Monica Lewinsky: A Re-examination


Meg Wilson

Self-described as patient zero for cyberbullying, Monica Lewinsky became a controversial household name in the 1990s after having an affair with the then-president Bill Clinton, which came to light in 1998. While he faced impeachment, much of the media backlash fell on the twenty-four-year-old intern, as she was labeled a ‘slut’ and massively shamed by society. The hypocrisy of the situation was evident; aside from the impeachment, Clinton escaped the scandal mostly unscathed. America failed Monica by making her the butt of jokes but not seeing the obvious abuse of power that took place in the scandal. Now, twenty years later, one may think it is easy to see now how Monica was mistreated, but many who lived during the time will say it wasn’t given a second thought. Even after her continued activism and brave work against bullying, Monica is still wrongly considered a controversial figure. 


The Aftermath 

After the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Monica attempted to take back her name in the late 1990s by hosting TV shows, working for advertisements, and on her own business ventures. Unfortunately, the backlash continued and she lost most of these deals, as many Americans were angry that she was trying to profit off her newfound notoriety while Clinton was still in office. After many of these failed attempts, while still being demonized and shamed in the media, Lewinsky decided to leave the eye of the public in 2004 and further her education in London. In 2006 she graduated with a Master’s of Science degree from the London School of Economics with her thesis being titled “In Search of the Impartial Juror: An Exploration of the Third-Person Effect and Pre-Trial Publicity”. Even out of the spotlight and with a higher level of education, Lewinksy struggled to find work due to her spoiled public image. 


Giving Purpose to Her Past

However, Monica persisted, and in 2014 she took a stand against cyberbullying, knowing the feeling of online harassment all too well. In a 2014 interview with Vanity Fair, Lewinsky bravely said, “It’s time to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.” Though it was a struggle to be so vulnerable with the same public that shamed her just years before, Monica continued the fight, saying in a Forbes 30 Under 30 summit that, having survived such harsh treatment, all she wanted to do was ” help other victims of the shame game survive, too.” In 2015, she gave a Ted Talk in which she called for a more “compassionate internet,” and later that year, she became a spokesperson for an anti-bullying organization known as Bystander Revolution. 

  While many are now more sympathetic towards Monica, the bullying and harassment she endured left a significant mark on her. Over the past few years of her being in the public eye again, she has opened up to her struggles with PTSD and mental health issues since the scandal. Being so publicly demonized and shamed would do this to anyone, but her fight against bullying as well as her bravery in telling her side of the story has opened doors for women being more honest in their cases of abuse and shame, especially in the reemergence of the Me Too Movement in 2017 following Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse being brought to light.