Monica Lewinsky Walked Offstage During an Interview — for a Totally Valid Reason

Sep 4, 2018 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Monica Lewinsky attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones - Arrivals at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California
Image: Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan Via Getty Images.

During a live interview in Jerusalem on Monday night, Monica Lewinsky walked offstage after Israeli TV news anchor Yonit Levi of Hadashot News asked an off-limits question about Lewinsky's past with former President Bill Clinton.

More: Monica Lewinsky's Anti-Bullying PSA Shows Consequences of Online Comments IRL

During that 15-minute conversation, Levi pressed Lewinsky at the beginning of the interview to comment on whether or not she still hopes to receive a formal apology from Clinton. That question, Lewinsky clarified in her tweet, had been ruled out the day before. When Levi brought it up, it was quickly deemed off-limits.

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In a post made later by Lewinsky to Twitter, the speaker and anti-bullying activist stated that it had previously been established no questions about the former president would be entertained. When Lewinsky realized what she called the “clear parameters” set forth were being disregarded, she politely apologized before exiting the stage.

“After a talk today on the perils and positives of the Internet, there was to be a 15-minute conversation to follow up on the subject of my speech (not a news interview). There were clear parameters about what we would be discussing and what we would not,” Lewinsky wrote. “When she asked me it on stage, with blatant disregard for our agreement, it became clear to me I had been misled."

Then, Lewinsky made the point which should be the greatest takeaway from this incident: “I left because it is more important than ever for women to stand up for themselves and not allow others to control their narrative.” 

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Because here’s the thing — the narrative of Lewinsky’s life has largely been dictated to her by political pundits, comedians, far-right websites and garden-variety internet trolls. She is a woman with a painfully thorough grasp of what it means to have someone control your narrative. 

In the era of #MeToo and other feminist driven movements, how is it that we remain so reductive where Lewinsky is concerned? 

Her behavior in leaving the stage will likely be misconstrued as “bitchy.” She will be deemed a diva. There will be those who undoubtedly justify their cruel summations of Lewinsky by referencing a poor decision she made at only 22 years old to get swept up in a romance with an extremely powerful and charismatic married man. 

Lewinsky understands all too well what happens when women are unable to stand up for themselves. She is our modern day Hester Prynne, forced to dwell in shame for all her days for her one big mistake. She has endured endless mockery, being blacklisted from even unpaid work, becoming a caricature of her former self — sometimes quite literally a Halloween costume trotted out for cheap laughs. 

More: Monica Lewinsky Reveals Suicidal Thoughts Over Clinton Affair

The machine that controlled Lewinsky’s narrative for so long was far too encompassing and powerful for her to fight against. So she decided instead to turn her experience into a teachable moment. She has since become a major force in the anti-bullying realm, sharing her story to help others. 

If her voice could have been heard over the din of public scrutiny for the past two decades, you would have heard that. Or perhaps you would have heard that she’s a valued contributor at Vanity Fair, turning out witty and insightful think pieces on a regular basis. Maybe you would be less surprised to learn that she's a board member for the children's advocacy organization The Childhood Resilience Foundation

Such wasn’t the case for Lewinsky, which is why her actions on that stage in Jerusalem are so crucial — she is speaking up, and she is doing so in a way that positions her as a cautionary tale. More than 20 years later, one indiscretion still haunts her. And not because it is valid, but because that’s the “spin” she was given all those years ago. 

At this point, the question asked by Levi (and the subject matter it is based on) is irrelevant and, even more tragically, serves as a distraction from the truly important work Lewinsky is doing. 

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