Monica Lewinsky is unpacking her past on her own terms, this time in a piece for Vanity Fair that doubles as a promotion for an upcoming A&E docuseries called The Clinton Affair.
She opens the piece as she cleans out a closet full of artifacts from the 1998 investigation into her affair with then-President Clinton, where she stumbles across a Los Angeles Times headline: “The Full Monica: Victim or Vixen?” In the essay, Lewinsky considers this victim and vixen dichotomy, likening it to the Madonna and the whore, and the debate over where she fell:
The debate over who gets to live in Victimville fascinates me, as a public person who has watched strangers discuss my own “victim” status at length on social media. The person at the epicenter of the experience doesn’t necessarily get to decide. No—society, like a Greek chorus, also has a say in this classification. (Whether we should or shouldn’t is a debate for another time.) And society will no doubt weigh in again on my classification—Victim or Vixen?—when people see a new docuseries I chose to participate in. (It’s titled The Clinton Affair. Bye-bye, Lewinsky scandal . . . I think 20 years is enough time to carry that mantle.)
Lewinksy goes on to reveal that some aspects of her participation in The Clinton Affair made her deeply depressed. She spent hours in storage units, sorting through boxes of depositions and other legal documents. Her therapist suggested that she wasn’t so much depressed as she was grieving:
The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire. (You can imagine how those constructs impacted my personal and professional life.) Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole.
Then Lewinsky shifts to an examination of power and what it can look like—and what it can command from others without even saying a word (bolding mine):
Even as I began my own self-reckoning, in 2018, another shift occurred. After occupying distant orbits for two decades, we finally reached the perigee. For the first time in more than 15 years, Bill Clinton was being asked directly about what transpired. If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer. But in June of this year, during an interview on NBC, Craig Melvin asked Bill Clinton those questions. Was I owed a direct apology from him? Bill’s indignant answer: “No.”
This certainly presents some additional perspective after Lewinsky made headlines in September for walking out of an interview when asked about the Clinton affair for what was likely the billionth time. How long has this been a topic to tiptoe around in interviews with Clinton—whose reputation largely bounced back in the years after his presidency—while it was fair game for Lewinsky, who was still the butt of jokes for nearly 20 years?
Lewinksy admits that her decision to participate in a documentary may seem puzzling to some, especially after her words, image, and story have been manipulated for two decades straight. But the number of women participating in the project—and the observation pointed out by its director, Blair Foster, that most of the books about the Clinton impeachment were written by men—allowed Lewinksy space to have more trust in the process.
Why did I choose to participate in this docuseries? One main reason: because I could. Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words. Muriel Rukeyser famously wrote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
I may not like everything that has been put in the series or left out, but I like that the perspective is being shaped by women. Yes, the process of filming has been exceedingly painful. But I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life—a time in our history—I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.
You can read the rest here.