Monica Lewinsky bravely shares her evolving views on consent in the workplace.
In some ways, Monica Lewinsky will always be defined by her moment in history as the White House intern who had an affair with the president that nearly cost him his job.
However, Lewinksy has made bold strides in breaking out of that singular narrative in recent years, speaking out against bullying and, in certain circles, gaining notoriety as a beloved feminist icon.
Yet she's always defended the power dynamic in her relationship with Bill Clinton. "Sure my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: It was a consensual relationship," she said as recently as 2014.
But it appears Lewinsky's stance has evolved.
"I'm beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot," she wrote in Vanity Fair's March 2018 edition.
Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images.
She's now speaking out about how unequal workplace dynamic affected her relationship with Clinton.
When Lewinsky's affair with Clinton was a national scandal, she was often portrayed as the villain in the story. Now, it's less about heroes and villains and more about the nature of how power and roles in the workplace affect romantic relationships — even ones that are seemingly consensual.
"Now, at 44, I'm beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern," she wrote.
The Clinton family in 1998 during the height of the Lewinsky scandal. Photo via White House Photograph Office/U.S. National Archives/Wikimedia Commons.
Lewinksy isn't changing her story. The lens through which that story is viewed is changing.
She stands by her story, but it's the way the story played in the broader culture that's now being scrutinized. And Lewinsky is very clear that this change in thinking may never have come about were it not for the women telling their own stories as the #MeToo movement gained momentum:
"I — we — owe a huge debt of gratitude to the #MeToo and Time’s Up heroines. They are speaking volumes against the pernicious conspiracies of silence that have long protected powerful men when it comes to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and abuse of power."
By speaking out, Lewinsky is showing how we're all growing thanks to this movement.
Lewinsky isn't trying to rewrite history. In fact, she's very open that in some ways her thinking on a moment that has largely defined her has only just begun. Instead, she's transforming a moment once rooted in shame into a learning moment for men and women everywhere.
The mechanics of consent may sound simple enough, but the line between office flirtation and harassment can be murky. It's not only about the obvious cases of people treating others badly; it's also how the power of our culture and workplaces shape those relationships in the first place.
Like Lewinsky says about herself, we are as a culture really only beginning to think about the potential nuances of these power dynamics. And the willingness to reconsider and even challenge the way we once viewed past transgressions can only help us map that path forward.