“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
Even if you weren’t alive in 1998, it’s likely you have some recollection of the infamous statement by Bill Clinton – though perhaps you’re not exactly clear on the context surrounding it.
Monica Lewinsky certainly is. She’s ‘that woman’, and twenty years ago, the context was her life. Her traumatic experiences during that time haunted her for many years to come.
Now, no longer the 22-year-old intern whose sexual relationship with her boss was known by the nation, Lewinsky has looked back at that moment in history with a different lens. In her essay for March’s issue of Vanity Fair, the 44-year-old examines how the #MeToo movement has changed the way she and others view the best-remembered affair in American history.
It’s this statement that has been burned into our collective consciousness. Post continues.
Lewinsky said the days when she was being harassed by the FBI, the media and the public were incredibly “isolating.”
“Yes, I had received many letters of support in 1998. And, yes (thank God!), I had my family and friends to support me. But by and large, I had been alone. So. Very. Alone,” she wrote. “Publicly alone — abandoned most of all by the key figure in the crisis, who actually knew me well and intimately.”
The Master of Science graduate said she didn’t think she would have felt so isolated if the events had unfolded today in amongst the #MeToo movement.
“One of the most inspiring aspects of this newly energised movement is the sheer number of women who have spoken up in support of one another,” she said.
“Virtually anyone can share her or his #MeToo story and be instantly welcomed into a tribe.”
The anti-bully advocate said she also believes the way the world reacted to her part in the near-Presidential-term-ending scandal would have been different. Even her own view of the circumstances have changed, as recent as in the past year.
With all the allegations against him, Mia Freedman and Amelia Lester discuss why Bill Clinton still gets a ‘pass’ in the post-Weinstein era. Post continues.
“For two decades, I have been working on myself, my trauma, and my healing. And, naturally, I have grappled with the rest of the world’s interpretations and Bill Clinton’s re-interpretations of what happened.
“Just four years ago, in an essay for this magazine, I wrote the following: ‘Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position’.
“I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege.”
Lewinsky wrote that she now saw what happened to her “constituted a gross abuse of power”, but – with a direct message to trolls – still accepted and regretted her “responsibility” in the affair.
“But it’s also complicated. Very, very complicated. The dictionary definition of ‘consent’? ‘To give permission for something to happen.’ And yet what did the ‘something’ mean in this instance, given the power dynamics, his position, and my age?
“Was the ‘something’ just about crossing a line of sexual (and later emotional) intimacy? (An intimacy I wanted — with a 22-year-old’s limited understanding of the consequences.)
“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.”
The investigation, public outing and subsequent ostracisation over the incidents left Lewinsky with post-traumatic stress disorder. This impact on her wasn’t properly considered at the time, so she actually thanked Harvey Weinstein for giving historians a reason to take the “shame and spectacle” into account when looking at the events of the late 90s.
“Both clinically and observationally, something fundamental changed in our society in 1998, and it is changing again as we enter the second year of the Trump presidency in a post-Cosby-Ailes-O’Reilly-Weinstein-Spacey-Whoever-Is-Next world.
“My hope, given the two decades that have passed, is that we are now at a stage where we can untangle the complexities and context (maybe even with a little compassion), which might help lead to an eventual healing—and a systemic transformation.”
But who she really wants to thank is the women of the #MeToo movement.
“I — we — owe a huge debt of gratitude to the #MeToo and Time’s Up heroines. They are speaking volumes against the pernicious conspiracies of silence that have long protected powerful men when it comes to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and abuse of power.
“My hope is that through Time’s Up (or, perhaps, another organization) we can begin to meet the need for the resources that are required for the kind of trauma therapy vital for survival and recovery.”
You can read Monica Lewinsky’s complete essay in Vanty Fair.