Oh, the media is abuzz; people are tweeting, presses are pumping, pundits are prepping; it's bound to be the top story on every gossip show and cable entertainment segment across the land: Monica Lewinsky is "breaking her silence" and, dear Lord, this is BIG NEWS.
I've already seen the kind of sneering, snarking, sniggering comments usually reserved for our most vile of cultural celebrities hit the Internet and it's only bound to get worse. Sad, because when you sit back and look at the big picture, the really big picture, the "what's wrong with this big picture?" becomes so glaring as to be blinding.
At forty-years-old, after an entire adulthood spent hounded, humiliated, scorned, rejected, insulted, maligned and demonized; after conducting herself generally away from the salivating media, rejecting offers to make millions off salacious tell-alls, accomplishing a Master's Degree in Science (no small thing) and living a quiet life that is, purportedly, damaging to no one at all, Monica Lewinsky has decided to reclaim that life by speaking up about a few things, and still, even after all these years, it's "call out the dogs and get the pitchforks" time.
Let me start by saying I am not remotely interested in regurgitating the details of her affair with Bill Clinton. It's been vomited up enough and the seedy cast of characters involved, from the horrific Linda Tripp and Kenneth Starr, to the countless hypocrites in Congress, right to the embarrassingly miscalculating couple at the center of the storm, are so well known, who really needs a primer?
Yes, it's true that both of them made a colossal blunder in getting sexually involved; mostly because he was married and the President of the United States. It was a violation of vows and the height of stupidity... because how dumb do you have to be to personally hand your head (and other body parts) on a platter to your slathering enemies? Narcissism makes for incomprehensible levels of dumb and Bill was dumb, no doubt about that. And I say this as a person who voted for him twice and still believes, despite a clear and hopefully-not-present proclivity to misbehave, he's a flawed but ultimately brilliant, and likely decent, man.
Actually, truth be told, and without the filter of public horror, both Clinton and Lewinsky seem like pretty nice people. He was a good president, is an excellent ex-president; she seems like a warm-hearted, intelligent, loving woman who has suffered greatly as a result of that miscalculation. Because, though he went on to a reinvented life, she did not... she was not an "important person" or a man. She was just a young, wide-eyed, impressionable woman who got herself caught up in the den of power at its most seductive and succumbed. And that "sin," apparently, made her worthy of a big, fat, "scarlet A" for the rest of time.
Frankly, I understand her impulsive, if misguided, choice. Honestly, I get it; even as stupid as it was. I made similar (albeit not with the President of the United States, mind you!) misguided, thoughtless, romantic, amoral, hot, and stunningly bad decisions in my own youth and I know lots and lots of other women who have too. Naive, young women have gotten themselves unwisely involved with inappropriate, self-serving men since the dawn of time; the only difference being that we don't behead them or burn them at the stake; now we simply destroy them in the square of public opinion.
And that's what we did to Monica Lewinsky, that naive, foolish young girl who clearly committed the WORST CRIME EVER COMMITTED BY ANYONE IN THE WORLD. We've done everything but burn her at the stake or tattoo that scarlet "A" onto her chest... though I damn well bet there are some who would if they could. Not because they're so mad at her -- God knows, men have misbehaved far more egregiously throughout history -- it's that we live at a time, in a culture, when the opportunity to publicly destroy others vulnerable to our slings and arrows is the entertainment du jour. Just look at Internet comments, reviews on this or that; look at the way we hound our celebrities and rip apart those who dare to be fallibly human. We're a vicious lot and, damn, Lewinsky is not only a woman (still, in 2014, women take the brunt of bullying brutality), but the sort of soft, gentle, seemingly malleable kind of woman that culture loves to eviscerate. And they have... for the last 17 years.
Now, and somewhat graciously before any significant 2016 campaigning has begun, and without blatant rage, blame, or rancor towards the parties involved, Ms. Lewinsky has offered the following in an interview with Vanity Fair:
"... it is time to stop 'tiptoeing around my past -- and other people's futures. I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I've decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)'"
Everything about that statement is admirable to me. Everything. She then goes on to do that most adult of things and take personal responsibility for her decisions:
"Maintaining that her affair with Clinton was one between two consenting adults, Lewinsky writes that it was the public humiliation she suffered in the wake of the scandal that permanently altered the direction of her life: 'Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: It was a consensual relationship. Any 'abuse' came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position. [...] The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor's minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power.'"
Lewinsky confirms that she did turn down offers that could have netted her in the millions of dollars, even while being rejected for jobs because of her controversial profile. And in the midst of continuing public scrutiny, she took the time and maintained the focus to study social psychology at the London School of Economics and earn a Masters of Science degree (not so dumb!). And while she attempted various business endeavors throughout the years to varying degrees of success, one can only guess that her notoriety was a considerable obstacle to whatever success she might have managed without it.
So why this particular moment to finally speak up? Another person's tragedy. The story of young Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old freshman from Rutgers who commit suicide in 2010 after being surreptitiously filmed kissing another man, simply touched her, triggering emotions related to her own horrific public humiliation, and she wanted to do something about it:
"'Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation. The question became: How do I find and give a purpose to my past?' She also says that, when news of her affair with Clinton broke in 1998, not only was she arguably the most humiliated person in the world, but, 'thanks to the Drudge Report, I was also possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet.' Her current goal, she says, 'is to get involved with efforts on behalf of victims of online humiliation and harassment and to start speaking on this topic in public forums.'"
Does that sound like someone we should continue to scorn and dismiss? Are we so arrogant and judgmental that we cannot allow a young woman, now an older woman, to not only reclaim her good life, her rightful life, but reinvent herself and find a way to use her notoriety to do some good in this world? I hope not, on both counts. Personally, I say, "Brava, Monica!"
As a culture, we've forgiven many others, particularly powerful men, for doing far worse than making a dumb decision about sex with someone inappropriate. We've even forgiven the man with whom she made that dumb decision. Isn't it time to let Monica Lewinsky off the hook and see just what good this very smart, compassionate woman might have to offer the world? I think so. I think it's way past time.
The Scarlet Lettter; original image by Hugues Merle @ Wikimedia Commons
Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Facebook, Twitter, and Rock+Paper+Music. Find details and links to her other work at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com, and be sure to follow the journey with her new novel @ AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.
AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH
by Lorraine Devon Wilke