This week marks 25 years since “the Clinton Scandal” hit the airwaves. On January 21, 1998, news broke that President Bill Clinton had a relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Overnight, Lewinsky became a household name and inevitably the butt of late-night jokes.
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the scandal, Lewinsky recently shared some interesting thoughts on how things have both improved and regressed for women since 1998. Now 49 years old, Lewinsky isn’t holding anything back.
In a piece Lewinsky wrote for Vanity Fair, the activist and writer shared 25 things she has learned since her infamous relationship with Clinton. While she opened up about her mistakes, being bullied, and how things have changed for women, she also had much to say about compassion, the body-positive movement, and how laughter is often the best way to survive.
‘You Can Make The Right Decision And Still Have Regret’
In the past 25 years, the biggest takeaway for Lewinsky is based on regret. “You can make the right decision and still have regret,” reflected the writer. “Also, don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides,” she continued and admitted that she learned these lessons from her therapist.
Lewinsky then shared that while many things are better for women today, some things have reverted in society since 1998. As the writer pointed out, “In 2023, we are (sadly) closer to the reality of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale than we were when the book was published in 1985” (This remark is likely in reference to Roe v. Wade being overturned in 2022.)
Even while abortion rights are bleaker today than 25 years ago, there have been some improvements since 1998. “The blame-the-woman mindset has thankfully receded over time through social conditioning,” Lewinsky remarked.
She then reflected on the scandal that she found herself in. “What began in 1998 as ‘the Lewinsky Scandal’ or ‘the Lewinsky Affair’… underwent a nomenclature upgrade as the years marched on.”
As the writer pointed out, “The culture and the media adapted—at the insistence of many offended observers and arbiters, including [Vanity Fair]—to rebrand the whole narrative as ‘the Clinton Scandal’ or ‘the Clinton Impeachment’ or other taglines that were more in keeping with the original power dynamics.”
After all, when the President of the United States is involved in a scandal, their name should be the leading headline.
Lewinsky also reflected on how bullying has changed since 1998. “As evidenced by some members of the political-operative class in this country,” she wrote, “bullying, both online and in public, has become not only an accepted line of work but an ever-growing profit center.”
While public bullying may not be a thing of the past, Lewinsky is thankful that bullying comedy “has gotten tired.” As the activist pointed out, she was one of the top people Jay Leno made fun of while he was The Tonight Show host. In fact, Lewinsky “was the only one in the top 10 who had not specifically chosen to be a public person.”
Still, Lewinsky chose then and continues to look on the bright side of life. One of the top lessons she has learned over the years includes not taking life too seriously. As she said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you are so f*cked.”
‘#MeToo is Now A Baseline, Not An Aberration’
Although Lewinsky did not choose to be thrown into the spotlight 25 years ago, she is grateful that other people willingly stepped into the limelight during the #MeToo movement.
The writer is grateful for all the women who bravely spoke out about being sexual assault survivors. Although sexual assault and violence are still pervasive, more and more people are being held accountable for their actions. As Lewinsky said, “#MeToo is now a baseline, not an aberration.”
Other changes have occurred since 1998 that have helped women and all persons. One such “benchmark of social triumph” as Lewinsky called it is “the freedom to marry whomever one wants was made possible (2015) and protected (2022).”
Another triumph has been the body-positive movement. In fact, Lewinsky is thankful that “the ‘heroin-chic’ emaciation of the late ’90s and early aughts finally went out of fashion. So much so that we now have store mannequins of myriad body shapes and sizes.”
The activist then shared, “I often imagine how such body-positive messaging would have impacted my own self-esteem growing up—and wonder if it might have ameliorated the fat-shaming that other young women of the time experienced.”
Obviously, much has changed for women in the past 25 years. Thankfully, we’re mostly on an upward trend of improving society. However, there is still much work to be done.
As we continue to make great strides, Lewinsky reminds us to offer ourselves “as much compassion as [we] can muster” and know that we, too, “can survive the unimaginable.”