July 12, 2014 6:24:26 PM
I never figured on feeling sorry for Monica Lewinsky. She was too much like an Atlanta Hooters waitress I once interviewed who wanted to file a sex discrimination lawsuit. You asked for it, I thought.
I felt much sorrier for the country than I did Monica in 1998, and for a progressive administration being held hostage by Congressional hypocrites who delved into matters that weren't really their business.
But I didn't despise Monica. There were too many other more repellant creatures on which to heap scorn: Linda Tripp, a Monica "friend" with less loyalty than a gnat; Kenneth Starr, who put one in mind of a backwoods lawman, a Barney Fife on morality patrol.
Monica's recent essay -- she's decided at age 40 it's time to speak up and give her version -- made some good points about feminism and its failures. Let's face it. All great movements have failures.
Monica quoted from an old story about a panel of celebrity women brought together at scandal time by The New York Observer.
One woman writer, Katie Roiphe -- considered by many to be anti-feminist but that's beside the point -- said this: "I think what people are outraged about is the way that (Monica) looks, which is interesting. Because we like to think of our presidents as sort of godlike, and so if J.F.K. has an affair with Marilyn Monroe, it's all in the realm of the demigods .... I mean, the thing I kept hearing over and over again was Monica Lewinsky's not that pretty. ..."
It got worse. Erica Jong ("Fear of Flying") said she thought Monica had third-stage gum disease, and Nancy Friday said if Monica ever needed work she could "rent out her mouth." Another called Monica a "not-brilliant" woman, probably a relief as a sex partner after Hillary.
So if Monica had been slim, prettier and a movie star with better gums and a degree from, say, Harvard, the jokes would have been less vicious? Women, at least, would have rushed to her side and said, "Wait a minute here, the man deserves half the blame"?
The world doesn't work that way, never has. Women are the ones who wear the scarlet "A" and the maternity clothes. Men wear smug looks on their way to the locker room.
Monica makes the point that even Hillary didn't blame Bill. She naturally blamed Monica -- whom she called "a narcissistic loony toon" -- and herself. She said she (Hillary) had been emotionally neglectful.
And while technically the affair was consensual (to her credit, Monica never claimed otherwise), the president was older, should have been wiser and was in an employer role.
Women owe a lot to Bill Clinton. I thought about him this week when his Supreme Court appointee Ruth Bader Ginsburg correctly wrote a scathing dissenting opinion about the Hobby Lobby contraceptive issue. We wanted to forgive him. Averting our eyes was the party line.
Maybe we should have felt compassion, too, for the young woman who made a horrible mistake and still is paying for it. The one thrown off the bus and under the wheels.
1. Our View: Finding a successor for Mr. Lewis DISPATCH EDITORIALS
2. Ask Rufus: Coming home at Christmas LOCAL COLUMNS
3. Lynn Spruill: Universal language LOCAL COLUMNS
4. Dana Milbank: Marco Rubio's fury NATIONAL COLUMNS
5. Michael Gerson: For a politics of repair NATIONAL COLUMNS