Monica Lewinsky wrote a #MeToo-themed essay for Vanity Fair for the 20th anniversary of Kenneth Starr’s 1998 investigation of Bill Clinton. The sight of #MeToo might have made you just brace yourself for the thought of Bill Clinton asking for a massage while wearing only the Presidential bathrobe, but it’s not like that. Monica’s essay is all about the trauma and PTSD she suffered after being dragged through the media.
Monica starts out by saying she saw Kenneth Starr in a restaurant in NYC last December, which was the first time she had ever met him. He approached her and introduced himself (Monica also notes he kept touching her arm and elbow in a “creepy” way). Monica had a mini #MeToo moment in the restaurant by telling him: “Though I wish I had made different choices back then, I wish that you and your office had made different choices, too.” She then writes that several years ago, she was diagnosed with PTSD caused by the negative media attention after she was publicly outed for her affair with Bill Clinton, and gaslighting she suffered during the investigation (she says she has lived in the House of Gaslight, which sounds like a shady drag family). She also refers to herself, as well as others, as “collateral damage” from the 13-month investigation and subsequent scandal.
Monica still stresses that her relationship with Bill Clinton was consensual, but like many #MeToo stories, she recognizes the imbalanced power dynamic at play (aka naive 22-year-old intern and almost-50 charismatic sax-tooting President of America).
“The dictionary definition of ‘consent’? ‘To give permission for something to happen.’ And yet what did the ‘something’ mean in this instance, given the power dynamics, his position, and my age? Was the ‘something’ just about crossing a line of sexual (and later emotional) intimacy? (An intimacy I wanted—with a 22-year-old’s limited understanding of the consequences.) He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college. (Note to the trolls, both Democratic and Republican: none of the above excuses me for my responsibility for what happened. I meet Regret every day.)”
She also talks about being shamed alone and that no one really came to her defense, until recently when one of the “brave women leading the #MeToo movement” reached out to her and apologized for how “alone” she was in 1998. She notes that social media has made it so much easier for women to come together with their stories:
“Isolation is such a powerful tool to the subjugator. And yet I don’t believe I would have felt so isolated had it all happened today. One of the most inspiring aspects of this newly energized movement is the sheer number of women who have spoken up in support of one another. And the volume in numbers has translated into volume of public voice. Historically, he who shapes the story (and it is so often a he) creates ‘the truth.’ But this collective rise in decibel level has provided a resonance for women’s narratives.
If the Internet was a bête noire to me in 1998, its stepchild – social media – has been a savior for millions of women today (notwithstanding all the cyberbullying, online harassment, doxing, and slut-shaming). Virtually anyone can share her or his #MeToo story and be instantly welcomed into a tribe.”
If Monica’s situation with Bill happened now in the age of social media, it would be totally different. Of course she’d have way more support and wouldn’t be left to deal with this on her own. But it would be much messier. First off, her DMs would be full of messages from Linda Tripp. And then there’s the chance she might see something like this come up on her timeline: