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Monica Lewinsky: Victim of an Outdated Double Standard

Monica Lewinsky at a 2011 American Cancer Society benefit in New York.

In a story to be published by Vanity Fair magazine on May 8, Monica Lewinsky, now 40, relives the pain and humiliation of being shunned - really shunned - in the old-fashioned sense of the word.

For nearly two decades since reports of her presidential dalliance stole the headlines in 1998, the former White House intern has been unable to land a job. "Because of what potential employers so tactfully referred to as my 'history,' " she discloses in the Vanity Fair article, "I was never 'quite right' for [any] position."

Don't tell me she isn't smart enough; as VF points out, the woman has a master's degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics. Instead, she can (and does) pin her ongoing unemployment squarely on her vilification by the press - and on the weight of what may be history's first "viral world judgment":

"I was possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet," writes Lewinsky, breaking 10 years of virtual silence.

In short, Monica Lewinsky's career was derailed because others saw her as "spoiled goods."

Which makes me want to throw up.

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I wasn't Lewinsky's biggest champion when the story broke, I'll admit; keeping the stained blue dress struck me as a bit too designing. But it's a good thing she did - how else could she have avoided being branded a psychopathic liar?

She escaped that, but she couldn't sidestep another type of branding: "I was made a scapegoat in order to protect [the president's] powerful position," reflects Lewinsky in the VF piece. "The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor's minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power."

It makes me furious to think that Lewinsky is the only actor in this melodrama still seeking redemption: Clinton has continued to charm the world since the imbroglio, while Hillary is prepping a run for the presidency. And Special Investigator Ken Starr has snagged a plum job as a university chancellor in Texas.

Yet Lewinsky's only "crime" was behaving like a 21-year-old romantic: Thrown into contact with one of the most intriguing, powerful and charismatic men on Earth, she had an affair with Clinton. Yes, he was someone else's husband. But when I polled friends and younger women at the time about how they would have responded had Clinton focused his high beams on them, not a single one would have voted "Nay."

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So now, some 16 years later, here comes Lewinsky again, trying to reclaim a shred of her dignity - and to remind us all that she was a young lady who was savaged by the press, attacked by special prosecutors and betrayed at every turn. "Sure, my boss took advantage of me," she concedes in VF, "but any 'abuse' came [only] in the aftermath."

The whole sordid episode - and the wise perspective Monica Lewinsky has on it today - makes me ashamed I didn't show her more empathy at the time. But it's not too late for me - or you, for that matter - to do so now. Let's make sure the "fallen woman" double standard stays dead and buried for good.

Dr. Pepper Schwartz is AARP's sex and relationships expert.


Photo credit: Patrick McMullan/ Press/AP Images


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