By Kayla Casavant | Staff Columnist
Disclaimer: This column is from our throwback 90’s edition and is written from the perspective of someone in that decade.
The humiliation game has made it to the White House. Yet again, a man in power will walk away while a woman’s reputation is ruined forever.
It has recently been revealed to the public that President Bill Clinton had a sexual affair with then 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was a White House intern from 1995-96. During that time, and for a year after she left the White House, she and the president had a sexual relationship.
Lewinsky’s experience is not so different from that of the common woman, except that it is playing out for the whole world to see. How many women have found themselves defined by the men they slept with? So often women face social death while men reap the reward.
A heterosexual sex encounter has drastically different consequences for men and women. Despite making a conscious, autonomous choice of what to do with their own bodies, women are shamed by both men and other women. They are branded with epitaphs that are only spoken in accusatory tones and are treated like lepers. On the other hand, men are so often lifted on the shoulders of their brothers, with a reception befitting a Greek god.
Whether on Pennsylvania Avenue or on a college campus, the double standard penetrates every institution. So many young women are afraid to make Ms. Lewinsky’s mistake. They are afraid they are going to trust the wrong guy.
The wrong guy might tell her that he loves her and then hang her out to dry. The wrong guy might take advantage of her naiveté. He might sweet talk then slander her. He might slip something into her drink when she’s not looking. He might wait until she is just a little too drunk.
She might end up the harlot on the front of the New York Times. She might end up dead in a dumpster. She was too innocent. Her clothes were too revealing. She was too young, too stupid. She shouldn’t have left with him. She shouldn’t have been walking there. She should have known better. Somehow, it is always her fault.
Lewinsky’s boss initiated and maintained an ongoing relationship with an intern. He knew his position. He is a married man. He was 30 years her senior. While a consenting partner in the relationship, the president faces no name-calling. Clinton is, if anything, lauded in locker rooms. Lewinsky, on the other hand, is a slut and homewrecker. Somehow, it is always her fault.
Every woman has been Monica.
While Lewinsky maintains this relationship was consensual, in some sense, the president took advantage of her. He was a man in a position of power, both by nature of his position and by virtue of the age difference between the two. The president saw a young woman with a crush and used his power, prestige and authority to initiate the inappropriate relationship.
I can’t predict the future, but history shows us Clinton will likely wash his hands of this. Maybe not immediately, but he will walk away from it. It will be a small mark on his record. His achievements will outshine something as arbitrary as an affair.
Lewinsky will not be able to leave this behind. The decisions she made at 22 will follow her for the rest of her life. She had consensual sex and will never recover from the consequences. She will always be the “slut,” and he will always be jokingly praised as a 50-year-old who managed to sleep with a woman half his age.
All I can hope is that we will take this historical moment and learn from it. I hope that someday in the future, we will live in a society where we no longer call women names for making decisions about what to do with their bodies. I hope in the future, we hold our leaders accountable. I can only hope that we never again put a man in the United States’ highest office who uses his authority and power to emotionally manipulate women for sexual gain.