Monica Lewinsky is having a #MeToo reckoning as well

Twenty years later, the former intern is still figuring out what happened in "the House of Gaslight"

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 26, 2018 11:03AM (EST)

Monica Lewinsky (AP/Evan Agostini)
Monica Lewinsky (AP/Evan Agostini)

Yes, Monica Lewinsky has her own #MeToo perspective. But no, it might not be what you think.

In the four years since she emerged anew in the spotlight as  as a contributor for Vanity Fair and an outspoken — and deeply qualified — expert and advocate against bullying, Lewinsky has been understandably cautious in the ways she frames the history-making presidential scandal that upended her life when she was still in her early 20s. And as she describes in her new Vanity Fair essay, her experience of those events is an ongoing one. It's clear the current moment has had a similar effect on her as it has on a great many of us — a reckoning with the past, a view that only comes with time, wisdom and support.

Lewinsky has been candid over the past few years about the ways in which the Starr investigation and the subsequent invasive scrutiny transformed her. Here, again, she discusses her ongoing PTSD. "My trauma expedition has been long, arduous, painful, and expensive," she writes. "And it’s not over." To that end, she now muses, "How, then, to get a handle, today, on what exactly happened back then?"

She recounts a private recent exchange with "one of the brave women leading the #MeToo movement," who told her, "I’m so sorry you were so alone," and her pained understanding that for all the family and friends surrounding her, she was alone. The story back then was about her — a young, fresh-out-of-college woman who'd fallen in love with her boss —  instead of the exponentially older and more powerful individuals surrounding her and the agendas they were trying to advance. The suffering, the self-doubt and the terrible consequences fell upon the person with the least agency in all of it. And that, for a vast population of men and women looking back now at the dynamics at play in their own past experiences, is pretty damn relatable.

Lewinsky says she is now working on her own healing, after years of living in "the House of Gaslight" and "the untruths that painted me as an unstable stalker and Servicer in Chief." She can understand that the ways she framed the Starr investigation period when she wrote about it just four years ago already seem bathed in a different light today, and that "the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege." She continues to grapple with her "sense of agency versus victimhood," and with personal accountability as well as the awfulness of things she had no say in.

The past stays fixed, but our relationship with it is always changing. We can shrug and say we're fine in the midst of a catastrophe, taking years to consider that maybe we weren't. We can observe from a distance the innocence we once had, or the bravado, and it can strike a profound sense of loss. And we can look at the beginnings of our hardest stories — that college party, that first day at a new job, that knock on the door — with an ever deepening understanding of how they turned out. What Monica Lewinsky has endured over the past 20 years is hers and hers alone. But she is absolutely one of a legion when she says now that "I am unpacking and reprocessing what happened to me. Over and over and over again."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Bill Clinton #metoo Monica Lewinsky Ptsd Starr Report Vanity Fair