Newsreal: The lady is not a tramp

The lurid coverage of Monica Lewinsky's sex life tells us more about aging geezers in the press corps than it does about a young White House intern.

By Jenn Shreve
February 7, 1998 1:00AM (UTC)
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Which of the following do you think better describes Monica Lewinsky: An average girl who was taken advantage of, or a young tramp who went looking for adventure and thrills?

While you're contemplating an answer, note the answers of 702 registered voters who responded to this Fox News opinion poll last week: Fifty-four percent said the lady is a tramp, 21 percent rated her average and the remaining 25 percent simply couldn't say.


Perhaps, like me, you're stuck on the question: When did the word "tramp" come back in vogue? And since when is the search for adventure and thrills anything other than average?

Even the spokeswoman from Fox News, who provided me with the precise wording of the poll question, was tripped up by it. In fact, she expressed shock that they'd asked such a thing. "That doesn't seem right," she said, barely audibly, over the phone.

Perhaps it's no surprise that a media outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch, he of tits-on-Page-3 fame, would come up with such a poll. But it also reflects the quaintly prurient coverage of the Lewinsky affair provided by the more "respectable" press corps, too. Thirty years after free love counterculturalists and bra-burning feminists supposedly liberated female sexuality from such archaic constraints, America's aging, mostly male media hacks continue to fall back on the tired old virgin-or-whore model to explain it all.


Instead of settling down to the serious questions of Lewinsky's sworn testimony and what influence the president might have had over it, reporters tut-tut about her tight blouses, come-hither looks and the apparent enthusiasm with which she discussed her sex life with friends and acquaintances. Once the thrill of saying "blow job" and "oral sex" in "serious" news reports wore off (thank you, Ted Koppel), the media lingered in earnest over the public confession of Andy Bleiler, the drama teacher who felt impelled to tell the world of his five-year affair with Lewinsky, coldly dismissing her as a "sex addict." Also deemed newsworthy was ex-boyfriend Adam Dave's confession that Lewinsky was known to favor handcuffs.

Big whoop. Amidst fevered talk of who Lewinsky bedded and how, only her lawyer, William Ginsburg, has suggested that Lewinsky's sexual past is normal. I'd say, compared to most of my female friends her age, it's rather bland. Among my contemporaries, it isn't all that shocking to sleep with three different partners in a weekend, not all of the opposite sex. And for parents outraged at a 50-year-old man "taking advantage" of a girl not much older than his own daughter, then I'd say you don't know very much about your own daughters.

Lewinsky and I are days apart in age. I attended her college graduation at Lewis and Clark, where a close friend of mine was graduating. Although I haven't met Lewinsky, I'm familiar with the sexual mores of her age group, even of her fellow graduates. Let me clue you in to some shocking news from our generation: Sleeping with an older man, even a married one, is regarded as a triumphant rite of passage. My college friends berated me for passing up the "opportunity" to date a teacher 16 years my senior. For us, handcuffs were merely a milestone on the road to liberated sexuality, along with girl-girl experimentation and anal sex.


When I was 15, my friends and I passed around a well-worn copy of "The Sensuous Woman," lingering over the explicit oral sex instructions. By 20, we were making lube runs together (showing a level of self-awareness our parents never seemed to reach). As for openly discussing sex, even with mere acquaintances? Lewinsky and I came of age in a decade when Liz Phair's explicit lyrics -- "Every time I see your face, I think of things unpure, unchaste/I want to fuck you like a dog, I'll take you home and make you like it" -- were blasting from dorm rooms across the country.

Sure, the White House and the Pentagon are hardly your local college pub, and Lewinsky would have been wise to have paid better attention to protocol and kept her wide lips sealed. But a naive lack of discretion hardly deserves the kind of roasting she's getting. If she's a "tramp," as Fox News so indelicately put it, then find me a 24-year-old woman (or man) who isn't, given the press's puritanical and outdated standards.


More relevant to the scandal at hand is Lewinsky's apparent obsession with the president and her generally flirtatious behavior, which the press has chewed away at with unwavering glee. I'm hardly an expert in the cult of White House interns, but from what I hear from friends in Washington, there's a veritable fuck-fest taking place on Capitol Hill. And I suspect quite a few interns fantasize frequently about getting it on in the Oval Office, with the president or with each other. Lewinsky was hardly the first young woman to get mesmerized by proximity to power, and she won't be the last.

The press also seems to have forgotten the polls a few years ago that showed that a large percentage of American women found President Clinton to be sexy and had fantasized about sleeping with him. Hell, I've even considered it. Seriously, if you're given the chance to have sex, oral or otherwise, with the most powerful man in the world, someone who could obliterate a country with the press of a button, wouldn't that produce some kind of rush? I mean, give the man a good orgasm and cancer-research funding might be increased due to the man's suddenly sunny disposition.

But to entertain such ideas might dampen the shock value of the current "scandal." As long as the press can convince us that Lewinsky is either a victimized Mia Farrow figure who didn't know any better or a brazen hussy who tried to suck her way to the top, they can continue to hype the story. To present a more nuanced picture would be too complex. Handcuffs and "sex addiction" are ratings winners -- Jerry Springer has proven that. So what we have is a bunch of prurient baby boomers punditing away as if their own sexual revolution never occurred. To them I say: Grow up.

Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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