Will Monica Lewinsky matter?

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:33 EDT
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Digby has a post castigating people who think that the return of Monica Lewinsky isn’t going to matter, and I find her reasoning quite persuasive.

The Lewinsky scandal was seen at the time through the lens of the unprecedented partisan attacks of the previous five years and the total abdication of all sanity by the press. And frankly, the country just wasn’t as evolved on these issues at the time. Now this is a major battleground in our ongoing culture war, with liberals leading the charge for a change — and that makes them vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. That wouldn’t matter to the Republicans as they simply do not acknowledge that such a thing exists for them. But they are smart enough to deploy some very good actors to declare with over-the-top lugubrious sanctimony that the Clintons will be bringing rape culture to the White House even as it’s clearly nothing they would ever care about outside this context.

Perhaps I’m wrong and the right won’t press this angle. But I see the scandal machinery is up and running and it appears to me that they think it’s going to once again be a useful wedge for them with Clinton. I don’t know that the American people will be any more impressed by it than they were the last time, but I do think it’s obvious that the culture has made a shift on these issues and it’s not a shift that favors traditional conservatism. If they see a way to rip a hole in the liberal matrix by calling them “Bill Clinton hypocrites” I think they’re going to try.

To be exquisitely clear, the right wing attack machine’s line on Clinton and Lewinsky is full-blown bullshit. Joe Scarborough is one of the best in the business at taking right wing bullshit and selling it in ways where it starts to sound persuasive to people outside of the bubble, and even he can’t make this sound anything like ripe bullshit.

I still can’t believe the way he was treated in the 1990s. And it was always the women. The victims. And these people come out, and have the nerve to come out after defending him, after defending him, claim to come out wanting to support women and protect women. Women’s rights unless we’re protecting a really, really powerful man who’s on our side politically. Swear to God, I’m going to pass out.

Women’s rights? What women’s right are we talking about here?  The right to have your husband not cheat on you and humiliate you? I don’t know any feminists who think that’s an actual right. How would that be enforced by the government anyway? By banning adultery and putting people in jail for it? If so, how is having the “right” to throw your cheating spouse in jail a women’s right? Women cheat on men, too. Women cheat on women. Men cheat on men. The mainstream media would like to pretend it’s all just sleazy husbands and suffering wives, but adultery is a pretty gender-neutral offense. More to the point, it’s not the government’s goddamn business, which is why you will basically never see a feminist actually arguing for policing adultery.

Maybe he means, uh, a woman’s right to not have a consensual affair? Because feigned “concern” for Monica Lewinsky is a line I see a lot of conservatives pushing. It is wholly empty, of course. While Bill Clinton treated Lewinsky atrociously, it’s just the usual “bad boyfriend” stuff: Leading her on while using her for sex, mostly. What really ruined her life was unwittingly stepping into a right wing conspiracy to take down the President, by being tricked into thinking she had a friend who was actually a spy recruited by this conspiracy to dig up dirt on Clinton. She was further abused by Matt Drudge, who single-handedly hammered at this story until it became a national scandal. And Maureen Dowd, whose obsession with the whole thing helped craft this unfair public image of Lewinsky as a bimbo and a slut. (Yes, Dowd is technically a liberal, but her reactionary tendencies get her sucked into this right wing bullshit all the time, and this might be the most classic example.) Ninety-nine percent of smart young women who get sucked into ill-advised affairs with charming cads when they are young recover quite nicely, thank you very much. The reason that Lewinsky’s life was permanently altered by this was because of the right wing noise machine. So, if you’re concerned about the well-being of young women who naively make stupid sexual choices, start by not making a public spectacle of them for it.

And that’s the issue here. Feminists, most of them anyway, have no love for cads. Don’t get me wrong. But we also know that consensually entering relationships with cads is one of those things women are going to do, and that the conservative advice on how to fix the problem—subject women to sexual and social control that strips them of their basic human rights—will just make women’s lives worse while not doing much to stop caddish behavior. The best way to reduce the incidence of exploitative, caddish behavior is to do what we’re already doing: Empower women to feel entitled to self-respect. Fight against a culture of sexual harassment and “pick-up artists” that teaches men that it’s cool to use women’s sexuality to degrade and shame them. Support women’s reproductive and sexual rights, so that poor sexual choices—which we are all capable of making, male and female—don’t haunt them for life. Fight against slut-shaming, so that women’s sexual choices, whether smart or not, are not used to discredit their entire character.

Anyway, Digby’s right that a whole bunch of voters don’t really understand this issue, and fall into the trap of thinking that feminism is simply about what women “want”, not distinguishing appropriately between legitimate human rights issues and cultural changes we want and the generic desire never to be hurt by someone  you were in love with. So this might have legs, but only if the idiotic “Village” media picks it up and runs with it, disingenuously pretending that they don’t understand these distinctions, either. Let’s hope they remember how terrible and embarrassing it was the first time around and choose, instead, to let it go.

For more on this, I was on HuffPost Live talking about this:

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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