U.S. News

05.07.14

Stop Slut-Shaming Monica Lewinsky!

Sixteen years after the affair heard ’round the world, Lewinsky is back with a Vanity Fair essay. And while we’ve all forgiven Bill Clinton, we can’t seem to quit blaming his intern.

“It’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress,” writes Monica Lewinsky in a Vanity Fair essay teased Tuesday, to a collective national groan. In the few paragraphs the magazine has made public, there is plenty for readers to roll their eyes over, not least of which is the cheesy writing. But our real problem with Lewinsky’s essay is that she’s had the temerity to return to the public eye when we’d rather sweep her under the rug and slut-shame her into silence. While we’ve long forgiven the 42nd president, she is still the late-night joke that’s been told too many times. Bill Clinton is one of the world’s most respected statesmen, and Lewinsky is the woman who was dumb enough to blow him.

Monica Lewinsky became a household name in 1998, well over a decade before the first SlutWalks began. Putting the onus of the national scandal on her was easy. Clinton was impeached, but Lewinsky was attacked as hard as he was in the press, if not harder. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd won a Pulitzer Prize for her columns blaming Lewinsky both for the affair and for not keeping it a secret. Dowd called out Lewinsky for being “relentless” and “certainly aggressive” because “otherwise, as a mere intern, she could not have barged through all the protective layers around the President.” (Or, you know, he’s the president, and he gets whatever he wants.) Dowd insisted that Lewinsky spilled the beans because “Like the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction, Monica Lewinsky issued a chilling ultimatum to the man who jilted her: I will not be ignored.” In other words, if only this slut had kept her mouth shut, we never would have had to know about it.

Lucky for Clinton, the scandal didn’t hurt him for too long or, ultimately, that much at all. Indeed, he has recovered so well that when Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) brought up the Lewinsky affair this year, political figures from both sides of the aisle roundly censured him. Yes, Paul brought it up in a way that was impertinent and likely a political ploy. But his own party rushed to slam him for mentioning Lewinsky for fear it would end up hurting Republicans in a backlash of national opinion. That is a testament to how untouchable the scandal is—at least for Clinton.

For Lewinsky, it was not so much untouchable as inescapable. The pressure was on her to fade away quickly and change her name if she ever wanted to attempt to live a normal life. She did the opposite. She had a handbag line, became a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig, and hosted a Fox reality TV show, among other endeavors. Because she did not slink away but took jobs that kept her in the spotlight—though she likely would have had difficulty finding a “normal” job—some critics are dismissing her Vanity Fair essay as a mere cry for more attention.

“We all know the story: In 1998, a horny 21-year-old White House intern flashes her thong at a horny commander-in-chief. A bad affair ensues.”

It's not surprising that the tabloids that thrived on the Lewinsky scandal in 1998 are only too quick to jump on her once again. On Wednesday, the New York Post unflatteringly plastered her face on its cover, eagerly dissing her “whiny new sell-all” and denouncing her as a “shame-filled recluse.”

But all publications seem to go to the gutter when it comes to Lewinsky. Robin Abcarian at the Los Angeles Times complains that Lewinsky has “been having her say for years…We all know the story: In 1998, a horny 21-year-old White House intern flashes her thong at a horny commander-in-chief. A bad affair ensues.” That’s right, the whole mess happened because Lewinsky dressed and flirted a certain way. The most powerful man in the free world, who was nearly three decades her senior, played no active role.

Even the über-feminist Jezebel is quick to paint Lewinsky as hypocritical and fame-hungry. In a piece headlined “Vanity Fair gives Monica Lewinsky 15 More Minutes of Fame,” Kate Dries mocks the magazine for claiming to help Lewinsky “take back her narrative” and for running a photo spread showing Lewinsky “wearing a virginal white dress.”

It would be nice to think that in 2014, when we’re much quicker to call out slut-shaming in politics, entertainment, and everyday life, Lewinsky would be received with a little more understanding. But apparently when it comes to Monica Lewinsky, it’s 1998 all over again.