The internet has been all abuzz the past several days with news about Monica Lewinksy. Yep, that Monica, the one who made the mistake in 1998 of falling in love with her boss who just happened to be the President of the United States at the time (aka Bill Clinton) and subsequently has been subjected to years of humiliation and shame thanks to a lot of shock jocks, late night show monologue jokes, over 40 rap songs (yes, 40) and, most unfortunately, the internet.
Did you know that the “affair” and the country’s obsession about that infamous dress was the first major news story to break on the internet? Try living that down…or, for that matter, being branded as <insert any very negative term for a female>.
Sorry, I won’t put any of them here because
a) there is no equivalent name for a man who does the same thing and
b) I don’t ever think there is a place for name calling
In case you missed it, Ms. Lewinsky made the headlines because of her TED Talk last week entitled The Price of Shame. And everyone, I mean, everyone, needs to watch it.
I am making my son watch it. He was a baby when the scandal reverberated through cyberspace and has probably heard a few of those 40 rap songs. More importantly, he is part of the first generation to grow up pretty much desensitized by the internet. My job as his mother is to try to make sure he leaves the nest understanding this is not the way the world really needs to be…or at least not the way he needs to accept it.
Call me crazy but…if you have sat in judgement of Ms. Lewinsky, I’m not saying you need to forget the mistake she clearly knows she made, but try to forgive her because her message is very clear. We, as a society, must stop the insanity. You know, the right that so many think they have to humiliate and bully people, especially online and sadly, a lot of times, for monetary gain.
This past weekend I volunteered at a local fundraising event for Powerstories Theatre here in Tampa. I cannot say enough great things about this organization and their mission. In a nutshell, it is all about “opening hearts and minds”and giving people a stage to tell their story. And their Girlstories Leadership Theatre, held every summer for middle school aged girls, “serves as the impetus to talk about important issues and to educate girls about achieving their goals and dreams”. They received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in 2010 and truly hope one day to be a nationwide program.
While they deserved their standing ovation, the fact that these 11, 12 and 13 year old girls have such stories of shame and humiliation to tell in the first place is so sad. And trust me, none of them did anything to deserve it. They are just the victims of insensitive and cruel kids. A program like Girlstories Leadership Theatre, though, can help any girl trying to navigate the very difficult teenage years build confidence and courage.
But we are kidding ourselves if we think the teasing, the name calling, the harassment ends when handed a high school diploma. Some people who actually do the whole public humiliation thing for a living try to claim freedom of speech. Ms. Lewinsky, however, pointed out, “There’s a difference between speaking up with intention versus speaking up for attention“.
We all have a story, right? And while we can’t all get the opportunity to tell it as a headline TED Talk, the most important thing is, of course, to just tell it. You may still think what Ms. Lewinsky did was immoral, but humiliating her or anyone else who has seen their name smeared across cyberspace will never be the answer.
Put yourself in her shoes for just one minute and imagine what it has been like for her for the past 17 years. And then imagine what it has been like for her mother who feared her daughter would be “humiliated to death”. No one deserves that…no one.
As Ms. Lewinsky mentioned in her speech, how many more stories like Tyler Clementi, the 19 year old Rutgers student who was ridiculed and ostracized after his roommate released a video online of him engaging in an intimate act with another male do we allow to happen?
Several years ago I went through a very difficult court battle with my ex-husband. We had already been divorced for a few years and what was supposed to be a very simple discussion the previous spring ended up as a full day trial the following winter. I’ve never written or publicly spoken about it before. And I debated for the past few days whether to even make mention of it. But I pride myself on being genuine and authentic and if saying this out loud and across the internet doesn’t make me very real…and vulnerable…I don’t know what will.
I really have no desire to air any “dirty laundry”, but I can tell you waking up and finding your name on the front page of your local newspaper is not something you want to have to explain to your two young children. And when the wire services actually picks up the story and you are getting phone calls from radio station morning DJs from around the country essentially using you for a laugh, I promise you, nothing ever really prepares you for that no matter how much confidence you have or how thick of a skin you have developed. My story certainly wasn’t of the magnitude that Ms. Lewinsky experienced but, trust me, it hurt…a lot.
So if you’ve been humiliated, bullied, ridiculed or ostracized, how do you want your story to end?
I promise mine isn’t ending with being a victim and I hope the same for Ms. Lewinsky. Here’s to her new ending living on the internet forever as one that truly makes a difference.
That’s it for now…#BlackerOut