In 1995, a young woman ascended the steps leading up to a big white building to begin an unpaid internship that would change her life forever. In the following years, 22-year-old Monica Lewinsky would be at the epicenter of arguably the biggest presidential scandal in United States history: the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal.
The ambitious yet impressionable Lewinsky started sleeping with her married boss, who happened to be the President of the United States Bill Clinton, just months after she began her internship. They were able to keep the affair hidden for quite some time. However, in 1998, the affair was exposed. Lewinsky, who was referred to publicly as an “unstable stalker” and “Servicer in Chief,” went from being a White House intern to one of the most talked about people in the media – her face appearing on the cover of every gossip magazine in the country.
All anyone could talk about was the young woman’s sex life. The scandal ruined her career, her reputation, and also her life. Lewinsky was seen as an enemy when, really, she had been a victim all along.
The emergence of the #MeToo movement has given Lewinsky the strength and the opportunity to finally speak up and tell her side of the story.
“In 1998, we were living in times in which women’s sexuality was a marker of their agency—‘owning desire,’” Lewinsky wrote in an op-ed titled Emerging from “The House of Gaslight” in the Age of #MeToo for March’s Vanity Fair. “And yet, I felt that if I saw myself as in any way a victim, it would open the door to choruses of: ‘See, you did merely service him.’”
Lewinsky also spoke to The Guardian about her decision to step into the spotlight once again and bring the affair back into the media.
While she admits that nothing “excuses” her for the part she played in the scandal, she is learning to forgive herself and accept the reality of the situation.
“I’m beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot, although power imbalances – and the ability to abuse them – do exist even when the sex has been consensual,” said Lewinsky. “He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college.”
In the Vanity Fair article, she shared a message that had been sent to her by one of the pioneers of the #MeToo movement: “I’m so sorry you were alone.”
“Those words undid me,” Lewinsky wrote. “Somehow, coming from her—a recognition of sorts on a deep, soulful level—they landed in a way that cracked me open and brought me to tears. Yes, I had received many letters of support in 1998. And, yes, I had my family and friends to support me. But by and large I had been alone. So. Very. Alone. Publicly alone.”
After the incident, Lewinsky was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She considers herself lucky to have had access to psychological help for her trauma and recognizes that most women are not afforded the same privilege.
“My hope is that through Time’s Up [and #MeToo] we can begin to meet the need for the resources that are required for the kind of trauma therapy vital for survival and recovery.”
Thanks to #MeToo and Time’s Up, Monica Lewinsky had the strength to speak up about an experience that changed her life. Hopefully she can encourage other women to speak out as well.
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