This talk by Monica Lewinsky–“The Price of Shame”–is incredibly powerful.
I recommend you watch the whole thing.
I have heard people disparage her (of course) and then others say, well, she is doing a service to shine the light on cyber-bullying (as if telling her own story is not enough).
Monica Lewinsky constructed this eloquent speech to wrap her story into the larger social context of online hatred, and the social cost of all that hatred (suicide).
But if this talk were only about her experience and her only goal was to rescue her narrative and show the obviously brilliant woman she is this speech still would be a huge service to the rest of us.
When one person speaks out and rescues her own narrative from shame we are all lifted up.
As part of my research for Wet, I reread The Scarlet Letter to better understand my own New England roots.
Monica Lewinsky is the modern-day Hester Prynne (heroine of The Scarlet Letter).
Just as Hester Prynne was asked to stand on the stage to be shamed for her one “mistake” and then wear the Scarlet Letter for the rest of her life as a “living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved on her tombstone,” Lewinsky endured the slut-shaming pillory in 1998 when people and even even journalists thought nothing of calling her a “plump tart,” “tramp,” or yes, “slut.” And then, to wear her online reputation for the rest of her life. What is she a living symbol warning us against? Making a mistake? Being human? Making gossipy comments in phone conversations that she did not realize were being taped?
An interesting intersection with single shame: many people pity Monica, saying she has not had a proper job or relationship since 1998, though I’m not sure if this is true.
In 2015, Monica Lewinsky is doing something the fictional Hester Prynne never did: speak out on her own behalf. If there is a history of American slut-shaming, her speech represents a historic change moment. She comes forward with her own story and reclaims her narrative.
Hester Prynne eventually won the admiration of her townspeople by bearing the Scarlet Letter her whole life without complaint. She became respected for suffering quietly, doing her work as a seamstress, raising her daughter Pearl, and never identifying her accomplice-lover.
Lewinsky is showing that the slut-shamed can also be respected when they speak up. Any of the shamed can speak up. This is marvelous. This is social change.