Person of the week

All the President’s Women

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Monica Lewinsky writes about her affair with Bill Clinton and how she survived it
Monica Lewinsky, the world’s most famous former intern who almost toppled a presidency and started a global conversation on sex and power, is back. Sixteen years after her infamous relationship with Bill Clinton, she has written a tell-all piece for Vanity Fair. Now almost 41, slightly plumper than before, she says she wants to stop tiptoeing around her past. In online excerpts of the piece, she writes under the headline, ‘Shame and Survival’: ‘It’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress… I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.’

So what has Lewinsky been up to? Since her internship at the White House, she’s tried designing handbags, hosting a reality TV show on Fox, and shuffled between London (where she pursued a Master’s at London School of Economics), Los Angeles, New York and Portland. She’s been interviewed for jobs in communications and branding, but, ‘because of what potential employers so tactfully referred to as my ‘history’,’ she writes, ‘I was never ‘quite right’ for the position. In some cases, I was right for all the wrong reasons, as in, ‘Of course, your job would require you to attend our events.’ And, of course, these would be events at which press would be in attendance.’

Lewinsky, you have to agree, got a raw deal. Bill Clinton might have just barely survived an impeachment and jail-time for perjury, arguing famously that his statement under oath “there is not a sexual relationship…” had been truthful because he had used the word ‘is’ in its present tense at a time there was no relationship, and claiming that ‘fellatio’, by legal definition, did not mean ‘sex’. But he is still one of the most popular former presidents. He writes books, makes big money off speaking engagements, and a mere appearance alongside Barack Obama sends the latter’s popularity ratings into a tizzy. Lewinsky, alas, is still the subject of dirty jokes and worse.

The affair itself is most commonly referred to as ‘Monicagate’ and ‘the Monica Lewinsky scandal’. Not ‘Billgate’ or ‘Clinton-Lewinsky scandal’. Despite the relationship being consensual, and of the two, Bill being the much older and more powerful participant, Lewinsky has forever been portrayed as the predator. For instance, the columnist Maureen Dowd, who was almost always nasty towards Lewinsky, once wrote, ‘It is Mr Clinton who behaves more like a teenage girl trying to protect her virginity. … Ms Lewinsky is the one who bristles with testosterone.’ Even this time, as online excerpts emerge, Dowd writes in The New York Times, ‘It was like a Golden Oldie tour of a band you didn’t want to hear in the first place.’ Lewinsky writes, ‘… I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position… [the] Clinton administration, the special prosecutor’s minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power.’

Lewinsky says she wants to help others in their dark moments of humiliation. The article is, of course, a well thought- out step to reinvent herself, to perhaps embrace and channelise what has been her most embarrassing moment and to find some meaning in it.

Whether that will work or not, one can’t say. The tag of the woman in the most-extensively reported extra-marital affair is unlikely to wash away soon. And that’s a pity, really.