Monica Lewinsky said her relationship with former President Bill Clinton was “littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege,” in a new essay in Vanity Fair out Monday.
Twenty years after the story of her affair with the president broke Ms. Lewinsky, who previously had said the relationship was consensual, now says she questions that, saying the emerging #MeToo movement puts the relationship between a 21-year-old intern and the president in a new light.
“I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege. (Full stop.)” Ms. Lewinsky writes.
That’s different than her take just four years ago when, in another piece for Vanity Fair, she said she would “always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship.”
Ms. Lewinsky said she had to reconsider after seeing others come forward with their stories of harassment and abuse in recent months.
“Given my PTSD and my understanding of trauma, it’s very likely that my thinking would not necessarily be changing at this time had it not been for the #MeToo movement — not only because of the new lens it has provided but also because of how it has offered new avenues toward the safety that comes from solidarity,” she writes.
The #MeToo movement emerged after a New York Times report last year about mega-producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual harassment and aggressive pursuits — even charges of rape — by actresses and young women who worked with him.
Most of them said that his power in the industry made them feel like they would jeopardize their career if they didn’t keep quiet about their experiences.
Several powerful men including the late Roger Ailes, former head of Fox News, former “Today” show host Matt Lauer and even President Trump, have been accused of making unwanted or inappropriate advances.
The movement has encouraged many women and some men to come forward with accusations they had been afraid to lodge before, and spurred others to reexamine past behavior in a new light.
One woman, Addie Zinone, who came forward about her sexual relationship with Mr. Lauer as a 24-year-old production assistant back in the early 2000s, said the relationship was consensual, but also described a “power imbalance.”
Accusers have been met with outpourings of support — which is very different from Ms. Lewinsky’s ordeal.
She said that a leader in the #MeToo movement wrote to her recently and said, “I’m sorry you were so alone.” The message brought her to tears remembering that time when her name was more of a punchline about oral sex than a victim.
Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, said that Ms. Lewinsky’s reflection is similar to other women in the #MeToo movement, like Ms. Zinone, who are now older and looking back on relationships they had in their 20s.
“I think Monica Lewinsky’s assessment of what she went through 20 years ago now is informed by the fact that she’s a woman in her mid-40s, and I think that that’s common,” she explained.
But despite her public and intimate story, Ms. Lawless said it’s unlikely Ms. Lewinsky will become a public face of the #MeToo movement.
“Although I think it’s unfortunate … it’s probably a conscious decision on her part not to be particularly vocal,” Ms. Lawless said.