How Monica Lewinsky went from laughingstock to #MeToo hero
Twenty years ago, Monica Lewinsky was a punchline. Now, in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, she leaves people speechless.
“She is a hero to young millennial women,” said a source close to Lewinsky. “I have one woman who works in my office who, when she met Monica, was practically in tears.”
After years of trying to distance herself from the image of the 22-year-old intern with the stained dress, Lewinsky is finally facing her past head-on.
And she has Bill and Hillary Clinton, and their gritted-teeth refusal to shrink from the spotlight, to thank for it.
“Now she’s feeling, like, ‘Wait a second. Why is the calendar and cycle of my life dictated by the cycles of the Clintons’ lives?’” David Friend, Lewinsky’s editor at Vanity Fair, told The Post.
In an essay for that magazine published on Tuesday, Lewinsky, 45, proclaimed that “Bill Clinton should want to apologize” to her for the affair she now realizes was a gross abuse of power. She also ridiculed the former president’s smug response to broadcaster Dan Rather’s question in 2004, about why Clinton had relations with Lewinsky.
“His reason: ‘Because I could.’ (And, yes, that’s a direct quote),” she wrote.
In a March column for Vanity Fair, Lewinsky admitted that she had been naive when, in 2014, she publicly defined the relationship as “consensual.”
“He was my boss,” she wrote of Clinton. “He was the most powerful man on the planet . . . He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college.”
Lewinsky even sat for some 20 hours’ worth of interviews for the A&E docuseries, “The Clinton Affair,” beginning Sunday. In it, she divulges intimate details of the courtship.
Having been publicly tarred and feathered and slut-shamed for years has turned Lewinsky into one of the world’s most popular activists against such behavior.
Although she still has a shot named after her at Barcelona Bar in Midtown (with the crass description: “don’t worry, we left out the cigars”), she rakes in $50,000-plus for a single speech on shame and bullying, lecturing everywhere from Romania to India.
(Lewinsky’s income is derived mainly from her speeches. An A&E source said that, while she was not compensated for her interview, she was paid photo-licensing fees for images used in the TV series.)
It’s all an about-face from how Lewinsky felt compelled to live her life before: shielding her face from the paparazzi and not granting a major interview for a decade. She even moved to England for a few years, earning a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.
In 2001, during one of her last major interviews before that hiatus, Lewinsky could barely cope when she caught a woman watching her at Il Cantinori restaurant in the East Village.
“At first she tried to look away, but the woman kept staring as if taking in a circus act; even as Monica reddened and fidgeted, she wouldn’t stop,” wrote Vanessa Grigoriadis in New York magazine. “Finally, Monica made a face like a snarling dog and growled, ‘Arrr!’ Then she covered her face with her hands and didn’t speak for 10 minutes.”
Friend told The Post that Lewinsky self-censored until 2014, when she became a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. Her first column, “Shame and Survival,” explained how the Clinton scandal ruined her chance of a normal life and documented the humiliation she suffered. The next year, she went viral with a TED talk on “The Price of Shame.”
‘She [has] decided, I think . . . to just take charge of her own timetable.’
The tides were turning.
Friend alerted Robert Soros — the son of George Soros, an avid Clinton supporter — that he’d be bringing Lewinsky to a benefit Soros was hosting in 2014 in Manhattan.
“Robert said, ‘Not only do I not give a s–t, you must bring her,’” Friend remembered.
But Lewinsky was temporarily scared back into a hole soon after, when Hillary Clinton announced in April 2015 she was running for president.
Yet in May of this year, Lewinsky lashed out on Twitter after being disinvited from the Town & Country Philanthropy Summit — after Bill Clinton agreed to speak at the event.
“She [has] decided, I think . . . to just take charge of her own timetable — to use her own phrase, [she wanted] ‘to control her own narrative,’” said Friend of Lewinsky’s new candidness.
The narrative includes embracing a more visible life in Manhattan, where Lewinsky hobnobs with friends, including Alan Cumming. On her birthday, July 23, she belted out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the actor’s downtown boite, Club Cumming.
Afterward, the crowd serenaded her with a round of “Happy Birthday.”
The source said Lewinsky keeps her friend group tight, goes to the theater, knits, and is a voracious reader.
“The best book recommendations I get come from her,” revealed the source, who said Lewinsky last turned her on to the thriller “I am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes.
Although her relationship status is unknown, a source spotted Lewinsky with a mystery man in May, on a flight from Los Angeles to JFK.
“Going out there into the world isn’t that easy to her,” added the source of Lewinsky.
But people seem to want her.
“Anytime I’m anywhere with her, someone comes up and tells her how incredible the work she’s done these past few years has been — how it allows people to confront their bullies or to deal with shame,” said the source. “She’s empowered other people.”
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