Monica Lewinsky has written a powerful op-ed for Vanity Fair, detailing why she agreed to participate in a new documentary called The Clinton Affair. In her piece, she slams Bill Clinton and the media who let him get away with whatever he wanted.
The debate over who gets to live in Victimville fascinates me, as a public person who has watched strangers discuss my own “victim” status at length on social media. The person at the epicenter of the experience doesn’t necessarily get to decide. No—society, like a Greek chorus, also has a say in this classification. (Whether we should or shouldn’t is a debate for another time.) And society will no doubt weigh in again on my classification—Victim or Vixen?—when people see a new docuseries I chose to participate in.
She says she’d like to erase the D.C. memories from her mind, but can’t so she has to move on for both mental and professional reasons.
The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire. (You can imagine how those constructs impacted my personal and professional life.) Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole.
Watching the events unfold on television, she blamed herself and thought she’d be responsible if Clinton was forced to resign. As she’s gotten older, she feels very different. She sees it for what it was – a powerful man taking advantage of a young, vulnerable woman.
Forty-five-year-old me sees that footage very differently. I see a sports coach signposting the playbook for the big game. Instead of backing down amid the swirling scandal and telling the truth, Bill instead threw down the gauntlet that day in the Oval Office: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began. As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.
If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer. But in June of this year, during an interview on NBC, Craig Melvinasked Bill Clinton those questions. Was I owed a direct apology from him? Bill’s indignant answer: “No.”
He contended that he had apologized publicly in 1998. I did as well. My first public words after the scandal—uttered in an interview with Barbara Walters on March 3, 1999—were an apology directly to Chelsea and Mrs. Clinton. And if I were to see Hillary Clinton in person today, I know that I would summon up whatever force I needed to again acknowledge to her—sincerely—how very sorry I am. I know I would do this, because I have done it in other difficult situations related to 1998.
She doesn’t feel that Clinton owes her an apology but she thinks he should want to apologize and thinks he’d be a better man for it.
I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him. He would be a better man for it . . . and we, in turn, a better society.
In 2004, while promoting his autobiography, My Life, Bill Clinton gave an extensive interview to Dan Rather. Rather asked Clinton why he had conducted an inappropriate relationship with me. (Discussions of this topic seldom acknowledge that I was not the first person with whom he stepped outside his marriage.)
His reason: “Because I could.”
Why did I choose to participate in this docuseries? One main reason: because I could. Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words.
A&E will air The Clinton Affair on Sunday, Nov. 18th and Lewinsky is just one of fifty people interviewed about the scandal.