For many of our readers, the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal feels distant and little more than the allusions that appear in rap songs. I myself was barely a year old when Lewinsky started her internship in the Clinton White House, and I grew up under the assumption that everything had been her fault.
I am now twenty-four, just two years older than Lewinsky was the first time she and President Clinton engaged in their infamous affair. Clinton referred to their nine sexual encounters as “not appropriate” and referred to Ms. Lewinsky not by name, but as the infamous That Woman.
In the months that followed the scandal, through the impeachment hearings and Clinton’s subsequent acquittal, Lewinsky stayed a target in the media and nation at large. Jay Leno mocked her weight gain, saying, “[She’s] considering having her jaw wired shut but then, nah, she didn’t want to give up her sex life.”
Even women offered criticisms. Feminist writer Nancy Friday speculated about Lewinsky’s ruined future, stating that at least “[s]he can rent out her mouth.”
There were newspaper polls guessing how much she weighed. She was called a bimbo, a slut, and depicted as a predator, yet it all felt justified because she’d brought this on herself… Hadn’t she?
In recent years, with the birth of the #MeToo Movement especially, many people are reconsidering this question. Was it really possible that Lewinsky was the one to blame for the nation’s undoing? How could a twenty-two-year-old recent college student deserve humiliation on a global scale? Why wasn’t Bill Clinton given more blame, if not all of it?
In a sit-down with CBS, interviewers asked Hillary Clinton if she considered her husband’s affair an abuse of his power worthy of resignation, and if there was an argument for considering Monica Lewinsky in the #MeToo Movement. Clinton answered, “Absolutely not” because Lewinsky was “an adult.”
In this answer, Hillary Clinton let down not only the democratic party, but women everywhere. She chose her husband – who was clearly in the wrong – over the millions of women supporting her.
The matter of Lewinsky being above eighteen does not absolve Bill Clinton of what is clearly an act of predation. The power dynamics that exist between a twenty-two-year-old intern and the leader of the free world are immeasurable. In any other career, a high-level employee engaging in a sexual relationship – even a consensual one – with his subordinate would be grounds for termination. Why is it any different for the president?
Lewinsky herself has never claimed the relationship was not consensual, but she has expressed more reservations about the power imbalance as she’s aged. She says that, “in such a circumstance [as this one] the idea of consent might well be rendered moot” because the “power imbalances – and the ability to abuse them – … exists even when the sex has been consensual.”
To put it another way, how could Lewinsky have ever said no? What avenue would she have had in seeking help if she’d expressed a desire to stop, and Bill Clinton had refused? He was not only her boss, but the president. Her consent was essentially deemed unimportant because even if she withdrew it, there was no one higher up to help her and no one who could stop the president’s pursuit. In no situation would this kind of power imbalance not lead to questions of coercion or, in the very least, arguments regarding abuse of power.
I am certain that Hillary Clinton knows all of this, and I am certain still that she denies Bill’s wrongdoing out of a desire to save face. Clinton has long described herself as a supporter of the #MeToo movement, yet when she could have finally practiced what she preached, she folded like all the disappointing male politicians before her by denying a role for Monica Lewinsky in the #MeToo movement.
This is not to mention that Hillary did what she (and the rest of us) hated most in the Trump presidency: deflection of responsibility. When asked about Bill’s past, Clinton deflected: “Where’s the investigation of the current incumbent, against whom numerous allegations have been made, and which he dismisses, denies, and ridicules?” Though Clinton is right to question the White House’s approach to the allegations against Trump, it’s hard to see how her own failure to answer is any different.
Hillary Clinton will forever be the first woman to run on a major party’s ticket for the United States presidency. In this, she’s a hero to many women and young girls everywhere. That makes the shame of her denial to acknowledge that there is a place for Monica Lewinsky in the #MeToo movement all the more poignant.
In refusing to acknowledge her husband’s predatory acts against That Woman, Hillary Clinton reminds us that even women we admire can fall into the pits of misogyny and that we still have a long way to go.
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