Monica Lewinsky Sets the Record Straight

The Embattled Former White House Intern Speaks Out

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Monica Lewinsky. Getty Images

Monica Lewinsky first burst onto the national scene after her affair with then president Bill Clinton was exposed. Since then, Lewinsky has been at the center of an impeachment trial, the butt of jokes, and the target of intense criticism. She has also largely stayed out of the spotlight until 2014, w she broke her decade-long silence with a Vanity Fair article.

Who is Monica Lewinsky?

Monica Samille Lewinsky was born in San Francisco, California in 1973.

She was raised in the affluent neighborhoods of Brentwood and Beverly Hills, in Southern California where her father, Bernard Lewinsky, is an oncologist, and her mother, Marcia Kaye Vilensky, is a writer. The Lewinskys divorced when Monica was a teen. After attending Bel Air Prep she attended Santa Monica College and then graduated with a degree in psychology from Lewis and Clark College in 1995. She received her master’s degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics in 2006. A more detailed profile of Monica Lewinsky can be found on Biography.com.

Lewinsky is of course best known for her affair with then President of the United States Bill Clinton that took place between 1995 and 1997, and which was outlined in sordid detail in the Starr report. Immediately after the scandal Lewinsky remained in and out of the spotlight. In 1999, Barbara Walters interviewed Monica Lewinsky on ABC’s 20/20 to over 70 million viewers and Lewinsky was the subject of an authorized biography, “Monica’s Story.” That same year, Lewinsky launched a (now defunct) line of handbags.

The next year she had a short-lived stint as a Jenny Craig spokesperson and as a reality TV host in 2003.  Lewinsky went on to complete graduate studies in 2006 and the largely disappeared from the public eye.

Monica Lewinsky Today

Lewinsky is no longer the intern with the beret and the infamous blue dress.

She is a woman who has had to deal with the fallout and the consequences of her dalliance with one of the most powerful men in the world for her entire professional career.

In a 2014 Vanity Fair article she wrote, “Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position. . . . The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor’s minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power.”

Lewinsky admits that employment has sometimes been an issue because of her history and that over the years she has not been able to be a completely private citizen, noting, “she is still recognized every day, and her name shows up daily in press clips and pop-culture references.” She even checks Beyoncé’s grammar in the singer’s recent raunchy hit, “Partition,” quipping, “‘Thanks, Beyoncé, but if we’re verbing, I think you meant ‘Bill Clinton’d all on my gown,’ not ‘Monica Lewinsky’d.’”

Lewinsky has also called out feminists for what she sees as a betrayal.

Some feminists like Jessica Bennett agree, noting that “Long before slut-shaming was a term, Monica Lewinsky was its original target.”

In other words, because of the propensity to blame women in acts of “deviant” sexuality, Lewinsky stood little chance of being understand with complexity or nuance in the popular imagination or even among some mainstream feminists, such as Susan Faludi and Erica Jong.

Today Lewinsky claims that she is reemerging from the shadows to take control of her own narrative. She wrote in Vanity Fair, “I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)”

It was perhaps no coincidence that Lewinsky was back in the news just as rumors of Hillary Clinton’s run for President began.

Perhaps this was indeed Lewinsky’s attempt to recalibrate the conversations that center on her. In Rebecca Traister’s piece in the New Republic she wrote, “in offering a refresher on her own story—one surely intended to sell magazines to Hillary-haters everywhere—Lewinsky is exposing many of the dynamics that have stood so uncomfortably between women and power for so very long.”

Traister’s comments underscores the ways in which Lewinsky’s most recent attempt at reinvention is catalyzing a much needed conversation about women, sex, and power in the face of what could possibly be the first woman president of the United States.

Ultimately, Monica Lewinsky’s unapologetic call to take control of her legacy should benefit not just herself, but all women.