Monica Lewinsky and the Culture of Shaming Women

Recently, I was watching Monica Lewinsky being interviewed by John Oliver, in which she described what her life had been like in the years after her scandal with then-President Bill Clinton. She was mocked, belittled, and became the punchline for practically every single comedian. Overnight, she was condemned internationally. Her scandal with Bill Clinton affected her life in a myriad of other ways too, as it became difficult for her to search for employment. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was seemingly given a free pass and did not come close to being scrutinized the same way, even though he shared equal culpability for this deed.

Watching her interview and then her Ted Talk got me thinking — our culture has a double standard for women. Historically, women have always been blamed when it comes to affairs, while the man is ignored or sometimes even celebrated. This is widespread even in popular culture, as we notice the women involved are labeled with derogatory terms that I will not repeat here. Why is it that the man gets a free pass? I am not saying that what happened between Lewinsky and Clinton was right in any way. In fact, even Lewinsky acknowledges this as she says, “Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply.” What I am saying, however, is that she deserved to be treated in a much better way than she was. She made a mistake when she was 22, and who hasn’t made mistakes in their life? She should not have had to bear the consequences of what happened to her alone. It is a testament to her courage and perseverance that she can now make jokes about this time of her life and candidly speak about it. When asked why she didn’t consider changing her name in order to get more employment opportunities, she (rightfully) responded by saying, “Bill Clinton didn’t have to change his name. Nobody’s ever asked him, ‘Did he think he should change his name?’ ”  Therefore, this culture of shaming needs to stop.

Besides shaming, society seems to have blind spots when it comes to seeing, let alone acknowledging, the transgressions of powerful men. Take Pablo Picasso, for instance. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know of his paintings. However, how well-known is the fact that he slept with Marie-Thérèse Walter, who was 17 at the time, and also had a child with her? When it comes to powerful men, we choose to idolize them and ignore their wrongdoings, often insisting that the art should be kept separate from the artist. This reasoning is invalid because art is a reflection of the artist’s character, and artists do not deserve to be celebrated if they have done things that make us question their morality.

In light of the #MeToo movement, there have been many important conversations taking place in many industries, such as animation. This demonstrates some much needed progress, as women need to be respected more and not disproportionately blamed for things in which men’s responsibility is ignored.