What If Monica Lewinsky Happened Now, Not Then?

Monica Lewinsky meets with President Clinton

MONICA LEWINSKY joined Twitter last week, though she’s kept pretty mum so far with only four tweets posted to her account, one of them being a link to a research paper on online harassment. She returned to the public eye with an essay in Vanity Fair, in which she detailed how difficult it is to be sentenced to life as a punch line when you’re 22 years old. We’ve let, and I would say quite rightly, Bill and Hillary Clinton move on, for the most part. But Monica Lewinsky is stuck forging her career, one way or another, from that sordid past while Bill Clinton is simply characterized as “a hard dog to keep on the porch,” as Hillary once said. He’s arguably more loved now than ever as a politician and public speaker — just recall the rapturous reception to his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

We’ve come to see Lewinsky as not only very much not special — not chosen for any particular reason by our favored former President but merely one woman in what is most likely long line of affairs — but we look at her barely a human being. She is stuck forever in that Oval Office, wearing the same dress, a cartoon character. It’s this eternal characterization that she wants to put straight. Doing that on Twitter, however, might not prove so easy, as it’s probably the most dehumanizing platform of all the social media.

During her speech at ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’ event, Lewinsky admitted, “I regret it for many reasons, not least of which is that people got hurt, which is never okay.” It was a deliberate reminder of what was personal behind this very public political scandal that every home in America made its business.

Reading her Vanity Fair article, it’s clear that Lewinsky would vote for Hillary Clinton if she runs in the next election. Despite her disappointment that Hillary called her a “narcissistic looney,” rather than questioning her husband’s inability to control his own self-pleasing desires (although, I would say likening your husband to a dog isn’t all that flattering to him), Lewinsky is clearly a feminist and a Democrat and she would likely revel in a female president. However, she does not call herself a feminist, she writes, because of the way that feminists treated her back then — their “anti-woman” stance, as she sees it — painting her as the dumb plaything of a President who just needed an outlet to relax.

Where, we might ask, would feminists stand on the affair today? As Lewinsky notes, the Starr Report Narrative published by the Washington Post was forwarded to virtually every e-mail inbox in the country, making it the 90s equivalent of the viral content we’re so familiar with these days. But not everyone had access to e-mail back then, and the speed at which the Internet operated was notoriously slow. The nation isn’t limited to e-mail flying at the speed of 56 kbit/s any more, though; if the affair was made public today, it might have been ten times worse for her, what with multiple instantaneous ways for the nastiness to be delivered directly to her smart phone. However, there would also be a strong online feminist community ready to take up the cause, but which one? Monica’s or Hillary’s or Bill’s? Whom would the hashtags favor? Lewinsky has likely read about Twitter feminism and is maybe hoping that the wrongs committed by Erica Jong et al might be righted, retrospectively. But if Bill were President now, would her experiences with the feminist community be any different than they were back then? Should the feminist movement not make a point of convincing those lost to come back to the fold? I haven’t seen many feminist writers step forward with extended arms.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine an affair taking place in Obama’s White House. In fact, many women might say they were in part won over by the genuinely loving and respectful relationship he appears to have with his wife and daughters. Lewinsky writes that Beyoncé got her “verbing” wrong in “Partition” (where she cheekily confesses her husband “Monica Lewinsky’d” on her blouse), but we all know that, despite the rumors, Beyoncé will never be a verb for today’s President. If she was, though, she might be seen as more his match, rather than just convenient and willing like Lewinsky was portrayed. It’s extremely telling that we could, collectively, imagine Obama with Beyoncé (like JFK and Marilyn Monroe), rather than an intern, and it’s difficult to tell if that has more to do with the public’s fascination with Queen B or with King B. And while we’re on hypotheticals, I can’t help but wonder if Olivia Pope would like the way Lewinsky has handled her reputation. For those of you not familiar with Olivia Pope, she’s the fictional President’s mistress on Scandal (she’s also the head of PR and crisis management firm Olivia Pope & Associates, so she knows how to keep secrets), and is often reduced by the men in her life to a sexual conquest, despite her proven superior intelligence and capability.

Today, even more so than ever, the Democratic Party is the party for women. The Republican Party is so very aware of this that they make desperate attempts to appeal to female voters, like suggesting the birth control pill might be better off being offered over-the-counter. But these cheap scraps aren’t fooling anybody — feminists know that everything we say will be used against us. And Monica has remained a “conscientious Democrat” by keeping quiet in the hope that what she does or does not say will not be used against a Clinton campaign for Presidency.

Perhaps if Hillary was sitting in the Oval Office, Lewinsky would finally be allowed to move on. If Democrats have anything to say about it, the wronged wife will take the presidency and, while that won’t make everything post-patriarchical (no more than Obama’s presidency got rid of racism), it will certainly change the narrative. Bill Clinton would be the “First Husband” (will we be analyzing his outfits? Debating at length whether sleeveless is appropriate?), and I think that’s exactly what he deserves. It would be a fitting, and satisfying, conclusion to this tale from which one might hope Lewinsky could take some pleasure. The last laugh is always the longest.

Image Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

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