Why Monica Lewinsky Still Matters

We all know Monica Lewinsky’s name. We all know what happened in the Oval Office. What I didn’t realize, until I read this exclusive with Lewinsky recently published in Vanity Fair, is that Lewinsky, for the past ten years, has been virtually silent with regards to her affair with President Bill Clinton. Other people have told her story for her. It’s only now that she’s opening up and telling her story for herself. And what she’s saying is that she no longer wants her life to be defined by a now almost twenty-year old scandal. Monica Lewinsky was a twenty-two year old intern when she had a sexual relationship with the President of the United States. She’s forty years old now. And she’s sick of living in silence. And she’s unwilling to let her mistake be her life.

“It’s time to burn the beret and the blue dress,” she says in the piece. “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.)”

I’m so deeply impressed with this statement. It takes guts to stand out in the open and try to change yourself no matter who you are, and it takes guts of steel to try to change your story when you are Monica Lewinsky, a woman who, up until this point at least, has been inseparable from her public humiliation.

I haven’t thought much about Lewinsky since the scandal, which happened when I was in elementary school. I was a child and she was a national joke. Now that I’m older than Lewinsky, I can’t help but feel so much for her. She was only 22, and 22 is so young. She was bullied and slut-shamed for her sexuality in the media. Perhaps if it had all gone down today, she would have been defended more vigilantly from the tabloid mocking machine.

I in no way condone her actions or behavior during her time working in the White House. Still, I’ve made mistakes in my past. We’ve all made mistakes in our past. By and large, those mistakes stay in the past. They don’t define our lives. I can’t imagine the hell it must be to have your mistake BE your life. And I can’t imagine the courage it must take to push hard against the tidal wave of public opinion and try to take back your name, take back your reputation, take back your life, take back everything that’s been taken away from you.

Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton were both mired in the same scandal, and even though they were adults and the relationship was consensual, he not only had an extramarital affair but he held the highest position in the land and he abused his power in the most shameful of ways. And yet, when we think of Bill Clinton, the first thing we think of is not “sex scandal.” It’s “President of the United States.” It’s “Husband of Hillary, Possible Future President of the United States, Which Would Make Bill The First Gentleman or First Husband or the First Something.” With Monica Lewinsky, not only is it the first thing we think of, it’s the ONLY thing we think. And the fact that Lewinsky is now trying to change that speaks volumes about the strength of her character.

I never thought I’d type the words “Monica Lewinsky may very well end up being a role model.” But here I am, typing those very words. Lewinsky is ripping the Scarlet A off of herself. In the same way that she was a symbol of scandal, now she’s resolving to become a symbol of transformation. She’s telling people everywhere that no matter how gargantuan your mistake, there is a way to move past that mess and still have a life. She’s a role model for all of us, in particular for the people who fear they have screwed up too badly to be deserving of a role model. I am overcome with admiration for Monica Lewinsky, another sentence I never thought I would type. Which just goes to show you how much power a good role model can wield.

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