Last Sunday, Queen Hillary Rodham Clinton announced what we all have been waiting for: she is officially running for president in 2016. After writing a post about Clinton’s political prowess and what I thought we could expect from her as the election draws closer, I started to think about Clinton’s evolution from first lady to senator to secretary of state. I couldn’t help but recall the infamous 1998 scandal that tarnished the image of Bill Clinton’s eight-year presidency: the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
If you need a quick recap, Lewinsky was a 21-year-old intern at the White House in 1995 when she began an affair with President Clinton. When Bill was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, Hillary stood by her husband’s side throughout the entire ordeal and Lewinsky faded into irrelevance, attempting to tell her side of the story once in a documentary series for HBO in 2002.
And then, Lewinski came back. In June 2014, she wrote an article for Vanity Fair focusing on how the scandal affected her life. She started it by recounting an experience while filming the HBO documentary, in which she sat down and answered questions from an audience at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. Someone stood up and asked her, “How does it feel to be America’s premier blow job queen?”
In the rest of the article, she writes about the difficulties of getting and maintaining a job, dating and even her suicidal thoughts in the aftermath of the scandal.
Then, on March 20, Lewinski came back again, but this time, in another medium. She gave a 20-minute TED conference talk entitled, “The Price of Shame,” in which she spoke about not only the obstacles she faced as someone whose story exploded on the Internet, but also about the general consequences of cyberbullying.
I never really gave much thought to Monica Lewinsky. I was only 2 years old in 1998 when the scandal really blew up, and for me she’s only ever been the punch line of a few jokes on “Saturday Night Live.” But now, I feel different.
Looking back, Lewinsky’s life during the late ‘90s was made atrociously difficult by the amount of slut-shaming, name calling and, yes, bullying she endured. If I were Monica Lewinsky, I don’t think I would ever have the strength or desire to put my story out for the media to consume again, never mind use it to promote awareness for something as serious as Internet harassment.
Lewinsky has used a terrible experience to become a leader of the effort to end cyberbullying. Did she make a mistake at one point in her life? Yes, but she has also used that mistake to do good and inspire others, and she should be celebrated for that.