The Most Surprising Thing About Monica Lewinsky's Vanity Fair Article

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 7 2014 7:44 PM

The Most Surprising Thing About Monica Lewinsky's Vanity Fair Article

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Monica Lewinsky in 2006.

Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images for Rodale

Monica Lewinsky's piece in Vanity Fair has hit newsstands, or at least the one by New York magazine's office, where we purchased a copy. (You have to subscribe to a "digital edition" to read it online.)

Now, first of all, on page 126 of this Vanity Fair, there is an article by Pippa Middleton about "Secrets of Royal Ascot." There's a picture of a horse, and Pippa is standing next to it wearing a big hat. It is unquestionably the hottest, buzziest horse-hat photograph of the summer. Familiarize yourself with it.

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Image via Vanity Fair

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But back to Lewinsky. The article is a summary of her recent life and an essay about online and/or sexual humiliation. She comes across as sympathetic and thoughtful, evoking the frustration of being publicly reduced to a sexual caricature. The most compelling material is her excerpt of a 1998 New York Observer roundtable of nine prominent (and ostensibly feminist) women who were (with the notable exception of Katie Roiphe, now a Slate contributor) vociferously defensive of Clinton and casually, almost incidentally cruel to Lewinsky. To wit:

Erica Jong: My dental hygienist pointed out that she had third-stage gum disease.

Lewinsky observes that her seemingly singular experience can now be shared, thanks to technology, by anyone. And her analysis of why exactly such a thing is harmful—and what can be done about it—is a real insight. The problem, she writes, goes beyond temporary embarrassment: it's that when you are humiliated over your appearance or something you did sexually at the exact age you're creating your own identity, "tawdry/ugly sex person" becomes your identity. It's what other people see you as and what you see yourself as. It keeps you from deciding who you are in the way that everyone else gets to. And the only way out of it is to eventually, by force, announce that you're someone else—which might not even work.

In other words, the most surprising thing about Monica Lewinsky's Vanity Fair article is that Monica Lewinsky wrote a pretty good Vanity Fair article without including any sensational details about her relationship with Bill Clinton. Which is itself, of course, an inherently condescending observation that is exactly what Monica Lewinsky is talking about.

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

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