opinion

Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton: What we all got so wrong.

“It was an avalanche of pain and humiliation,” Monica Lewinsky said during her appearance on John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight on Monday night.

The 45-year-old was referring, of course, to the public shaming that followed her infamous sexual relationship with then President Bill Clinton.

“You were on the receiving end of one of the worst internet-fueled public shamings of all time,” John Oliver said during the interview. “How the f**k did you get through that?”

Simply, Lewinsky doesn’t know. She describes in the interview feeling as though her “identity was stolen” from her at 22.

What happened to Monica Lewinsky?

In 1995, 22-year-old Monica Lewinsky was hired as an intern at the White House.

She worked closely with Bill Clinton, who was serving his first term as President of the United States.

The two began a sexual relationship in November 1995, which continued until March 1997.

Lewinsky confided in her friend, Laura Tripp, the details of the affair, including gifts she had been given and specific sexual acts that had taken place. Tripp began to record the conversations, which she shared with members of the Independent Counsel in the White House.

Their affair began in 1995. Image via Getty. 

The story officially broke in January 1998, giving way to one of the most notorious Presidential addresses in modern history.

Clinton infamously stood next to his wife, Hillary Clinton, and maintained "I did not have sexual relations with that woman".

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In court, Lewinsky presented a semen-stained blue dress, which provided DNA evidence of her affair with Clinton. Clinton then admitted to the affair.

The 'Lewinsky scandal' is also referred to as 'Monicagate' and 'Lewinskygate' - her name was, and still is, synonymous with an affair she had at 22.

What Lewinsky experienced was a witch hunt. Eighteen years later, she remains the butt of a joke. An object of hate. An embarrassing cliche who made a mockery of the White House.

Lewinsky leaving court in Washington. Image via Getty. 

Jay Leno's cruel jab “Monica Lewinsky has gained back all the weight she lost last year. [She’s] considering having her jaw wired shut but then, nah, she didn’t want to give up her sex life", is reminiscent of the tone with which she has been culturally treated.

At the time, she had no defenders.

Monica Lewinsky and public shaming

In 2016, Jon Ronson, author of "So you've been publicly shamed" published an article in The Guardian entitled "Monica Lewinsky: 'The shame sticks to you like tar'".

He interviewed the now 42-year-old, who described her experience as like "...a skinning of sorts. You feel incredibly raw and frightened."

The interview reveals that she came close to attempting suicide. She moved to London and was told she "shouldn’t have come to London because [she] wasn’t wanted there.” She was unemployable.

Six years after the event, she was asked during a presentation “How does it feel to be America’s premier blowjob queen?”

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Bill Clinton's address. Post continues below. 

In Ronson's Ted Talk on public shaming, he describes how we often convince ourselves that these public figures are okay.

They're laying low for a while, we reason, but fundamentally they're fine. Ronson's discover was that they're not.

Lewinsky was not, and still isn't, okay.

Public shaming, especially in our technological age, destroys people. And we all have a part to play in that.

Popular culture has bound Lewinsky's name to a blow job. A sexual act loaded with connotations to power and privilege.

Jon Ronson author of "So you've been publicly shamed". Image via Getty. 

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In Ronson's interview she reflects “I don’t actually know why this whole story became about oral sex...it was a mutual relationship.”

Lewinsky had an affair with a married man. She took part in a consensual relationship that was morally dubious.

But surely, 18 years later, we can agree that the 'punishment' is not at all proportionate to the 'crime'.

Lewinsky was not the first woman to give a man a blowjob. She was not the only woman in history to have had an affair with a married man. What she did, whatever we might think of it, is extremely common.

Monica Lewinsky presenting her Ted Talk. Image via Ted. 

Ronson's work compels us to value the human over the ideology.

To remember that people are not all good or all bad. Social media and the 24 hour news cycle encourages and facilitates bandwagonism like we've never seen before.

We hear of an act that transgresses our own moral code and charge at the individual/s responsible with our pitchforks in hand.

There is much to be learnt from the case of Monica Lewinsky. When we hate and objectify public figures, we rob them of their humanity.

Finding the black and white is easy. We are better than that.

It's time we looked a little deeper, because there we will find the truth; the complex shades of grey.

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