Open Response to Kimberley A. Johnson's 'Letter to Monica Lewinsky From a Feminist' From a Feminist

Subject: Open Response to Kimberley A. Johnson's 'Letter to Monica Lewinsky From a Feminist' From a Feminist
From: Shannon Eli
Date: 15 May 2014

Dear Kimberley (or Ms. Johnson, if you prefer)

I’ll do the obligatory espousal of my respect for you to begin: I read many of your articles, follow you on facebook, and respect your ‘go f**k yourself/deal with it’ attitude, as I see it. Usually you represent exactly what I want the world to be and in general, I want my children to live in communities and societies that you’ve helped to build, so thank you for doing what you do. GO FEMINISM. There. Done.

So of course I recently became aware of Monica Lewinsky’s charges against feminism for not rising to her defense during the scandal, and I casually considered its merits. I hadn’t considered its erroneousness really so I agree it’s important to interrogate people’s intentions when co-opting feminism for selfish ends while otherwise opting out of contributing to it at all, so to that extent, I find your criticism valid.

The vast rest of it though: No.

You easily confuse her complaint to feminism. Actually at no point does your article make clear that you understood her charge at all. Consistently you seem to imply that she was hoping feminism would theorize or legitimize an excuse for her actions for her. Obviously that’s not the function of feminism, but I don’t believe that’s an accurate portrayal of her gripe with us either. Perhaps you’re right and she is being self-serving, but your framing of her position ignores what I’m certain is the most relevant part of her complaint: She’s not upset because women and feminist leaders didn’t have her back after she had sex with a married man (loosely quoted from your article). She’s upset because after she had sex with a married man, feminists watched as the world predictably, ruthlessly and disproportionately attacked, blamed and slut-shamed her for it. Slut-shaming, despite its usefulness had not been coined at the time, but anyhow this, to me, alone squarely implicates feminism. If necessary though, we can watch it compound further and further when we remember this was a 21 year old girl (I’ll call her that for rhetorical purposes, but also because the supposed threshold between childhood and adulthood is not static or anything besides arbitrary pragmatism) who had an affair, not with some married man, but arguably the most powerful person in the country or even the world. Between gender, age and status the uneven power relationship is threefold and then some. I won’t spend any time analyzing details or speculating on the manifestations of the differences that this power dynamic made because your article shows an awareness that these are factors of her decisions, although I think your diatribe about the stained dress sort of betrays you. (under such precarious, disempowering and stressful circumstances and with such little life experience under her belt, who the hell cares why she felt she needed to save the dress?) And personally, I found your “yucks” “icks” and “grosses” spiteful and kinda mean.

To justify feminism's inaction, you avoid using a gender lens to evaluate her complaint. The media called her names, you recognize, but I have to assume your decision not to go into detail about those names was deliberate...'cause they were gendered. She was rendered a media punching bag, as you put it, as perhaps she should have guessed, as you see it, but here you are either ignoring or condoning (necessarily one or the other) the inevitable misogynistic nature of the punches that would be thrown. It seems to me what this argument is really saying to Monica, and acts as a warning to all women, is that because sexism is steadfast and predictable, it’s deserved by those who do not carefully enough avoid it, and they are otherwise on their own. No feminism for you! Is your argument really she should have known? And if she could have or should have, does that mean it wasn’t sexism, or that the foreseeability of sexism made it somehow called for in this case? There’s no instance of sexism that is not feminism’s business, I’m quite certain of this, and Monica seems quite clear on this point too, which tells me she indeed does have at least a rudimentary understanding of what feminism is supposed to do. Not even when we don’t particularly like or agree with the target of sexism is sexism okay with us. That means we do not need to condone Monica Lewinky’s actions in order to defend her against the outrageous and inexcusable sexism she continues to face to this day, and she does.

So you mock her for still talking about it, accuse her of attention-seeking which is probably not a charge she’s unfamiliar with (and not an entirely ungendered one, I’d argue); you assure her that we’ve all moved on with our lives and don’t give a sh*t about her now; that she’s free to move on herself and shutup --But that’s the thing, of course: she’s not. She’s unemployable. I read comments from your followers simply reading “I wouldn’t hire her”... ... ... Then we agree. She can’t move on because that’s not a privilege associated with her gender. She’s a national pariah, and she’s still living with that. (Bill isn't, hence the need for a feminist analysis (one other than yours))

There was absolutely nothing ungendered about the media and public response to Monica’s role in the affair. She wasn’t merely judged as a woman with low professional and personal integrity; in addition to being called a tramp in all of its creative incarnations, she was judged as a sad beauty contestant hopeful. She was judged as not even good looking enough to be the slut she was simultaneously being called. We should have a feminist Bat Signal for things like this! I was 13 at the time, so I was at a Hanson concert, but otherwise, where were we? Were we seriously silent? For real, we did not have an opinion on this? I have trouble even believing it's true, but then you release this defense for our reticence, and I have to assume it must be.

She pissed off a lot of women, no doubt. “She just did”. It was something that hit home for many women who have been socialized by our culture and media to believe that aging and not being desired are the worst things that can happen to a woman, and that young women are predators to their poor husbands who, as the story goes, inevitably in the middle of their lives begin suffering from not getting young enough “pu**y”. Feminists, though, have the responsibility to be more critical of gender and power relations than the average person, so back to my thesis: regardless of how much anger and insecurity millions of women felt she stirred up for them, she was and still is entitled to a feminist defense against the misogynistic abuse she endured, especially since those very women's reactions probably comprised a large part of it.

Someone understands when they wrong or harm someone that they will see consequences if they are caught, and if they cry 'why me?' while being removed in handcuffs, I will retweet your thoughts on the subject. But if they are tortured for life or to death, we don’t make the argument that you have: we don’t argue that actions have consequences, boo hoo, world’s tiniest violin, yada yada. In a free and just society, we’re supposed to ensure that people’s payment for their crimes are not radically disproportionate to the crimes. We don't live in a free and just society, so that explains the injustice, but remind me again of what explains feminism's apathy to injustice. What good is an apathetic feminism? It's a contradiction of terms.

Only a feminist analysis of the public response could have revealed the injustice of it to Monica and to women everywhere. It wasn't unjust because she made her bed and now she has to lie in it; it was unjust because Bill Clinton, the ruler of one of the most powerful nations in the world, supposed to be the most accountable person in the country, made that bed too and still, only she was made to lie in it. He was married. She wasn’t. He was the President of the country. She wasn’t. And somehow she was held to more harsh account for violating his marriage vows and his civic duty than he was. Very unfortunately you mirror these criticisms in your article when you misdirect the same inquisition the media did in 1998. Shame on her for not thinking of Bill’s family! She displayed a fraction of the selfishness and lack of consideration that Hillary Clinton’s husband and president of the United States did. His family was not her responsibility. The country was not her responsibility. Husbands of America are not her responsibility.
He committed the infinitely higher crime and she continues to pay an infinitely higher price. Only sexism can explain this phenomenon, and that means only feminism can explain it. This is absolutely our turf and we should have been there. If we weren’t, it becomes entirely irrelevant to me whether ML invokes feminism out of sincerity or convenience because no matter what, she’s right. We failed.

With all that being said, I'm Ready For Hillary, 2016, baby!