at someone else's demise; but we'd also have a community coming to that person's defense, making the rest of us think twice before we join the crowd in stoning someone.

In 1988, there were far fewer communities that encouraged us to think before we threw that stone.
Heck we've only recently started to address bullying at schools with more urgency, and the idea that adults could be bullied was probably as fictional as time-travel.

Even community-favourite Stephen Colbert joined in the fun of making fun of the Star Wars kid a few years back. I'm sure he'd never do such a thing now.

God knows how much I've evolved since 1988.
Granted I'm a lot older and wiser, but do I ever feel guilty about the way I used to think as a child and young adult.

I'm very happy that Ms. Lewinsky is able to put this behind her.
And I'm horrified at myself that I wasn't more empathetic to her when it was happening.

But I'm confident that while it's easier to be an anonymous terror, we as a society are more vigilant and today are more likely to defend someone in a similar situation before too many stones are thrown.
posted by bitteroldman at 8:21 AM on October 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

Either way, what we need is a radical change in attitudes — on the internet, mobile platforms and in the society of which they are a part.

Wasn't there a Louisiana governor who, when asked about plans to improve the prison system, said, "What we need is a better class of inmate"? That's what the Internet needs too.
posted by thelonius at 8:27 AM on October 22, 2014

Not everyone was shaming Monica Lewinsky back in the day. Saturday Night Live made quite a few jokes at her expense - but as I recall they eventually latched on to Linda Tripp as a more worthy target. Remember John Goodman playing her? There's office affairs, and then there's selling out a friend. That's Ninth Circle stuff.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:32 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was a great speech, and I admire her for taking all of this adversity and shitty, shitty treatment from so many other human beings and somehow using it all to fuel stronger self-esteem and a sense of purpose trying to do a little good in the world. Talk about making gold from straw, or lemonade from lemons, or something.

I don't think she's wrong. I wish we were all nicer people. But I don't see how we get from here to there.

I think we get there by doing what we're doing: talking to one another, one conversation at a time. It's been heartening to me to see the culture shift on, e.g., Reddit, where more and more often comments that are depersonalizing or insulting or bullying are directly called out by numerous other users, in threads all over the site; this did not used to happen.

Ms. Lewinsky needs to speak up about what happened to her, especially now that some time has gone by and she can really communicate the depth and breadth of what she experienced, and how powerfully harmful that is to a person. Victims of the salacious, gossip-driven parts of ourselves need to speak up and tell their stories, because it's only by listening to those stories that those of us lucky enough never to have experienced anything like this can develop a keen, informed sense of empathy. That is always the real catalyst for change, empathy and compassion, and the only way I know to consistently develop and nurture that in ourselves is by sharing experience and listening.

Tangentially, it occurred to me yesterday, while driving to work and fuming about how terrible Capitol Public Radio is (out of Sacramento) and how sad I am that I find even NPR annoying and barely listenable anymore, that the single worst aspect of our news media, the thing that angers and annoys me most acutely, is that they always talk about people. What's so-and-so doing, how do they feel, what do they think might happen, on and on. Never do they focus on an issue, and frame a story as about this concern or that issue, while talking to the people involved to inform the issue. Nope, if it's politics it's all about the horserace or the scandal or who made an awkward remark to a reporter, or who gave a blowjob to whom. Almost never is it focused primarily on the issues at hand, which are of course the things that actually matter in elections and are the things that will affect MY life in a direct way. In a word, it's childish.

Monica Lewinsky was the most noticeable victim of this so far in my lifetime, and I am happy to see her taking some of her life and reputation back.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:50 AM on October 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I was a kid in sixth or seventh grade when the Lewinsky/Clinton scandal, subsequent media circus, Starr report, etc, were all over the news, and naturally I was both aware of it and zealously interested in it due to the titillating nature of the subject, especially to my age group (kids still unable to hold it together during sex ed). At the time, the whole thing, seeming to me to be about sex, was definitely Adult Stuff, and I didn't give much thought to the respective positions of the people involved, or to the kinds of discussions that were being had, or anything particularly insightful.

All that really mattered to me was that Monica Lewinsky had put the President's penis in her mouth, and for that matter, the President had put his penis in someone's mouth, and that was simultaneously the most fascinating and repellent thing I could think of.

It wasn't until years later, when I myself was about 21 or 22, that I realized with a shock that this entire scandal, that I remembered as being about Adults doing weird Adult Stuff, had involved a girl who was only as old as me- and the President, the charismatic, charming, not-Bush President that all America regarded as its rakish, incorrigible uncle. And it was only then that I became profoundly sorry for what Monica had gone through, because it was so obvious to me at 22, we were still so young and so heedless and so not ready to have one's entire life and its most intimate details made the subject of leering and breathless reporting and discussion on TV shows.

At 22, I was young and naive enough that when my boss's pal Joe, a married fifty-something with a gleam in his eye, waited until I was stupid drunk at one of the inescapable bar crawls Chef made us go on after dinner service to grope me and kiss me in front of everyone, after hitting on me all night long, I was the one mortified the next morning and many sleepless nights thereafter. At 22, I was relieved that Chef, the most powerful man only in one restaurant in one city (much less the whole world), limited himself to making lewd innuendos and asking me to give him shoulder massages, rather than asking for anything more. I did not know better. If the entire world's attention had turned to the so-called choices I was making in my life when I was 22, that too would have made for salacious gossip. Monica deserved so much better, both from the President and from all of us.
posted by Aubergine at 9:13 AM on October 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

It really never ends, does it? Google results:

Shame on Monica Lewinsky (Opinion)
CNN.com‎ - 20 hours ago

Opinion: Stop judging Monica Lewinsky
CNN.com‎ - 18 hours ago

More news for monica lewinsky
posted by *s at 9:24 AM on October 22, 2014

The subject of Monica Lewinsky is a really useful litmus test for whether people understand sexism or not.

I mean, she's the one who's shamed and hasn't been able to hold down a job for 20 years. Clinton's the one who, you know, used his power (ex- or implicitly doesn't much matter) to get someone half his age to go down on him and the worst he suffered was some uncomfortable testimony.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:26 AM on October 22, 2014 [16 favorites]

and the worst he suffered was some uncomfortable testimony.

And being impeached, and going the rest of his life having every news article mention that he is an adulterous scuzball. Monica Lewinski got by far the worse end of the bargain, but to claim that Clinton somehow put this all behind him is pushing it a bit.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:34 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

No, it's really not. Clinton has suffered no measurable effects on his life. Stayed President, still powerful and well respected.

Lewinsky has had to fight tooth and nail.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 AM on October 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

As far as Internet culture goes, it's been whipsawing for a while now. The large, proud groups of openly misogynist people is a relatively new thing. The routine credible death threats against any random blogger are new too.

Being new it's not clear to me that they're here to stay. There is already pushback in the form of de-anonymizing vigilantes, but financial penalties to the sites that provide clubhouses for the #gamergate crowd are already gaining speed.

The end state of expected online social behavior will undoubtedly be unsatisfactory to everyone, but it hasn't been reached yet and I'm pretty sure this current extreme is not where it is going to settle.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:51 AM on October 22, 2014

and well respected.

Other than everyone thinking that he's a lying scumbag you mean?

Clinton is rightly respected for a lot of things he did. He is in the same breath condemned for throwing Lewinsky under the bus. These two are not incompatible.

If you think that going through life knowing that every single person you meet knows you're an adulterous liar isn't some sort of negative then I guess we'll have to disagree on this one.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:58 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Some sort of negative" is a lot different from "everybody who hears your name thinks about blowjobs, plus you can't find a job despite having an advanced degree from the London School of Economics." Clinton is rich and powerful and very, very respected around the world. He's not hurting.
posted by something something at 10:02 AM on October 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Other than everyone thinking that he's a lying scumbag you mean?

Citation needed on 'everyone,' there.

You're drawing a false equivalency. Clinton made this all happen, and he's still rich and powerful. Lewinsky, not so much.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:04 AM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a follower of the Clintons in media, and I rarely see much about Lewinsky or the impeachment or lying pop up. In fact, I feel like a lot of mainstream Democrats think of his term as the most recent golden years for the party.

That's how he's welcome to give speeches like this on huge public platforms like the DNC.
posted by sweetkid at 10:09 AM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

She should not have done what she did back then (and way to the max more, Clinton should not have done what HE did) BUT:

I don't think it is too much to ask for Monica to be able to have a job and a life now. Clinton never even had to give HIS up for a minute. Think about that.

I think this is what Jesus was talking about when He said don't judge lest ye be judged. There has to be room for redemption for people, and the first step in that is let them leave the past in the past. How many of us have done similar things or worse, and the only difference is the media and the internet didn't trumpet it from pole to pole? What makes her worse than the rest of us?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:11 AM on October 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

There was a comment in the Cosby thread that appeared to distinguish between the Bills because Clinton had only one rape allegation. Everyone, uh, no. Decidedly not.

He was the boss. He was the father of a daughter. She was a young, inexperienced woman. I'm cutting her a lot more slack for her stupid.

And, as far as I know she has been smarter since then. (I have mixed feelings about the purses.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:23 AM on October 22, 2014

I remember going on a tour of Washington DC during the time this was happening. We passed the Watergate hotel at one point, and saw numerous photographers camped outside. The tour bus driver explained that Monica Lewinsky was staying at the hotel. She couldn't even leave her hotel room without being ambushed.

I have mixed feelings about her because I also have sympathy for Hillary and what she must have gone through. But I am glad she is coming forward and speaking about her ordeal in the context of bullying. She's showing herself to be articulate and intelligent, sort of the opposite of what your mind conjures up when you hear the word "bimbo".

And she was dead-on when she spoke of an empathy crisis online. Tests done on college students over the years have shown that empathy is on the decline in general. I don't know if computer use started this trend, but I find it both alarming and disheartening.
posted by jenh526 at 12:29 PM on October 22, 2014

I haven't heard of the Lewinsky Global Initiative. I did hear about her designing handbags though. (note that the date of that article is May of this year.)
posted by hollygoheavy at 2:00 PM on October 22, 2014

What's the Lewinsky Global Initiative? I haven't seen anything about that. There's the Clinton Global Initiative....

this was a great speech, thanks for posting.
posted by sweetkid at 2:20 PM on October 22, 2014

I was being snarky. Tell Me No Lies was saying Clinton has articles calling him an adulterous skuzzball. I was trying to say that he has the Clinton Global Intiative with all the positive publicity surrounding that, and she gets an article on a style blog mocking her handbags. It doesn't read the same way it sounded in my head.
posted by hollygoheavy at 3:22 PM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sorry to nitpick, but it was 1998, not 1988. A different time in many ways.
posted by tristeza at 9:03 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a great speech - very powerful. Good for her for being able to make it.

Monica Lewinsky and I are the same age. She'd been skewered quite a bit by the time she did the interview with Barbara Walters. I watched that interview and was struck by how she seemed like such a nice person, the kind of person I could easily have been friends with had we gone to school or worked together.

And I too think it's awful that she hasn't been able to get an actual, full-time job because of a bad relationship decision she made when she was 22 - almost 20 years ago!
posted by SisterHavana at 10:10 PM on October 22, 2014

People go berserk when they find out you had sex with the boss. It kicks off a rage circuit in a lower part of their brains and unlike most of the other 99999 times that occurred in their past this one time they can do something about it. They can say crap about you.

This is very unlikely to ever change before humans evolve into a different species than homo sapiens if then.
posted by bukvich at 7:26 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older The answer: TB   |   \|/ \|/ \|/ \|/ practical (& fun) conservation... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments