The Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton affair could’ve been a cheesy, low-budget Lifetime movie. But it was true. A young, beautiful intern falls in love with the President of the United States. Through a series of unfortunate events, a soiled blue dress confirms the relationship and he’s impeached. In this movie, we would’ve rooted for Monica. To Monica’s demise, that is not the way the story unfolded.
Lewinsky became the poster child for slut-shaming and has worn an invisible Scarlet Letter on her chest since 1998, when the affair became public during the highly publicized trail. Clinton lost his presidency but finessed back into the good graces of the American people. Who got the short end of the stick?
Beyoncé referenced the affair in her song “Partition.” Can you imagine if a decision we made in our early 20s lingered 20 years later? Lewinsky’s story has always been about power, whether we acknowledged that in 1998 or not. Lewinsky was ostracized — the ruthless media angles and the infamous soiled blue dress were partly to blame — but most importantly it was the perception of women in the ‘90s.
In light of the #MeToo era, and the 20th anniversary of one of the biggest political scandals in American history, Lewinsky is ready to speak on the incident in a new six-part docu-series, “The Clinton Affair.” Power can be very attractive, particularly when you may have nothing to lose and all to gain.
Lewinsky wasn’t even in her mid-20s by the time she endured a publicly humiliating affair and an FBI investigation, both of which threatened her liberty and cemented her into American history as a promiscuous intern.
Lewinsky was a doe-eyed psychology graduate with a new summer internship at the White House. She became infatuated with Clinton, and the prospective employment opportunities and perks only added allure to the circumstances. She pursued him heavily. Finally, at one point she purposely neglected to pull up her slacks, exposing her thong, and it worked.
“In one way, the moment we were actually in the back office for the first time, the truth is that I think it meant more to me that someone who other people desired, desired me. However wrong it was, however misguided for who I was in that very moment at 22 years old, that was how it felt,” Lewinsky reminisces in the documentary.
Although their relationship was sexual, there was a level of intimacy, even friendship. A giggly Lewinsky retells how, “I often had sort of silly ideas for my interpretation of things that were going on in the world, which at 22 I thought were so important to share and he humored me. It just felt like connecting.”
Clinton was at the highest rank of power within their work environment, not to mention he was twice her age and married.
What the 1998 media circuit did not include in their coverage of this story was the abuse of power at play. Lewinsky was labeled a slut, homewrecker, promiscuous and every other slut-shaming term imaginable. During the rise and fall of their relationship, Lewinsky endured an FBI interrogation, threats that her family would be prosecuted, backstabbing by close friends, and most importantly, the lack of support from the one person she lied under oath for. Yes, the affair was “consensual,” but how consensual can it truly be if your job security, family safety, income and public perception are all at risk?
Catherine Davis, Lewinsky’s friend, remembers, “When Monica told me about their physical relationship, I was like, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s one thing for the president to think you’re pretty and to walk by your desk. It’s another thing for it to transform like this.”
It was a clandestine relationship in the sense that Clinton was always in control, and for two years a young, fresh-faced intern waited around for him, as she had no way to contact him.
Lewinsky did not live the life of a college graduate. The power dynamic may have been to blame, as she regrettably retells, “I should have been out on the weekends meeting people my own age, enjoying myself. And instead, I very often stayed in my office on Saturdays and Sundays hoping he would call.”
Some may argue that it is all very coincidental that all of a sudden this story has shifted from a glamorized political sex scandal to a #MeToo story. Times have changed; we cannot ignore our past misconceptions to fit a narrative that never existed. The president of the United States engaged in a sexual relationship with a young intern while promising promotions, which is disgusting.
Clinton has a documented history of sexual assault, particularly with women in low-level positions. The affidavit Lewinsky signed during Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case served as the catalyst to all that unfolded. Lewinsky wasn’t the perfect heroine in the story either. She engaged with media heavily doing Marilyn Monroe-inspired photoshoots and capitalizing on the scandal. That does not make her story any less credible or true.
Earlier this year, Lewinsky was uninvited to an event because Clinton RSVP’d. There is no room to villainize somebody who has been taken advantage of. Lewinsky was in love at the very least. You can’t say the same for Clinton and that, to me, makes him a lot more evil.
She was a 22-year-old unpaid intern and he was the most powerful man in the United States. It’s hypocritical for us to — 20 years later — still harshly hold a young woman more accountable than the president. Monica, we stand by you, the way we should’ve stood by you all along.