Thursday, October 23, 2014
By Margo Page
Monica Lewinsky’s message was simple. Her message was about standing up for someone when they’re being talked about behind their back, not judging others, and not labeling others. However, her message and situation are related to more issues than that. Her situation served as an example of how polarizing our society is. It shows how eagerly we vilify others. It is also relevant to feminism in many ways. Most important is what she didn’t say in her speech but she demonstrated – having the bravery to stand up for yourself.
I know what it’s like to be manipulated and lied to by someone who was in a relationship, and had I not experienced this first-hand I don’t think that I could fathom how powerful misleading emotional manipulation can be. When you want to be cared about by someone you like or even love, it is very easy to believe they feel the same way towards you when they say that they do, and they act like they do. I have experienced a man telling me he was separated when he was not. I have been manipulated by multiple men into believing that they were not dating someone else when in fact they were. There was a pilot, a doctor, and a future wall-street broker, to name a few. These men were extremely convincing, and it wasn’t even a part of their professional qualifications. I can’t even fathom how conniving a man could be who convinced an entire nation to elect him as President. We shouldn’t judge others when we don’t know them, when we don’t know all of the sides to a story, when we don’t know their feelings, when we aren’t them. We shouldn’t judge others.
As people we naturally use categorical thinking to organize our thoughts and view the world coherently. However, when we sort things into a dichotomy, they become polarized into black and white, when most things in our world are actually grey. This is a problem in our society especially in politics, where we tend to label people and views as democratic or republican, as liberal or conservative. Many people have a mixture of liberal and conservative views. Polarizing in politics is a problem because people feel as though they should dogmatically support one side or another without evaluating an issue on it’s own merit. We should avoid the temptation to simplify and instead, take the time and effort to evaluate situations and issues more carefully. Categorizing the Lewinsky-Clinton situation as a woman having a physical affair with the President is an overly simplified view and an indicator of the more general problem we face as a society that polarizes.
Vilifying people is another form of polarizing. We are not Disney characters in an animated drama. Someone who does something bad usually does not have purely sadistic motives. Monica Lewinsky was not a woman with an evil plot to wreck the Clintons’ marriage. Bill Clinton was not a bad President because he demonstrated this lack of judgment, moral transgression, and betrayal to his wife. These are real people, with complicated emotions, back stories, life views, and experiences that interplayed into the affair they had. Perhaps many people admired Bill Clinton and when this affair was found out, people were upset and felt betrayed that our political head of state disappointed us and lied to us. Maybe people felt that it was easier to harshly vilify Monica Lewinsky because we knew so little about her, and it shifted some blame away from our President who we felt emotionally connected to.
Why did we use labels like “slut” and “tramp” when referring to Ms. Lewinsky, but not to President Clinton? In fact, what labels does society use to refer to men who behave in ways that society deems sexually unacceptable?
Would our judgments have been different had the genders been reversed? If Mr. Clinton had instead been Mrs. Clinton, would the man she had an affair with have been blamed? Or would she have shouldered all of the blame? Ms. Lewinsky was at fault. She was wrong. But those are different from blame. To blame her is inappropriate. It seems that many felt she shared equal responsibility in the affair. I believe that we should respect others’ marriages. However, while she did have a responsibility to show a general respect for others’ marriages, Ms. Lewinsky did not have a personal obligation to Mrs. Clinton. It was Mr. Clinton who had the legal and moral obligation to be faithful to his wife.
Staking claim to equal treatment
It takes bravery to attempt to turn an extremely negative situation into something positive. It takes bravery to dare to believe that you deserve respect when most others think you don’t. It takes even more bravery to take action towards claiming that respect. Ms. Lewinsky is smart enough and wise enough now to know that her speech would not be taken as she wished by many people. She knew that it would cause some people to criticize, judge, and slander her again. But she felt that fear and did it anyways. We all need to practice bravery. We need to believe in ourselves when no one else does. We need to dare to speak our minds. We need to practice standing up for others, and we need to also be audacious enough to stand up for ourselves. A man or a woman thinking “I deserve to be treated fairly and equally” is the backbone of feminism beliefs. Saying it confidently to the world is being an active feminist.