I saw a headline of a story yesterday which was a quote from Monica Lewinksky. It read, "I Was a Virgin to Humiliation."
I didn't plan to read any more of the article, since in fairness I don't recall the last article about Monica Lewinsky that I've read. But after writing the first draft of this piece, I thought it only fair to at least check the article for her quotes. It turns out that they come from an interview she just gave for part of an upcoming National Geographic Channel documentary mini-series on The 90s. She was talking, as you might expect, about being unprepared for the mass of public ridicule relentlessly heaped on her for her involvement with President Clinton, and having her private life investigated and opened up to the world. And honestly, I think she has understandable reason to react the way she did.
She was a young woman, she didn't commit a crime, she was a private citizen, and much of her life and privacy was taken away from her. It must have been crushing, it must have been devastating. And as a person who had to go through all that, I do feel very bad for her, and say that in all sincerity.
If only life were that simple. Because there's a "however" thrown into the mix --
If you're going to have an affair with the married President of the United States, and have it in the White House, you really do have to expect that at least something really, really BIG -- and really BAD -- might very well go very wrong.
Now, to be fair, I'm sure that most people having affairs don't think they'll get caught. But then most people aren't having affairs with the Most Powerful Man in the World, and doing so in the most-watched residence and office in the world, guarded by the police, military, and the Secret Service, with hundreds of work and personal staff roaming the building, and the world media keeping an honed eye -- and camera -- on every single detail that goes on there, hoping to get the scoop of their lives to make their careers.
Even if you're a young, innocent, naive woman, seduced by an older, clever man, you have to know that that man is the President of the United States. It's hard to miss all the clues. And cameras. And microphones. And security..
There's a phrase, "the expectation of privacy," and I can't even begin to imagine there's much expectation when it comes to having an affair with the married President of the United States, while in the White House.
Mind you, again to be fair, I'm 100% sure that there have been other presidents who had affairs in the White House which went unreported at the time. But then, no other president in U.S. history prior to Bill Clinton served before there were three 24-hour news channels and a substantive Internet. So, the landscape wasn't only a completely different culture, it was a totally, unearthly different universe. And besides, just because other presidential affairs weren't ever made public before doesn't mean that the clear risk of exposure didn't always exist. A presidential affair has always been always a surreptitious tightrope being tip-toed on to avoid the slightest hint of even possible attention, whether or not CNN, MSNBC, and "Fox News" existed, let alone CNBC, Headline News, C-SPAN, C-SPAN 2, C-SPAN 3, E! Entertainment, Media Matters, the Drudge Report and chat rooms.
So, while I can understand someone rightly complaining about how their life became hell from public humiliation and had their private life broken into and opened to the world, and can deeply sympathize with it, I have a harder time with someone who tries to put it in the perspective of "I think a lot, too, had to do with the fact that I was a woman."
I think I can say with almost near certainty that if the person having an affair with Bill Clinton was a man, the public attention and humiliation would have been oh-so-far worse.
And to continue the thought -- no, "a lot" had to do with the fact that the person you were having an affair with was the President of the United States. And in this case, "a lot" shall be defined as "99.995 percent."
But I have to admit, what caught my eye first was Ms. Lewinsky's phrasing, calling herself a "virgin to humiliation." I mean, seriously, when the sole reason you're being interviewed and that you had to deal with that very humiliation is because you had an affair with the married President of the United States, using the word "virgin" is just too precious. After all, while perhaps used quite accurately, that's still not a word most people just randomly throw around in conversation in a context other than the most common. Unless perhaps you're talking about unprocessed wool, or olive oil. Could it have been a chance turn of the phrase? Sure. But pulling "a virgin to humiliation" out of your hat, I think you're either trying very hard to rewrite history and shift people into subconsciously making a connection that you were so young and virginal at the time, or you're just unintentionally proving how clueless you are. After a quarter century of her living with the matter and thinking about it, I'm not voting for the latter.
Anyway, I've written more about Monica Lewinsky that I intended or cared to. I really do feel terrible for her about the ridicule and angst poured down on her. And I understand her finally going on TV in such a high-prestige way to address her legacy.
But if you're going to address your legacy, you're going to have to know that people actually do understand what it is you're addressing. And wrapping yourself in virginity and Sisterhood really doesn't fly.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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