So wait, Monica Lewinsky is a hero and crusader now? No. Please no.

Monica Lewinsky TED Talk

Finally got around to watching the Monica Lewinsky TED Talk from TED2015 last night before I went to bed. (“TED2015: Where The Badges Actually Had Purpose.”) I’m going to say some things right now that might make me seem like I’m anti-female, so before I lay out my essential point, let me remind you of a couple of core facts about myself:

  • I actually think women are far more crucial to society than men are, and you can say that after you toss out the pregnancy discussion.
  • Most of my closest friends are women.
  • I actually would love to be the stay-at-home and have my wife be the “empowered one,” personally. Wrote a little about that years ago.
  • If it helps you to understand my inherent femininity, I saw 27 Dresses on opening weekend, and I did so by myself. 

Alright. Hopefully by now you don’t think I’m some women-hating asshat or anything.

But are we really about to allow Monica Lewinsky to rebrand herself as some type of female/anti-shaming crusader? Please. Let’s not do that.

Watch the TED Talk if you haven’t. It provides a baseline for some of these points.

  • do agree with two major points she made: first off, everyone makes mistakes at 22 (honestly, everyone lucky enough to be 82 makes mistakes there as well; life is never really a totally finished product, despite what we may tell ourselves) and everyone deserves second chances. I honestly believe the second point because where would I personally be without them? I’ve fucked up dozens of times. So, on those two points, we’re good. I think Monica Lewinsky deserves another chance at her narrative and being able to control it. I’m not sure I would call this TED Talk “a triumph” as this guy did, but she was mostly polished and spoke pretty well, yes.
  • Here’s where I start to disagree: this isn’t a normal “I fucked up at 22” story. This is a woman who willingly fellated the sitting President of the United States on multiple occasions, including potentially on Easter Sunday once. (That shouldn’t necessarily infuriate you any more or any less than some other random Sunday, but people throw that fact out a lot.) Yes, in the TED Talk she claims she “fell in love” with Clinton, and this may be true. It probably is true, because I think one of the big aspects of Clinton as a character is that he can charm anyone.
  • But still, she willingly engaged in this with a man who essentially has around-the-clock security. Then she talked to her friend(s?) about it. At some point, you have to understand how all this works, even before social media. Things get out. People talk. We thrive on gossip and innuendo and stories. You should expect your private acts to be private to an extent, yes, but when you’re with the sitting leader of the free world? Wouldn’t you potentially assume something might happen there in terms of fallout?
  • Then there’s the timing issue. In 2012, she was reportedly going to write a memoir. That didn’t really happen. So then she surfaces at TED, gives this talk, and honestly, the reaction is mostly positive. (More on that in a second.) What’s the biggest storyline in the American political arena right now? Hilary 2016. So why now of all times? She addresses this at the end, right? Says it’s not political? But why not TED 2014? Why not TED 2017? Why not some other conference, even not in America? It just seems staged, in some way.

Now pause. I do think her points about shame are right on. (We should reverse shame and make it a power for good.) I don’t in any way endorse people out-ing the private behavior of others and causing grief or sadness for the latter, and I’ve written about that before in the context of “The Fappening.”

I agree with the points and the references to social science and everything. Broadly, I think what she’s saying is right and good and needs to be said. (Although one person arguing against some basic natures of humanity, like our desire to see others fall down, is maybe a bit of a fool’s errand.)

I just wonder if the who is the right person.

This could be what The New York Times — much smarter than me — means/says when they talk about her as a “Cultural Rorschach Test,” which is a much better headline (for me, at least) than “Leadership Lessons From Monica Lewinsky.”

Like I said, I do believe in second chances. But it seems a bit much because so much of the first half of her talk is about painting herself as a victim of society. I agree that rampant slut-shaming in comments section behind an anon wall is ridiculous, but I also agree it’s never really going away in society. (Sadly.) But is she really allowed to re-enter the public discourse so many years later and craft her narrative around her as the victim? I just don’t know if she really was the victim, in the conventional sense. (In a societal reaction sense? Sure.) In terms of the actions that led to the shaming, you don’t get the complete sense that she was the victim, do you?

My point is: I love the message and the research and the idea that empathy is a tool that can defeat evil (see more on that here and here), but I almost feel like I would rather this TED Talk come from Tyler Clementi’s mom or Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton or whomever else. I just don’t think Monica Lewinsky is the right vessel for this argument, but perhaps I haven’t outlined that point as well as I could.

Ted Bauer


  1. Not going to comment on your opinion because I see where you’re coming from, but I just wanted to point out that she has said that the “writing a memoir” was just a rumour with absolutely no basis in reality. And also, the Easter Sunday thing is pretty silly – she’s Jewish.

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