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IN MY ORBIT: Monica Lewinsky and #MeToo, Both Remain Ill-Served

(AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

Impeachment: American Crime Story premiered last week, to launch the 25th anniversary of the affair that rocked the United States government, and led to the impeachment of a president. As the Los Angeles Times review of the series reported,

Monica Lewinsky is one of the most ridiculed women of modern times, the subject of countless cruel late-night jokes and racy rap lyrics. Yet few people know much about her beyond the salacious details of her affair with President Bill Clinton.

The Washington Post once called Lewinsky “an enigma wrapped in conflicting images,” and few Americans even saw her speak on camera until she gave an interview to Barbara Walters in March 1999. “Monica’s Story,” a tell-all biography by Andrew Morton, portrayed her sympathetically but failed to reset the narrative.

What makes this take different from all the ad nauseum coverage and rehashing of this period? Monica Lewinsky is actively involved as a producer.

As Lewinsky wrote to Vanity Fair for a 2019 exclusive interview:

People have been co-opting and telling my part in this story for decades. In fact, it wasn’t until the past few years that I’ve been able to fully reclaim my narrative; almost 20 years later.

But I’m so grateful for the growth we’ve made as a society that allows people like me who have been historically silenced to finally reintroduce my voice to the conversation. This isn’t just a me problem. Powerful people, often men, take advantage of those subordinate to them in myriad ways all the time. Many people will see this as such a story and for that reason, this narrative is one that is, regretfully, evergreen.

As I said yesterday on the front page, I give her kudos for not only wrestling the narrative away from the press, politicos, and politicians who have milked this story to their advantage and profit, but for remaking her life. From the comments on that article, as well as the commentary on Twitter, Lewinsky is still blamed, despised, and viewed as not just a whore of the classic variety, but an attention whore, as well.

I find this unfortunate, as there are so many more layers involved. So, other people can hash, rehash, and milk Lewinsky’s ordeal to their advantage, but when she chooses to do the same, she’s called names and resented?

Amanda Knox knows a thing or two about having your name and reputation dragged into the public square, then used by others for fun and profit. She is firmly on Lewinsky’s side.

This year Lewinsky does appear to be doubling down on the milking. In a tweet thread on Twitter, she chose to re-up a diary series she did on Vanity Fair (they sure love her).

Which only brought the detractors out of the woodwork.

This thread by “Trinity Mustache” is fascinating, as she seeks to make the distinction between consensually dating your boss, and a coerced relationship. In Trinity Mustache’s opinion, to say that Lewinsky was a “victim” is infantilizing an adult woman who clearly made the choice to pursue the president. She considers the Clinton-Lewinsky affair a clear example of what she calls, “enthusiastic consent.”

Apparently Trinity Mustache received some blowback with this, because she reinforced her point:

Well this blew up.

The fact is enthusiastic consent is the gold standard. Any adult can enthusiastically consent to any other adult. Does that means it’s a good idea? Absolutely not. But let’s not pretend this was not enthusiastic consent. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk

For me, it is a reflection of just how complicated and convoluted the entire #MeToo business has become. My colleagues Brad Slager and Nick Arama have outlined the failings and implosion of this movement here and here, and I won’t rehash their great analysis. What I will say is that when a woman, like a Monica Lewinsky, could have used such advocacy and protection from this movement, it sadly got hijacked by agenda- and money-driven individuals and entities who not only attempted to destroy the very people they were supposed to be helping, but destroyed the heart of the movement too.

As far as I am concerned, with Lewinsky’s public outing in 1998, her making the choice to publicly display the restoration of her voice and her person is perfectly in her right. We may want Lewinsky to fade into the woodwork or admit that she is not a victim and was equally complicit in creating her own version of hell. However, Lewinsky didn’t have the choice of being dragged into the spotlight, chewed up, and spit out by her poor choices. Now that Lewinsky is making different choices and coming to new revelations about her involvement in this affair, who are we to tell her she has no right to do it publicly, when her exposure, betrayal, and shame was equally public?

I decided to read a few of these Vanity Fair missives, and found them quite insightful, and frankly, courageous. In the piece Lewinsky wrote for the 20-year anniversary of the Starr Investigation, she had this to say about an unexpected encounter with Ken Starr himself at a New York restaurant:

If I have learned anything since then, it is that you cannot run away from who you are or from how you’ve been shaped by your experiences. Instead, you must integrate your past and pres­ent. As Salman Rushdie observed after the fatwa was issued against him, “Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.” I have been working toward this realization for years. I have been trying to find that power—a particularly Sisyphean task for a person who has been gaslighted.

To be blunt, I was diagnosed several years ago with post-traumatic stress disorder, mainly from the ordeal of having been publicly outed and ostracized back then. My trauma expedition has been long, arduous, painful, and expensive. And it’s not over. (I like to joke that my tombstone will read, MUTATIS MUTANDIS—“With Changes Being Made.”)

This is telling. We are getting insight into Lewinsky’s therapy. She is baring her insides in the same way she flashed her thong at Clinton way back when. But she is also allowing the audience to see her working through coping mechanisms and the healthy methods she is using to come to terms with that period. You may appreciate this, or resent this. But 25 years ago, Lewinsky was dragged out into the the public square, along with her foolishness and failings, and used as a political and personal football. I am sure she did not appreciate it, and no doubt strongly resented it.

So, her public reclamation appears to me a fair trade.

I was a mess when I was 22, with daddy issues, just like Lewinsky. Had I not had the guardrails of a Bible-based church, and friends who were a great accountability structure, Lord knows whether I would have ended up in the same boat as Lewinsky. Had it happened, I doubt if I would be handling such degradation and pain with the level of perspective and grace which she continues to exhibit.