Leave Monica Alone!
Every once in a while, I get a stark reminder of the fact that we haven't actually come as far as I assumed we had. Usually these reminders come from the Right. I spent half the Trump years going "Wow, I literally thought this stopped being a thing before I was even born!"
But every once in a while, it does not.
Yesterday, during the "Everyone got a weird email from HBO Max and then HBO Max said an intern did it" news cycle, Monica Lewinsky, a former intern herself, made a funny, self-deprecating joke on Twitter, writing "dear intern: it gets better. ps. don't wear a beret for a while, k?"
dear intern: it gets better. ♥️ ps. don’t wear a beret for awhile, k?— Monica Lewinsky (she/her) (@Monica Lewinsky (she/her))1624044194.0
Most people laughed. A few correctly asserted that berets are actually always a good choice. A few people, however, went right off the goddamned rails.
Their issue? Apparently Monica Lewinsky was supposed to lock herself in a cloistered convent for the rest of her life to atone for the horrible crime she committed when she was 22 years old, and making a joke about a fucked up period in her own life is just cruel to remind Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton of the incident, both of whom still regularly hang out with someone else who might also remind them of said incident. I'm not going to call anyone out directly because that's overly punitive and I don't want to encourage any kind of harassment against people, but you'll see enough of them in the comments on that tweet and if you search for her name on Twitter.
I get it! People feel protective of them, and that is fine. People also bring their own issues to this kind of table. But for fuck's sake people, it was 20 years ago. Let the woman live her life.
One of the defining characteristics of the 1990s is that there was always an evil woman the media was mad at for one reason or another. And even in the cases where that woman committed or was party to a crime, the reaction was always over the top, constant and lasted for far longer than it would ever last today. Like, hey, obviously it was wrong for Amy Fisher to have shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco — but how creepy is it that she was called the "Long Island Lolita?" Or that we ever used the term "Lolita" as a term to describe an underage girl who seduces an older man to begin with. I mean ... have you read the book?
These women, usually, were shoehorned into various, practically Shakespearean, tropes. The seductresses, the gold-diggers, the homely women jealous of the beautiful women, the shrews, the vengeful wives — whether or not that really was their whole story. We were so used to processing women through a deeply unnuanced male point of view that we never really took the time to consider whether or not that was accurate. (I say "we" but in most circumstances, even as a kid I took the side of the women being bashed in basically any circumstance. My mother raised me right.)
Hillary Clinton was a victim of this bullshit. So, sadly, was Chelsea Clinton — it wasn't just Rush Limbaugh who thought it was cute and perfectly acceptable to make fun of a middle schooler's looks. And so was Monica Lewinsky. What was done to her was horrible and practically a perfect example of the garbage way women were treated in those days.
The thing that blew my mind, personally, was the rage people had over the fact that they thought she was overweight — which, if you actually go and look at pictures of her, she really wasn't. In fact, I thought she was super pretty (not just because we look a little bit alike). But people were so, so furious about that, to the point where it seemed like they would have been more okay with the whole situation if she were a rail-thin blonde. It was grotesque.
Bill Clinton was the one with the obligations in that situation. He was the one who took vows and oaths. Monica Lewinsky, frankly, did not owe anyone shit. But he got to go back to normal and she never did. She was expected to spend the rest of her life as a joke that other people got to make. A few years ago, she decided she was done with that, and has since used her experience at that time to become an anti-bullying activist. And you know what? That's pretty freaking awesome.
One of the more upsetting things I saw from the anti-Monica contingent were comments suggesting that she was using an incident that was "humiliating" for Hillary Clinton instead of "accomplishing" something. Now, I would actually say that Lewinsky has done pretty well in the face of what she went through as a young woman, but can we please acknowledge that it was probably pretty hard for her to get a regular job following all of that?
And quite frankly — why should either of them be "humiliated" by any of this? It's not like they did anything wrong. The only person who would have any reason to feel that way is Bill Clinton, and he seems to be doing just fine. The men are always doing just fine.
In the last few years, there's been a reckoning and a rethinking of what was done to women in those days, which has been great and very healthy for all of us. We don't want to go back there.
I get that people bring their own baggage to this kind of situation, and that it is so much more comfortable for everyone to believe that men who cheat and the women they cheat with are equally to blame — but no. Sorry, no. If your husband cheats on you, that has nothing to do with the woman he cheated with and everything to do with him. That whole idea stems from the misogynistic notion that women are supposed to be the guardians of men's virtue and if they fail it's our fault, and that notion has absolutely never done anything good for any of us. Including Hillary Clinton.
Even if you think what she did was wrong (I could give two shits, frankly — never cared to begin with, not gonna start now) — are you seriously going to suggest that the woman hasn't done her time? We can't just punish people forever. I mean, we can, because this is America and we love keeping people in prison forever for minor crimes, but does it need to be the case in every situation ever? Can't we just move on?
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse