Almost two decades on, it’s OK for Bill Clinton but there’s no peace for Monica Lewinsky

Independent on Sunday, 11 May 2014

Her account of her affair with the President will resonate with survivors of abusive relationships, who will recognise the emotional devastation she experienced

He is a revered elder statesman. She could become her party’s candidate at the presidential election in 2016. It would be a stunning final act for Bill and Hillary Clinton, who spent much of the 1990s fighting off allegations about his predatory sexual habits. But no such stellar outcome is on the cards for Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern whose affair with Bill Clinton almost cost him the presidency.

All these years later, she is still known for this one thing. Now she has written an article for Vanity Fair, insisting that her affair with Clinton was consensual and any abuse came “in the aftermath”. Even so, her account will resonate with survivors of abusive relationships, who will recognise the emotional devastation she experienced.

Few young women have had their intimate lives subjected to such pitiless scrutiny. Lewinsky writes frankly about her mother’s fear that her daughter would be “humiliated to death”; she hopes her openness will help other victims of intrusion “in their darkest moments of humiliation”. She is also seeking some kind of personal resolution, a project not helped by Vanity Fair’s decision to release images from a typical celebrity photo-shoot before the magazine goes on sale. The photos are heavy on symbolism – Lewinsky in a virginal white dress, or looking like a glamorous widow in a little black veil – and they undermine any sense that she is at peace with herself.

This is a shame because Lewinsky, at 40, is a smart woman with a master’s degree from the LSE. She does not lack insight into the cataclysmic events of the late 1990s, observing that she was too young to have established an identity to which she could return when the scandal waned. Instead, she became the butt of endless jokes about oral sex and masturbation. What on earth was Beyoncé thinking when she used Lewinsky’s name as a synonym for ejaculation in a recent song? Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, who has suffered her own share of misogynist abuse, has yet to acknowledge how badly she and her husband treated Lewinsky.

Among Bill Clinton’s cheerleaders at the time were the playwright Arthur Miller and the novelist Gabriel Gárcia Marquez, who defended his right to lie, “with his head held high, as any self-respecting adulterer would”.

Almost two decades later, are we still in thrall to the notion that men are enhanced by sexual acts which humiliate their partners?

Lewinsky has spent most of her adult life in a topsy-turvy world where Bill Clinton is regarded either as a red-blooded male or as her victim. Naturally she wants to be known for more than her link with the Clintons, but the timing of her article reinforces it. Like many abuse victims, she still struggles with the past, no matter how much she longs for “a different ending”.

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