GUVERCIN: Monica Lewinsky has had strong, impactful, silent strike

Opinions Column: The Bigger Picture

“… It is more important than ever for women to stand up for themselves and not allow others to control their narrative,” said Monica Lewinsky, anti-bullying activist and former White House intern. These powerful words accurately sum up the primary objective of modern efforts to empower women and are even more significant coming from an individual who has been targeted for her entire adult life. On Sept. 3, Lewinsky was asked during a conference in Jerusalem whether she expects a personal apology from former President Bill Clinton for an event that happened more than 20 years ago. Lewinsky’s face spelled disappointment as she said, “I’m so sorry I’m not going to be able to do this,” and proceeded to walk off the stage. Lewinsky told reporters that she had established with the anchor beforehand that it was an “off-limits” topic and that there were “clear parameters about what (they) would be discussing and what (they) would not.” The conversation was clearly supposed to center around Lewinsky’s advocacy efforts rather than an irrelevant event in her past, so one would definitely expect a reaction like that of Lewinsky’s in response to such an act of disrespect.

This ordeal is not just about Lewinsky walking off stage mid-interview. It actually speaks volumes about how every single decision we make in life influences what is to come, and how women are unfortunately portrayed in our society. The main headlines you see are along the lines of “Monica Lewinsky storms off stage when asked about Bill Clinton,” rather than a more accurate “Monica Lewinsky declines questioning about a scandal that happened decades ago because it is time that people talk about something else." When one watches the video, one can see what an ill word choice “storm off” is when describing how Lewinsky reacted. “She was instead direct and polite — apologetic even. No rage, no storm, just a direct assertion of her already stated boundaries,” said Jill Filipovic, attorney and CNN writer. It is disappointing to see how women can be criticized and labeled as “aggressive” and “reactive” even in moments that clearly call for them to standup for themselves, not to mention that it applies even when they politely decline to continue and quickly walk off stage. 

Lewinsky continues to be subject to censure and be defined by a mistake she made as a very young woman. Her accomplishments and personal growth are undermined by people’s misconceptions and unwillingness to move on from the past. Many people have sided with Lewinsky in this case as it was completely an act of disrespect and unprofessionalism to ask a question that was requested to be off limits beforehand. People also sympathize with Lewinsky knowing that she was deprived of an objective, professional and productive dialogue that actually focuses on her passions and achievements as an individual and was instead given a slap in the face that no matter what she does or aims to be, she will always be the young intern who had an affair with a U.S. president. 

Lewinsky has on multiple occasions emphasized how important it is for one to grow from past mistakes and not let them define one’s future. Although she made a decision that will stick with her for the rest of her life and has suffered its drastic consequences, she recognizes the importance of allowing oneself to distinguish their past from their present and future. After being slandered and criticized by the public and government officials for decades, she more than has the right to choose not to answer a demeaning, and frankly, useless question. The anchorwoman, Yonit Levi, is known for asking tough questions, and the Israeli media identifies itself with a frank audacity, which is being used as justification for the question. There is a distinct line between being straightforward and being disrespectful, and it is almost amusing to think that Levi actually thought that was a worthwhile question to ask.

In that moment, Lewinsky asserted herself as a woman who knew what she was worth and did not feel obligated to participate in an exhibition that brings up an irrelevant and uncalled-for aspect of her life. People have a lot to say about women that stand up for themselves, and they usually connote to the stereotypes of women being over-dramatic, emotional and angry. Lewinsky demonstrated in that conference that she is neither angry nor overdramatic, just simply unwilling to do what she does not deem worthy of her time. All in all, she chose to remain silent, but she still struck deep. 

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double majoring in philosophy and psychology. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Fridays.


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