- RB -
“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther” - Rupi Kaur
Everyone by now is familiar with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that began in 1995. After I watched a recent documentary however, we see Monica Lewinsky— for the first time since the scandal— finally share her side of the story.
The affair started when Monica Lewinsky interned at the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Lewinsky was only 22 years old when the scandal began, and was naturally starstruck to be in the presence of someone in such a high position. It literally doesn’t get any higher than the president of the United States of America.
Before the intimate relationship began, Lewinsky told Clinton in private that she had a crush on him. Choosing not to recognize the 27 year age gap between the two, and aware of her immaturity (at such an age, isn’t everyone a little bit immature?), Bill Clinton decided right then and there that he would engage in a sexual relationship with a young woman who really didn’t know any better at the time.
BUT, I can't help but wonder...
When someone in such a high position has all the power in the world, shouldn’t it be their responsibility to maintain an ethical and respectful work environment, regardless of what his employees may do or say?
It is extremely crucial for women and men to understand that Bill Clinton took advantage of a young woman who was in awe about working for such a big figure. The affair was a clear abuse of power on Clinton’s end. Regardless of whether she shared her feelings towards him, it is his sole responsibility, as the President of the United States of America, to step back and reiterate that he was a married man, had a young daughter, and needed to maintain his reputation as the president of the United States.
Had Clinton really cared about Lewinsky as his employee, he would have protected her future by not engaging in sexual relations. Rather, he ignored all facts only so he could experience some short-lived pleasure.
We are used to seeing men use their position in power to take advantage of women, particularly young women. The consequences that two individuals have to deal with after a sex scandal are far bigger for women than they are for men. We have internalized the idea of male sexual drives to such an extent, that we no longer care when men engage in sexual relations with multiple women. Yet, when women engage in the exact same activity, their reputation and character will forever be questioned.
And because of society's internalized bias, when the political sex scandal finally came to light in 1998, America turned their back on Monica Lewinsky.
It is also important to mention that Lewinsky never had the intention of admitting the sexual affair, perhaps because of her personal feelings for Clinton. She even signed a false affidavit to protect Bill Clinton. He however, denied any allegations of the affair, and even stated that he had never spoken to her, even though evidence clearly proved otherwise.
Many were quick to instantly judge Lewinsky for her actions. But why are we blaming an intern (who happens to be very young and single) when we could just as well be blaming the man (who happens to be much older AND married)?
Lewinsky was harassed, bullied, ridiculed and even threatened. But what’s even worse? She was (and till this day continues to be) slut shamed for something she did when she was only 22 years old. Something that most people do when they’re 22 years old, maybe just not with a president of a powerful nation.
This sexual affair could have been avoided had Clinton put his selfishness aside. Instead, he ruined the life of a young woman who was just starting out in her career, and who remained loyal to him even throughout the ordeal. After the scandal was put to rest, Lewinsky could not find any employer who would hire her. Her reputation was and is tainted forever. Monica Lewinsky has been a household name since the scandal, and she will most probably never step out of the shadows of what was the most traumatic experience of her life. Lewinsky’s life is forever changed, while Bill Clinton was able to finish his presidential tenure and return back to his normal lifestyle with his wife and daughter.
Lewinsky recently made a statement that perfectly describes the faults of our society when it comes to scandals like this:
“Now I admit I made mistakes…but the attention and judgment that I received — not the story, but that I personally received — was unprecedented ... I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman’. I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.”
I must admit, growing up and hearing about the scandal at such a young age, I regretfully found myself judging Lewinsky. My perception of this scandal was a visible outcome of the society I was living in. Society labeled her as a ‘slut’, therefore, I should label her as a ‘slut’ as well. But that is not and should not be the case.
We cannot continue to foster a culture that is based on inequality and feeds off the degradation of women based on their sexual relationships. America owes Monica Lewinsky an apology because Bill Clinton had a clear responsibility to avoid the scandal from happening in the first place. In my eyes, he fell through and not only failed America as a nation, but he more specifically failed all the women of America.