I saw HBO’s 2002 documentary on Monica Lewinsky, Monica In Black and White, not too long ago. I wanted to understand her. I’m in a different place in my life now. Was she, as I thought at the time, a seductress, a home wrecker, or was she, as I thought now, a victim of male dominance and power? The truth is simpler and far less sinister.
Monica fell in love. She doesn’t see herself as a victim. She was a woman who reached for what she wanted and got it. “I have a crush on you,” she said to him that snowy day when the building was nearly empty. He took her into his office and the two of them passed the time.
Following the Ken Starr witch trials, she went on to give interviews and pose, scantily clad, in every major fashion magazine, which seemed unseemly to a world working so hard to shame her. How dare she. Show some regret, woman. Who do you think you are? You’re not above our wrath. And she wasn’t. Because we won. After that she tried to live a normal life. But the joke’s on her.
What do you mean you’re not going to give us sex, Monica? You have no purpose.
She received her Master’s at the London School of Economics, but when she returned home, she couldn’t get a job, even as a volunteer. Some hiring managers went so far as to interview her just to see what she was like.
She’s the circus freak. The Bearded Lady. All because she had sexual relations with the most powerful man on the planet, who unceremoniously dumped her, because for all of his power, he was as much a coward about ending things as any man.
My journalism instructor, once the AP Entertainment reporter, said he’d been one of the army of journalists camped outside her Beverly Hills home. I shared this piece from the Guardian. Monica has put her life together and, as the first cyber-shamed person in the world, uses her story as a spring board for an anti-bullying campaign. Her talks have put her in front of audiences on the Ted stage and at Facebook headquarters. They’re taught in schools alongside Harriet Tubman. She has created an anti-bullying app. It’s a hug. Two arms wrapped around a shaking heart. She hopes to spread empathy, and, to save kids from suicide.
In his email my professor wrote back, “None of us really thought of her or what she was going through. I’m sorry about that now.”
Nobody wants to think about her, but it’s a problem for us. Monica may not have been Bill’s victim, but she’s ours. We shamed her. We scarlet letter A’d her. She should be part of the national conversation about slut shaming, but she’s not even a footnote. We’d have to admit we were wrong. And we’d all, especially those of us on the Left, prefer to think of ourselves as better than that. Right about now, we should be asking her for forgiveness.
She’d give it. One gets the sense that she’s generous and loving.
Nevertheless, Monica’s 22-year-old specter lingers over Hillary and Bill, perhaps not directly, and not for everyone, but for those of us who lived through it. Ken Starr ripped a hole in the nation’s fabric, and sealed a Monica, Hillary, Bill-shaped scar there. Can’t you see it? There, just out of the corner of your eye. Yeah, when you’re least expecting it, her image flits across your awareness. You wonder, what happened there? What really happened? Did Hillary really forgive Bill? Did she know about all of his indiscretions? Why did she really stay with him?
Inquiring feminists want to know.
Monica was a child. Hillary was a wife and mother. Bill was the leader of the free world. I imagine he did it because he could. Monica did it because who wouldn’t? Hillary stayed, perhaps, to heal the country.
And we? We’re the real villains here. Our drive empowered Ken Starr and created a media landscape that would go on to look more like the Enquirer in twenty years, partisan, salacious, vicious and grievance driven.
We slut shame. We call one another bitches and cunts. And when a guy says, “You’re too needy,” or after sleeping with you, “I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” or goes missing for days or weeks at a time, it’s fine. His momentary needs matter more. Even if they outweigh the needs of the entire country.
In spite of us Hillary has shaken off the filth of those days and remade herself. But, as Obama’s presidency blasted a klieg light onto the rabid racism that still seethes in the dark places of our continent, we’ve only just begun to see the effect a woman president will have on the culture. It will divide us and hurt us while lifting us to new grounds of strength and hope. She will show how we are strong, while we reveal how we are foul.
And Monica? Her narrative is tied to Hillary’s as well. She’s a model for 21st Century strength in different ways. She survived the burning at the stake.
I’m not sure what’s in store for us. We are the mob. We destroy with impunity. It just feels good. Perhaps I’m just being pessimistic. If we can elect a black men, and now a white woman, perhaps there’s hope for us still. I’m just not sure.
15 thoughts on “Dear Monica, We Are The Villains”
Dear Amy, You’re a real writer. – – How do we get a message of apology to Monica – – do you know? You’re right; it’s not enough to have felt sorry for her – – she deserves apologies, including mine. xo s >
Oh, that’s kind. I think she’d rather just not have to deal with all that anymore. She knows who she is. For me it was just a way to explore who I was then, who I am now, and where we are in light of all this nonsense with Trump.
Ok, I’m going to give my view here – and bear in mind I live in the UK and am perhaps subjected to our media influence. I think Monica knew exactly what she was doing. I think she played the game that men play so it could be used time and again far off into the future. Because lets face it…if *that* hadn’t happened, she would be somebody’s secretary in a two bit office downtown and nobody would give a twinkie about her little crushes. I also think Hillary brushed it off as some little girl crush too and didn’t take it too seriously. Maybe I am being unfair, but I have worked with women who used men to their advantage, so thats where my opinion comes from basically. I refuse to romanticise the situation on this occasion. Apart from that, great piece of writing! 😀
Well, I’m glad it inspired dissent. People still have very strong feelings about it here as well. And thank you.
I re-read that again, and yes, I feel like apologising, haha!
Why? I LOVE that woman still take what she and Bill did to heart. I think it’s something we SHOULD keep talking about. These are the issues that define us in the public eye, shape how we think of ourselves and one another. I don’t think you should apologize at all.
I just felt my tone was a little harsh, thats all. I’ll have to watch the documentary if its shown over here. 🙂
It’s on YouTube! I posted the link to at the top of my post. It’s a fascinating way to pass a couple of hours. and don’t TELL me about harsh. I’m the queen of harsh tones. I always have to apologize for harsh tones in emails. I wonder, though, if we judge ourselves and others judge us more because we’re women? If a man writes something direct, without an emoji, and without couching it, he never has to apologize for it. Right? I don’t mean to be pedantic, or dead horse-beating, but I’m really thinking about these things during this election cycle.
Great piece, Amy. While I agree that Monica was slut-
shamed to the nth degree. I also wonder, why did she keep a dress with Bill’s semen on it? Why did she tell her gabby (and untrustworthy) co-worker about something that was sure to create a scandal of ginormous proportions? She was not a child. Young, yes. A child, no. When I was her age I’d been living on my own for 6 years, had held down several jobs and lived overseas. I knew about sexual manipulation and consequences. I believe she did,too. Though she perhaps did not anticipate how long-lived those consequences would be. So, while I do feel for her on one level. On another I believe she created the situation and had to sleep in a thorny bed of her own making. Perhaps if I watch the documentary about her I will feel differently.
I love that strong feelings still run deep for Monica. It sounds like we (women) took those events very personally. It was the documentary that gave me new insights. I think the one thing that struck me was how wide open a person she was. Even in that documentary, with three years of hindsight, she still seemed very trusting in some ways. It seemed true to me.
Just talking with some friends today about the amount of misogyny in the nation today. It’s shocking, and I think your point is right, racism has been openly brought back to the forefront (it’s always there, but was better hidden for a time) during President Obama’s term. What will happen if Hillary wins? Will women lose? I don’t mean that politically, for those who might misinterpret, but socially.
That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking on and what inspired this. I think we all, women and men, suffer from misogynistic biases. We’ll see them in bold relief. Something we must keep discussing. But more than that, I’m I interested in discussing how we see and judge ourselves.
I agree. I have two friends who consider themselves to be very liberal, yet they have one or two (at least) incredibly sexist beliefs. It makes me wonder about my own blind spots.
i adore how reflective you are. It’s uncommon. I think, if someone makes us feel strongly, most of us want to project our own experiences onto another. It does reveal how what our own blind spots might be. I was steeped in blind spots during this scandal and I judged Monica harshly. There was so much I had to learn about life and human beings.
Thank you for the kind words. I judged her harshly too, forgetting how young she was. Clearly she has responsibility in this situation, but I think she has more than paid the price. Now is the time for the rest to learn from her experiences, especially younger women who might put themselves in a similar situation (on a less public scale, most likely). Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually happen that way. So we all keep moving forward.