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A young woman, maybe barely older than her mid twenties, falls in love with her. Her boss is handsome, charming, and much older than her. It’s a story you’ve heard before. I’m sure of it. Maybe it happened to you, or to a friend. Or maybe you say it in a movie, or you read it in a book, be it pornographic, romantic or otherwise.
But for Monica, her boss also happened to be the President of the United States. Monica Lewinsky’s office romance was a nationwide scandal when it was released to the masses and when it came to trial, it often felt that Lewinsky herself was on trial for the affair, instead of Bill Clinton.
But can you blame her for doing it? Bill Clinton was and is, a handsome, charismatic, smooth talker who also happened to hold the highest office in the land in 1998. He was 49 years old. Monica Lewinsky was a White House intern, and she was just 22 years old.
Monica Lewinsky participated in what is perhaps one of the most famous political sex scandals of the modern era and she all too often is the butt of the joke. Television shows, films, music, all of the popular culture mass media that you can think of have mostly terrorized the woman who was barely over 18 when she was an intern, when she engaged in a sexual relationship with her boss, who was not only 27 years older than her, but again, the President of the United States. But then, imagine, you, a 22-year-old, in love with your boss, as Lewinsky mentioned in a TedTalk of hers, and then you discover you have been betrayed by someone you thought to be a friend and shamed in front of an entire country.
All of this prelude leads to my firm point: I want to defend Monica Lewinsky and discuss her in a different cultural light.
When the #MeToo movement began, Monica Lewinsky was one of many women who participated in posting the hashtag on Twitter. She did not elaborate at the time, but it could be reasonable to say that the tweet referred to Bill Clinton. While the encounters could not be defined as sexual assault, there is a highly inappropriate power dynamic that occurred not just by manner of the large of their age difference, but when combined with their occupations. President and Intern. Since Clinton was not only vastly older than her but also in an incredible position of power above her, he was the authority figure, which inherently put him in a place of responsibility over the young Monica Lewinsky. A responsibility that he ignored.
When asked about it, Clinton famously distanced himself from her by calling her "that woman" on live TV. I can only imagine how heart shattering that would be for a young woman who was having, up until then, an incredibly exciting affair with a man she had feelings for.
Then when the trial began, she found that Linda Tripp had been secretly recording and documenting the details of the affair that Lewinsky had told her. Now not only has Monica Lewinsky been revealed to be having an affair with a married man, she is betrayed and further shamed in front of the nation. And for those who might shame her for sharing the details of the affair… Can you blame her? Did you ever find out the hard way that someone you considered a friend was gossiping about you and giving away your personal information?
But in this case, once again, it was on the national stage, right as the Internet began to dawn. There was no privacy for Monica Lewinksy’s young, passion-fueled mistakes. There was no compassion for a 22-year-old girl, (because is 22 really an adult?) no mercy for the one who had been in the submissive power position, who had fallen in love with the wrong man, she was instead lampooned on SNL and other media circuits for years.
Monica Lewinsky has made incredible feats in her life since then, she has a handbag business, was a Jenny Craig spokesperson, and has now become a political activist, especially against cyberbullying.
Even then, we have continued to judge her for these mistakes and for the power dynamic that she had no control over. While I seek to defend her, I also want to ask: where is the continued social lashing of Bill Clinton?