‘The Clinton Affair’ is not just the story of Monica Lewinsky but the story of women, and how they’re viewed in our society.
Fast-forward 20 years, has our treatment of women changed?
He was described as “undeniably charismatic”, your typical “alpha male”. She was called a “young tramp”, “a seductress”, and a “slut”. His ratings remained high.
The polls showed that his extramarital affair “didn’t matter to the people”.
Newspaper caricatures depicted her with cheeks full of semen. TV pundits called her “an oversexed blabbermouth”.
He went on to finish the last two years of his second term as president of the United States of America.
Her mother made her shower with the door open, in case she was “humiliated to death” and took her own life.
Afterwards, he toured the world’s speaking circuits earning handsome sums.
In 2016, he stood proudly alongside his wife, as a gallant statesman, poised to become the First Gentleman of America, a fate that was not to be.
In 2018, he co-wrote a novel with one of the world’s best-selling authors.
Meanwhile, she tried to make a career for herself, but was humiliated at every turn.
She looked for work to cover high legal fees, but met only closed doors. She then retreated into anonymity for a decade.
In 1995, when their affair started, she was 22, he was 49. She was a single woman, a college graduate.
He was a husband and a father.
Her name was Monica Lewinsky, an intern.
His name was William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of America.
Their relationship is currently being revisited in a docuseries called The Clinton Affair for the A&E Network.
When the affair came to light in 1998, he was surrounded and supported by the machinations of power — loyal, shrewd, and experienced strategists, lawyers, and media advisers.
They, including his wife Hillary, saw it as a “war” between Republicans and Democrats.
Meanwhile, Lewinsky was accosted by FBI agents in a shopping centre and brought to a hotel room, isolated and without any access to legal representation.
When she saw a gun on one of the agent’s waistbands, she was asked if that “scared” her.
When she sought support, any support, a call with her mother, she was told she wasn’t a little girl any more.
The media had a field day.
The report into the scandal both launched and broke the internet when it was uploaded in its entirety, referencing the word ‘sex’ more than 500 times, even mentioning Lewinsky’s “genitalia”.
The report was meant to be about the supposed perjury, not adultery, of Clinton in an attempt to impeach him.
To this day, the report’s author, lawyer Kenneth Starr, believes that Lewinsky could have called a halt to the entire saga.
The media frenzy and political storm was her fault, he attests.
Before it all became public knowledge, the FBI wanted her to co-operate with their investigation, to surreptitiously record Clinton.
Lewinsky refused. She was not willing to “wear a wire and trap people”.
After all, in exchange for her testimony, there was not yet an immunity deal on the table that would protect her and her mother from a life in prison.
In The Clinton Affair, Starr blames Lewinsky for the eight-month media furore.
“The real shame,” he says, “is that, when you look back on it, if [Lewinsky] had said, ‘I was betrayed by Linda Tripp (a colleague who she confided in about the affair), there’s nothing else I can do, I’ve got to tell the truth.’
“And you know what? The horror that the nation went through for eight months would have been essentially avoided. It would have been over very, very quickly.”
What a naive guy.
But then again, when it comes to morals, ethical standards, and personal responsibility, women — even young, powerless, single, private women — carry that burden far more than any man — even well-supported, older, married, publicly elected presidents of America.
And I am not sure if it was so much a “horror” for the nation, as opposed to eight months of entertainment and titillation.
I’d argue that only one person “went through” horror.
The Clinton Affair is not just the story of Monica Lewinsky, but the story of women and how they’re viewed in our society.
Fast-forward 20 years, has our treatment of women changed?
In 2017, when women spoke out about Harvey Weinstein after decades of him abusing with impunity, the refrain went: Why did they take so long? Why didn’t they ever tell anyone?
The answers are: They blamed themselves; they should have been more careful and not gone for a business meeting in a hotel with a man; they didn’t think anyone would believe them; they didn’t want to “take down” a revered god of the movie business; Harvey had a well-oiled media machine, where he sold dirt on those who might have information on him.
In 2015, when Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez accused Weinstein of assault, the US tabloids turned on her.
She became the shamed woman. For nearly three years, no one would give her work.
This despite there being an audio recording of Weinstein admitting to, and apologising for, groping her.
Another of Weinstein’s accusers, Asia Argento, left her home country in 2017 due to the hostile reaction to her speaking out against the disgraced film producer.
Vittorio Sgarbi, a politician and friend of Argento’s former partner, said: “I have the feeling that he was actually assaulted by her.”
Meanwhile, journalist Mario Adinolfi said the actress was trying to “justify high-society prostitution”.
Closer to home, we’ve had our own recent brushes with slut-shaming and victim-blaming.
In a high-profile rape trial, sympathisers of the accused wanted his accuser tried. For what, I don’t know.
A State’s solicitor’s office is the only one responsible for bringing a case to court, not the victim.
In a more recent rape trial, when the victim’s underwear was mentioned as justification for consent, TD Ruth Coppinger presented a thong in the Dáil chamber.
Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher was not happy with such a display.
But what’s more offensive: A functional garment that half the population wear on a daily basis or the continued and undetected sexual assault of women?
Whether it’s so-called moral standards of intimacy or non-consensual sex, why is it that women always carry the greater burden of responsibility?
Is it because we need to see women as pure and celibate nurturers of our young, but view men as “undeniably charismatic” rogues with sexual desires?
Whatever our reason, the result is the same: We keep getting the wrong fall guy and justice is never done.
The question now is: Are we OK with that?