We all know the name.
It became a household name as soon as Ken Starr, investigator for an independent counsel, conducted the exploration that led to the exposure of the affair between President Bill Clinton and young intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998, resulting in the impeachment of the president for lying under oath about the relationship.
Lewinsky had become an icon of both pop culture and political controversy. One may joke about it, one may condemn it, but how often does one contemplate the toxicity of the relationship?
In a recent essay for Vanity Fair, Monica Lewinsky acknowledges the consent complications, problematic aspects and power dynamics in her affair with Clinton, saying that the #MeToo movement had helped her reflect on her own situation.
It all began when an unnamed leader of the #MeToo movement reached out to her in a private exchange, saying the words, “I’m sorry you were so alone.”
The investigation had, in fact, took a toll on Lewinsky, as one could imagine it would. In the essay, she disclosed that she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“By and large I had been alone. So. Very. Alone. Publicly Alone—abandoned most of all by the key figure in the crisis, who actually knew me well and intimately,” wrote Lewinsky. “That I had made mistakes, on that we can all agree. But swimming in that sea of Aloneness was terrifying.”
In regards to the relationship itself, Lewinsky contemplates the legitimacy of the consent. She explained that while she previously described the interaction as consensual, she never addressed the dynamics of it: she was a White House intern in her early 20s and Clinton was a 50-year-old man in the most powerful position of the nation.
“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,” she said.
Clinton had also been previously accused of sexual misconduct before Lewinsky. Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, filed a civil lawsuit against him claiming that he had sexually harassed her. Juanita Broaddrick accused Clinton of raping her in 1978 while he served as Arkansas Attorney General. Kathleen Willey claimed that Clinton assaulted her sexually during a private meeting at the Oval Office. Leslie Millwee, a former television reporter, said that when he sexually assaulted her and she pleaded for him to stop, he merely laughed. His pattern of sexual misconduct only deepens the situation between him and Lewinsky.
Throughout the essay, Lewinsky appears to bounce between condemning Clinton for taking advantage of her and condemning herself for allowing it to happen. And perhaps many will view it as Lewinsky bandwagoning the movement to excuse her actions.
But perhaps many will realize the very possible reality of the situation. Clinton utilized his power to impress upon a young intern, later transforming her into a scapegoat to protect his position. The conflict goes against the message of Time’s Up, where sexual harassment in the workplace is inexcusable. It coincides with the stories of Harvey Weinstein manipulating interns with his power into sexual instances. It had a clear impact on Lewinsky, as it does with many victims, as she continues to seek help for its lasting effects.
So what sets her aside from other acknowledged victims of sexual assault?
“I am in awe of the sheer courage of the women who have stood up and begun to confront entrenched beliefs and institutions. But as for me, my history, and how I fit in personally? I’m sorry to say I don’t have a definitive answer yet on the meaning of all of the events that led to the 1998 investigation; I am unpacking and reprocessing what happened to me. Over and over and over again.”
“This is as far as I’ve gotten in my re-evaluation; I want to be thoughtful. But I know one thing for certain: part of what has allowed me to shift is knowing I’m not alone anymore. And for that I am grateful,” she wrote.