“Behind the name Monica Lewinsky there is a person and there is a family.”
– Monica Lewinsky, March 3, 1999
The 1998 Lewinsky scandal marked the emergence of widespread public use of the internet. The affair between 49 year-old president Bill Clinton and 22 year-old White House intern-turned-employee Monica Lewinsky would test the boundaries (or lack thereof) of both the media and the internet. What resulted was overnight celebrity status for Monica, placing her at the center of a political thunderstorm. But while, granted, married man and Democrat-sweetheart Bill landed under a degree of political and public scrutiny (jumped through political hoops, lied, and then later sort of told the truth), it was Monica who bore the brunt of relentless public shaming. Appearing on front covers of newspapers, magazines, and websites worldwide, Monica was quickly branded as a floozy, a homewrecker, and a whore. So bad was the public and political bullying targeted at Monica that her parents worried for her life.
But why? Why was it that Bill was able to carry forth with both his marriage and career relatively unscathed? And yet Monica could see no way forward neither professionally or personally? After all, wasn’t Bill 27 years her senior, married, in the position of power, and therefore should have known better?
Unfortunately, this kind of female slut shaming is too often the accepted knee-jerk reaction in patriarchal societies. And in this case, one of the two crime offenders was the actual head of the Western patriarchal society at the time. (There is none other more “head” than the United States President himself!)
The years after the scandal saw Monica pursuing her own handbag line as well as making appearances on pop culture TV. In need of money to pay off her legal debts, Monica also agreed to be the face of a Jenny Craig advert.
Finally Monica decided to exit stage left and moved to London where she began studying social psychology at the London School of Economics, and in 2006, graduated with a Master of Science degree.
After years of silence and a well-earned break from public scrutiny, this year Monica reemerged with a mission: to end public shaming as a blood sport. In March, Monica bravely spoke about her experiences, the dangers of cyber bullying, and her will to create a more compassionate social media environment.
Watch Monica Lewinsky’s prolific TED Talk here.
Feature image courtesy of vanityfair.com.