Monica Lewinsky: “The Price of Shame”

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You have no idea how I could not wait to turn 30. You had absolutely no idea what was going on through my head when I was approaching 30.

Most people dread turning 30. Turning 30 represents so much in our culture…in our society. Turning 30 means you are 20 years closer to 50. Turning 30 means that you are no longer in your invincible 20s. Turning 30 means a post quarter life crisis because you have to evaluate where you are at…if you are at where you should be or wanted to be instead of wishing where you want to be.

I did not dread turning 30 at all. I couldn’t wait. For me, I wanted my 20s to be long gone. I did not want to feel the guilt, the shame, and the hurt that I had gone through in my 20.

I cringed a lot in my late 20s thinking about my early 20s. I felt like I did not live up to my idealizations in where I wanted to be during that time in my life. I felt like a complete failure. When the 2008 recession/economic collapse happened, it made me kick myself especially during my late twenties. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I have the foresight to plan better? Now, I am behind while my other peers who decided to go ahead, finish up their graduate degrees, and got jobs right after they finished their degrees, they have jobs and time vested.

All that time I planned in not getting behind…it ended up biting my ass because I did get behind. I went into a spiral depression. I felt so lost. At the time, I was devastated.

However, I made a promise to myself when I turn 30. I was going to get my shit together. All the living inside my head…well, I told inner child Sophia that I was going to take care of us, and we will still keep our eye on the prize despite feeling lost and a bit insecure.

I was able to make good on my promise to little Sophia. Now, we are here. As I said in another piece of writing, I also commented how the show GIRLS really helped me forgive the decisions I made in my 20s as well. I realize that I was being way too hard on myself in what I did.

When I watched the Ted Talk that Monica Lewinsky gave this past Saturday, I realized that forgiving yourself is very vital to your growth.

For those who don’t remember, Monica Lewinsky is a name that still thrives in popular culture. Pretty much, for those who know about Monica Lewinsky, most remember her as the slut that had a sexual affair with Bill Clinton.

But that’s not how I see it…not after the Ted Talk and especially the experience I’ve gained now.

Behind how the media have caricaturize Monica Lewinsky, one would just dismiss her as being a home wrecker. As being an opportunist. As being someone who got all she deserved for having an affair with the president.

Let’s look at this objectively.

Monica Lewinsky was 22 years old when she began her sexual affair with Bill Clinton.

People want to say that 22 year old show know better. 10 years ago, as a hard-nosed 23 year old about ethics, I would have said she should have known better for having an affair with a married man. She got herself into this, and it is her fault. She should have preserved her reputation and resist Clinton’s charms if he came on to her.

I don’t condone Lewinsky’s behavior, but I certainly have a degree of empathy for her…and compassion. No, compassion, empathy, and sympathy doesn’t dismiss someone’s behavior especially if it is harmful behavior that’s continuing. However, the past reveals a lot when you reflect on it. When you do, you realize there are evident reasons why you or other people make the decisions that they do…or you speculate why the person decided to make that decision that changed his or her life…and continues to affect his/her life for the rest of his/her life. After listening to Lewinsky’s Ted Talk, I have realized that…compassion, empathy, and sympathy are required in helping others aid from their mistakes.

Even Lewinsky says in her talk, after being hit on by a 27 year old, she would not want to be 22 years old again: “But the night of my speech, a surprising thing happened. At the age of 41, I was hit on by a 27-year-old guy. I know, right? He was charming and I was flattered, and I declined. You know what his unsuccessful pickup line was? He could make me feel 22 again. (Laughter) (Applause) I realized later that night, I’m probably the only person over 40 who does not want to be 22 again. (Laughter) (Applause)” (https://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame/transcript?language=en#t-62914)

Lewinsky got me right there. She got me with she doesn’t want to 22 again. And let me tell you, I know how she feels. You couldn’t pay me to return to my twenties. No, not all was bad. It was a mixture of the good, bad, and the ugly. However, it is the ugly moments where your lips drop down intensely upside down. It is the moments where your burrow furrows something intensely because you think about those ugly moments and how they may come back and haunt you if no one hasn’t discovered them.

However, the entire world discovered Monica Lewinsky’s and Bill Clinton’s affair on January 17, 1998 that broke from an online news website, Drudge Report. Linda Tripp decided to release recorded tapes of conversations between her and Lewinsky about Lewinsky’s involvement of having a sexual affair with Bill Clinton. The Washington Post officially broadcast the story on January 21, 1998.

Once the story spread like wildfire, it is pretty much it. Lewinsky spoke in her speech how she fell in love with her boss, but her reputations was ruined at 24 (when the news broke that she had an affairs with Clinton):

“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss, and at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences” (https://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame/transcript?language=en#t-62914).

Yet, as Lewinsky speaks in hindsight, her actions would result in over a twenty year imprint that has not been forgotten for what transpired during that time:

“Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply” (https://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame/transcript?language=en#t-62914).

Lewinsky continues her talk expressing her this mistake haunted her. In a subtle way, she understands her huge her mistakes was:

“Can I see a show of hands of anyone here who didn’t make a mistake or do something they regretted at 22? Yep. That’s what I thought. So like me, at 22, a few of you may have also taken wrong turns and fallen in love with the wrong person, maybe even your boss. Unlike me, though, your boss probably wasn’t the president of the United States of America. Of course, life is full of surprises” (https://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame/transcript?language=en#t-62914).

Yes, she is right. I have never had an affair with my boss or any married committed person; however, there are others who have. For those who have, I would safely assume some of them regret that decision today. It haunts them in so many ways as it should since they have a conscience. It is a major mistake; some would say unforgiveable. Yet, I just don’t believe that. I believe with time and looking at it from a matured perspective, you see what you did was incredibly wrong and incredibly stupid, but you own it and apologize and put in the effort every day not to do it again. You realize that you were being a selfish idiot, and you hurt yourself and the other people who are involved in your life as well as the family of the person you had the affair with.

But is it fair to get crucified for twenty years for a mistake you made especially when you did not make that mistake alone?

I am starting to see the cyberbullying that Lewinsky is voices in her Ted Talk. As she expressed it, it all started when the Digital Age began. Her story flew like an epidemic, and the aftermath has us even discussing it today.

Yes, she made a mistake, and she pointed out, and I told at the beginning of my introduction, I am a part of the 22 year old experience of making a mistake. Yet, the difference between Lewinsky and me is that my mistakes have never made it nationwide. Unlike Lewinsky, I never made any mistakes to where it left a linger regret from keeping me from living my life and growing.

It is challenging topic to discuss. For those of us who stand by our moral convictions of people being honorable, it is difficult to let anyone like Lewinsky off the hook for committing a grevious sin, but can we think about Bill Clinton?

And his part in this? Yes, the media had their day with him, but it wasn’t a field day like Monica Lewinsky. Bill Clinton is not remotely discussed as Lewinsky has been. The scandal is not called “Clinton & Lewinsky” scandal…it is called the Lewinsky Scandal.

Who paid the price for the affair more? Certainly, not Bill Clinton—not in public terms concerning the media and discussions. He wasn’t impeached for his actions. He got to serve a second term as President of the United States.

Again, what Monica Lewinsky did is not condoned. However, what Bill Clinton did was not condoned, but he hasn’t gotten tarred and feathered like Lewinsky. Lewinsky has been slut shamed. She has been exploited in rap lyrics and pop music. She has been talked about as if she is the same slut she was during that time.

But what we all tend to forget, and what I didn’t realize either until I heard her Ted Talk, that 22 year old was a person. That 24 year old was a person. That 41 year old is still a person.

Did she know better? I believe she knew better but talked herself into believing that it was love. However, looking at Lewinsky’s past and how she grew up…and how her parents’ divorce affected her, I suspect that she was looking for love in all the wrong places. Her father is a powerful figure. Bill Clinton was a powerful figure. She was a young woman who most likely felt lost. Most folks don’t have an affair out of the blue. Something is wrong in their lives, and the way they deal with is sleeping with someone else. It is not right; however, when a person is lost, they make the stupidest decisions.

Yet, when it comes to age and experience in this situation, Bill Clinton should have turned Lewinsky down. He was not thinking about her being 22 and impressionable. All he thought about was…I want someone to make me feel good. She looks up to me….

Maybe he didn’t think of it that way because as humans we don’t contextualize emotions in the moment. Yet, we certainly feel those emotions when we believe we need someone or something…just to feel momentary pleasure as such in this situation.

It is tragic in some ways. And no, I am not being fucking dramatic. It is still a continued double standard. Monica Lewinsky’s story is the 1990s version of The Scarlet Letter. The letters, “S,” for slut, “W” for whore, and “H” for Homewrecker flows through. If she is brought up, I am sure that there are still people who say so.

There are many women who have made and are still making this mistake. I’ve learned early on that female parties in affair situations should not be the only ones to blame. It takes two to waltz, and it should not only be the female parties who are responsible for causing an affair.

I feel like cyberbullying, shaming, and harassing anyone for a costly mistake is not justified. I would presume that some of these people regret their choices, and it haunts them. Should we throw stones at them until they take their lives?

I understand bullying. It is the most horrifying feeling in the world. Your torments stalking you to the point where you are hollering in the air “Please, please help me. Someone help me.”

I understand others will say that she brought it on herself. She should have known better and why should we show her any compassion?

I tell you why. A part of being human is emoting compassion. If you don’t, then, it says a lot about your character.

Judge the person by their actions. However, don’t eviscerate their character over and over again. Some of us want to learn from our decisions and become better people after. Mistakes don’t define who we are. What we do afterwards should define who we are continuously.

It seems to me after the scandal, Monica Lewinsky was very lost. She didn’t know where to turn. Then, she suddenly disappear for a decade. To me, I think she was tired of being in the media. Yes, afterwards, she took advantage of opportunities that didn’t make her any further sympathetic with the public, but I think, after this speech, I would like to presume she was lost.

Is this a cautionary tale?

I would tell all young people…don’t sleep with your boss. That’s just common sense. Second, if you do, you need to really think about the consequences and the repercussions of it because it can NEVER take it back not in the Digital Age which has been solidified with the subsidiary of the Social Media Age—and that’s what we are in. The Digital Age begin in the mid-90s, and the Social Media Age was cemented somewhere around the mid-2000s.

But most of all, it will hurt everyone involved including you. You are going to have to find some way to live with it because it will at times come back and haunt you.

I would also say that anyone who is your boss that comes on to you…they got major issues. 99%, you will not be a major part of their worlds. Bluntly, you are not a permanent fixture, your are a temporary feel good solution because their egos are hurt.

Most of all, we still live in a sexist, racist, and elitist society. Due to how you physically look…what your physical anatomy is…and how this will be discover and who will discover it, you are in a higher chance of getting humiliated and bullied…and harassed. It is easy to condemned people than to have compassion and empathize with them. It is easy to judge harshly because to really empathize with someone, you have to place yourself in their shoes.

Cheers,
S

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