‘He Monica Lewinsky’d all on her gown’ – 20 years of slut-shaming

“She had been labeled a bimbo, a stalker and a seductress. She was very much portrayed as the villain of the story”. Almost 20 years on, Des Ibekwe reflects on the slut-shaming of Monica Lewinsky.

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A scandal that triggered the first impeachment process in years, almost ruined an administration and definitely ruined Lewinsky herself. When reflecting on the scandal, a modern woman would not have to look far to see the ways in which the issue is analogous to issues that women still face in this day and age. The story heavily features slut-shaming and cyberbullying, both of which  afflict millennial women in a very real, very visceral way, but also the story highlights the fundamental unfairness of the female condition – blame and responsibility falls upon us, our faculty of desire isn’t such that we cannot be blamed but indeed any sexual overactivity is a defect of character and this is evidenced by the fact that Lewinsky lost everything while Bill lost nothing at all.

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Monica Lewinsky said in her TED talk that “at the age of 22 I fell in love with my boss and at the age of 24 I learned the devastating consequences”. Her relationship with the then president took place over a year whilst she was an intern at the White House, he had given her gifts and they were intimate over 9 times. Despite their intimacy, Clinton in his famous televised denial called Lewinsky “that woman” and it was alleged that he had forced her to commit perjury and lie to a grand jury. Thus was the beginning of the slut shaming. In her iconic 1999 interview with Barbara Walters she said  “I think I am very loving, loyal, I think I’m intelligent, I feel as if I’ve been misportrayed in the last year and unfairly so”, she had been labeled a bimbo, a stalker and a seductress. She was very much portrayed as the villain of the story, made out to be some sort of femme fatale when it was quite the opposite. Her vulnerability was very evident. In the Walter’s interview she made clear that she had struggled with her weight her whole life, she was in love with Bill, an insecure girl right out of college being pursued by the most powerful man in the world. The whole situation is evidence of the inability of our patriarchal society to hold men accountable, the myth of their insatiable sex drive has been an excuse for many a male transgression. Rape is a shining example, those with one tool missing of a full set will argue that if a woman didn’t want to be raped why would she dress so provocatively? For some reason a man’s sexual desire and his inability to control it is a given and it thus falls to women to try and keep those desires in check. Lewinsky-gate is evidence of a sad truth that where a woman fails to keep a man in check, where for some reason when she wants ‘it’ just as much as he does there is an issue, she’s defective and the man merely fell victim to his urges that he obviously cannot control.  

The lack of accountability on the part of Clinton, the President as opposed to a 24 year old intern is evidenced in the fall out in the years subsequent. Clinton is still remembered fondly as president to many, nicknames “the first black president” due to his affinity with the black community and is often portrayed as the more laid back, harmless, sweet counterpart to his wife. Clinton still has his marriage and family intact. The Clinton foundation, set up in 1997, raised $2 billion just last year. Shockingly and most tellingly after the impeachment, President Clinton’s approval ratings were the highest they had ever been. Now Lewinsky’s post-scandal life was not so simple. When describing her life post-scandal details Lewinsky tells how she was close to suicide, tearfully recalling her mother having to stay by her bedside at night and making her shower with the door open out of fear. Monica has been characterized; she signed away her soul in many ways with the scandal, she has been mentioned in over 40 rap songs, labelling her as a ‘blow job queen’. She’s now and has been for the last 20 years public fodder. Lewinsky has been plagued with the scandal ever since.

Lewinsky typifies the plight of women who make mistakes, but are not afforded the latitude that men are. A man is a man, but a woman must either be stupid or villainous, and therefore slut shaming and cyberbullying must be a necessary result of her actions. Woman or a man, we feel the same things and as such the onus should also be equal.

Collage by Fran Collins

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