If there’s one thing Monica Lewinsky is known for—for some people it’s the only thing she’s known for—it’s the illicit May-December affair she had in the late ‘90s with former U.S. president Bill Clinton while he was in office. It was a scandal that rocked the nation and their office romance (she was working as intern in the White House at the time) was talked about virtually everywhere, from tabloids and newspapers to talk shows and comedy skits.
Because of that one May-December affair, Monica Lewinsky became an instant celebrity, but not in a good way. On top of becoming the subject of intense media scrutiny, not to mention the butt of every joke, Lewinsky solidified her reputation as one of the world’s most famous mistresses.
While some people might disappear from the spotlight indefinitely to escape the public bashing, Monica Lewinsky reemerged after the famous May-December affair scandal. And not only that, but she found the perfect way to turn her notoriety into something beneficial—by advocating for cyberbullying. It’s a topic she knows all too well, having been on the receiving end of countless online attacks for what happened in the White House.
Lewinsky recently spoke about cyberbullying and online shaming during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, using her own experience as an example of how the digital age completely destroyed her. “I was branded as a tart, slut, whore, bimbo, floozy, and of course ‘that woman.’ I was seen by many, but truly known by few,” Lewinsky said in her speech, adding, “In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity. I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life.” She went on to admit that she contemplated suicide after the scandal broke, because that seemed like the “only way to end the ridicule,” but she decided instead to do something more positive and advocate against what caused her own downfall.
The object of Lewinsky’s talk wasn’t to downplay her May-December affair or justify her actions—she actually referred to it as a mistake she deeply regrets—but rather she wanted to encourage creative leaders to help bring about more compassion online. She ended by saying that if everyone works together to create a more compassionate and empowered society, more people can change and learn from their mistakes, and we can all benefit from the kind of society where the “distancing of technology does not remove our humanity.”
Needless to say her talk received a standing ovation. You’ve got to give the woman credit—it takes smarts (not to mention sheer guts) to turn something so outrageous, like an international May-December affair scandal, into something that can actually make a positive difference.
Smith, E., “Monica Lewinsky gets standing ovation at Cannes,” Page Six web site, June 25, 2015; http://goo.gl/ZGwj5L.