Life goes on for the man caught in a political sex scandal, while the woman is forever stuck in time

She's not blameless, but Lewinsky has done enough penance for now




Monica Lewinsky is 40 years old. Or that is what her birth certificate says, but she isn’t 40 really. Not in the eyes of the world, where she will always be a grinning twentysomething intern with a beret on her head, a stain on her dress and a cigar somewhere else.

One half of the biggest political sex scandal to rock America, Lewinsky has never really been allowed to move on from 1998, when her affair with the president was revealed. Bill Clinton, the other half, has fared better. Once the impeachment and all those weaselly words were behind him, he carried on being the most powerful man in the world for a couple more years. He had a life and career before Lewinsky, and he has one after her.

Lewinsky, who made the mistake of canoodling with the most powerful person in the world, rather than being that person, was a nobody when she met Clinton and has been a one-trick celebrity ever since. She is dogged by the beret, the dress and the cigar, as inseparable from them as Antonia de Sancha is from David Mellor in a Chelsea strip or Christine Keeler from that chair. She is trapped in a never-ending 15 minutes of fame.

In the 16 years since the tawdry details of their Oval Office fling were revealed, Lewinsky has never been able to progress beyond her White House internship. She has designed handbags, fronted a dating show and studied social psychology. She has not married and has no children, which is just as well because a happy family would not fit with the only profession that matters on her CV – one-time presidential mistress.

Now Lewinsky has resurfaced with a long essay, headlined “Shame and Survival”, in the new issue of Vanity Fair. In it she writes about her “consensual” relationship with Clinton, and its unconsensual aftermath. She writes of regret and suicidal thoughts. She describes how she cannot get work, unless that work might involve trading on being Monica Lewinsky. Writing about her life is one of the few jobs she is permitted to do and over which she has some control. She is not blameless, but she has probably done her penance by now.

Naturally the timing of her reappearance has been seized upon as political conspiracy. It is a Republican ploy to wreck Hillary Clinton’s White House bid before it gets going. It is a Democrat ploy to get the muck raked before Hillary Clinton’s White House bid gets going. Or perhaps Hillary Clinton is beyond irritated that the stale indiscretions of her husband are read as having any bearing whatsoever on her own political career.

For her part, Lewinsky claims she is speaking out now “as the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the internet”, to help other victims of online harassment. If true, that is laudable. She has also spotted a new line of diggers speeding down the highway and has decided to take the initiative. “I cannot help but fear the next wave of ‘Where is she now?’ stories,” she writes. “I’ve begun to find it debilitating to plot out the cycle of my life… on the political calendar.”

Her alternative was to keep quiet, to carry on being an unemployable eternal punchline, living in the shadows, occasionally illuminated by a Clinton career move. Given that, who can blame Lewinsky for “taking back her narrative” now? For reclining on a couch in a pretty white dress with professional hair and make-up and good lighting. For trying to move her story on beyond 1998. Rather that than be snapped every decade or so, looking older or fatter or thinner or richer or poorer than her famous 22-year-old self.

That’s the thing for the other woman (and it is almost always a woman) in a political sex scandal. They never stop being the other woman. De Sancha, now 51, was recently photographed having a beer outside a Notting Hill restaurant; Keeler, 71, pulling a shopping trolley through her south London estate. In 2014, their ageing, irrelevant faces still make headlines. Sex scandals are fascinating – they add frisson to politics, they make for not very successful musicals – but they do not change the world. Women have always “brought down” powerful men, always will, but they rarely get to control what happens after that.

“I’m determined to have a different ending to my story,” says Lewinsky. Sadly for her, the world will probably only ever remember the beginning.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Packaging Operatives

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for two indivi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Estimator

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a major supplier of buil...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£28000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ukip MEP Janice Atkinson (left) with party leader Nigel Farage  

Hey, Nigel Farage and Kerry Smith – my family are East Enders too and never use that word

Victoria Richards
A screenshot from the trailer for Hatred  

I love violent video games, but you'll never catch me playing Hatred

Alex White
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas