I have chosen to highlight Monica Lewinsky as a person I admire because of her heartfelt apology for a private transgression that became very public, and for her raw candor in describing the painful effects of her very public flogging.
If you have just been awakened from a 20-year coma, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of Ms. Lewinsky:
She was a 22-year old White House intern who had an affair with a married man 27 years her senior, who was also her boss, and the most powerful man in the world. The result: he escaped impeachment and is worth $80 million, and she was publicly scorned and still struggles to find her voice.
Four years ago Ms. Lewinsky wrote the following in an article for Vanity Fair,
“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.”
This is a quote from a 40-year old Monica Lewinsky, not a 22-year old White House intern.
I find it heartbreaking that after 16 years and no doubt thousands of hours of therapy, Monica still struggled to understand the level of responsibility. I believe it is extremely complicated when there is a significant disparity in age, experience, and power.
What does “consensual” mean? How many 22-year old girls have the temerity to refuse the most powerful man in the world? By contrast, if Bill Clinton had engaged in a consensual relationship with Margaret Thatcher in 1992, I believe we would concur that both parties are equally responsible.
I admire Monica Lewinsky because she apologized for her responsibility in hurting the Clintons. She didn’t offer excuses, but perhaps explanations. I would characterize her actions in 1992 as stupid, naïve, and impulsive. Nevertheless, for every person who has sanctimoniously slandered Ms. Lewinsky, please take the time to consider how you would feel if your 24-year old daughter or sister were publicly vilified.
When did any of us become so supreme that we can justify assailing the character of a 24- year old intern for two decades from the sanctity of our anonymous Twitter and Facebook accounts? It’s interesting how quickly our thumbs can move in denigrating another.
We are so much better than this. Let’s stop all forms of harassment, bullying, hate speech against anyone any time. We have a responsibility to protect and respect.