It’s like we’re living in the ’90s again: Tiny sunglasses are back, Urban Outfitters is trying to make Tommy Hilfiger a thing, and Monica Lewinsky is back in the news.
But this time it’s on her own terms.
She joined Twitter in 2014, but her cachet on the site recently skyrocketed thanks to BuzzFeed tweet roundups. As #MeToo makes waves, Lewinsky is hard at work rebuilding an image from the fragments of pop-culture slights made at her expense for decades.
On Tuesday, user @BridalCorpse tweeted, “Idk who @MonicaLewinsky is but her name gets stuck in my head a lot so I guess she important and we should be friends,” followed by a disclaimer that “it was a joke.”
For many Generation Z Twitter users, unfamiliarity with Lewinsky isn’t a joke. They didn’t grow up with the Bill Clinton scandal. They don’t know much about the former White House intern’s extramarital affair with the president and how it led to his impeachment, save for the occasional history book or hip-hop reference.
Lewinsky knows that; it’s hard to overlook when the likes of Beyoncé drops the lyric “He Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown.” In a 2014 Vanity Fair interview, Lewinsky even retorted: “Thanks, Beyoncé, but if we’re verbing, I think you meant ‘Bill Clinton’d all on my gown,’ not ‘Monica Lewinsky’d.’”
It gets much worse — look up “Miss Those Days” by Celph Titled, if you dare — but all those NSFW lyrics can’t be published here.
Lewinsky is used to being the punchline. She has endured her status as the butt of misogynistic jokes since 1998, when the Internet and its capability to democratize access to mass audiences was still in its infancy. “The lines began to blur between fact and opinion, news and gossip, private lives and public shaming,” she wrote for Vanity Fair in March.
In the ’90s, the prominence of untouchable tabloids and newspapers ensured that she wouldn’t have control over her own narrative. In 2018, Lewinsky is tactfully wielding the power of social media to reclaim it, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and likes.
Now she’s the one delivering the punchline. She’s setting the record straight, tongue in cheek, among an audience that isn’t here for slut-shaming, even over a debacle that happened before they were born.
(She’s not kidding; the Cut estimated in 2015 that about 128 rap songs reference her.)
She also used the platform to poke fun at the scandal after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on May 3 blamed an unflattering Politico article on the intern who wrote it.
In her case, though, it was more than just “the intern” who was blamed. The affair has always reflected a societal flaw much wider in scope than infidelity alone. She was relentlessly derided because of long-held stereotypes of adultering women as treacherous snakes and sluts. Clinton might have been impeached, but he finished his second term as president and went on to enjoy a public life relatively unscathed — powerful, influential wife Hillary by his side — while Lewinsky … was name-dropped in rap songs.
Lewinsky has credited #MeToo with a more profound understanding of the power imbalances that complicated her affair — and her reputation. “He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college,” she wrote in the March Vanity Fair piece.
But she’s not afraid to confront the world head-on now, to call out injustice where she sees it. On Wednesday, Lewinsky grilled Town & Country via Twitter for disinviting her from the magazine’s annual Philanthropy Summit, which Bill Clinton was attending.
She doesn’t want a column in a magazine. She already has a platform — one she curates herself. She wouldn’t settle for anything less than being present, and being valued for that presence.
So, something funny happened: The same news media that’s given her grief for years wrote about her tweets, her narrative. And then, the magazine apologized.