While misogyny and abuses of power are unfortunately tales as old as time, it seemed like conversations around these topics did not permeate popular culture until last year. The #MeToo hashtag, which was created by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, went viral on social media after Harvey Weinstein’s fall from power.
Using the #MeToo hashtag, women began sharing their stories of sexual assault and harrassment. I was immediately inspired by the stories that celebrities like Rose McGowan and Aurora Perrineau shared, and by my friends, who courageously told their own.
Yet I always find myself looking for new feminist role models who have managed to overcome complicated power dynamics and strive to help people in the present. Enter Monica Lewinsky.
I first heard of Monica Lewinsky in middle school, when I started to learn more about American history. I am disappointed in the way I was first introduced to her — my teacher made it seem like she was almost a villain who nearly led to former President Bill Clinton’s downfall. This depiction, which has been largely spread in the media and by many famous people, could not be farther from the truth.
Monica Lewinsky grew up in a Jewish household, with her father being the son of German Jews who fled Nazi Germany and her mother coming from a mixed Eastern-European Jewish family. She had her bat mitzvah at Sinai Temple in California, and has continued to travel to Israel over the years.
Here are four reasons why Monica Lewinsky is the Jewish feminist hero that we need in 2018.
1. Lewinsky refuses to be disrespected
On September 4th, Monica Lewinsky walked off a stage when Israeli TV anchor Yonit Levi asked her questions about Clinton that were “off limits.” In a tweet following the event, Lewinsky clarified that Levi agreed to only talk to Lewinsky about the subject of her speech, which was cyberbullying.
so here’s 👇🏻 what happened… pic.twitter.com/Y7gLs3SDLF
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) September 3, 2018
Whether or not an official contract was put in place, Levi violated Lewinsky’s trust and disrespected her. Lewinsky’s actions after Levi started asking her about Clinton is a good lesson in how we should not stand to be disrespected. Sometimes, literally dropping the mic is the best thing to do to defend your self-worth.
2. Lewinsky is a staunch anti-bullying advocate
Monica Lewinsky has used the bullying, including cyberbullying, that she received after her “relationship” with Bill Clinton — which she described as a “gross abuse of power” — for the greater good. In 2017, Lewinsky launched a public service announcement, which strived to show the real life impact of those who are affected by cyberbullying.
Lewinsky easily could have avoided the public after what she went through, which would have been totally understandable. So it is even more commendable how she has centered a lot of her work around the fight to end cyberbullying.
3. Lewinsky will not be defined by a past relationship
We all have had romantic and platonic relationships that we do not want to be reminded of on a constant basis. Monica Lewinsky has stated on numerous occasions, including during her recent appearance on Israeli television, that she does not want to answer questions about Bill Clinton. Why people do not respect her wishes is beyond me, but it’s admirable how strongly she stands her ground.
4. Lewinsky shows us it is okay to call out people, or publications, for being terrible
On May 9 this year, Monica Lewinsky was disinvited from Town and Country’s annual Philanthropy Summit because Bill Clinton accepted an invitation. Apparently, people have not learned how to prioritize victims and survivors.
please don't invite me to an event (esp one about social change) and –then after i've accepted– uninvite me because bill clinton then decided to attend/was invited.
emily post would def not approve.
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) May 9, 2018
It’s a shame that Lewinsky, even 20 years later, still receives the short end of the stick. What we can take away from this tweet, and the many other times that she has spoken out about similar instances, is that it is okay to speak out when you are treated unfairly. Standing up for yourself is not being emotional or complaining. It is okay.
Monica Lewinsky has given so much to the public through her anti-bullying advocacy and standing up for what she believes in. Hopefully, Lewinsky will start to be recognized by the public for her work and not a relationship she had with her boss, now more than 20 years ago.