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We still judge Monica Lewinsky more harshly than Bill Clinton, and it’s not okay

Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky
(Featureflash / Shutterstock)

Let's imagine a hypothetical workplace where the male CEO has an affair with a young, female intern. The CEO is married, of course, and a serial philanderer. He's powerful and charismatic, and he invites his new paramour to listen in on meetings she would never otherwise hear, and suggests that he can help her career in big ways.

Obviously, it takes two people to have an affair. But if you had to apportion blame, where would you put it: the older, married CEO, or the young, unmarried intern?

America is mad at the intern. An Economics/YouGov poll earlier this year, presented under the headline, "No Redemption for Monica Lewinsky," concluded, "Opinion about Monica Lewinsky has not improved much since the late 90s, though Americans seem to have forgiven Bill Clinton."

Forty-eight percent of those surveyed still reported an "unfavorable opinion" of the former White House intern. More than twice as many said they viewed her unfavorably as favorably. Only a third expressed any sympathy for her.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton got a 58 percent favorable rating in the same poll.

As a refresher, since it seems to have escaped many people: Clinton was not only a partner in the affair, but the (much) more powerful, older partner, who was actually committing infidelity at the time. He pretty clearly deserves a bigger serving of disgust than the then-twenty-two-year-old, barely-out-of-college, single person in the story. Some would go as far as to call him a predator.

But no. Instead, the American public has always judged Lewinsky more harshly than Clinton, in a way that defies any sense of logic or fairness. And time hasn't helped remedy that at all.

This week, Monica Lewinsky joined Twitter, and it became instantly clear how angry some Americans remain:

The Washington Post captured some of the first reactions (really, attacks) in "A sampling of the tweets Monica Lewinsky has received since joining Twitter."  Of course there was no onslaught of tweets to support such a piece focused on Clinton, despite the fact that his actions were similarly resurfaced by Lewinsky's remarks about the scandal.

And it goes without saying that the former president was spared the "Lewinsky should be ashamed of herself" and "she's asking for it" opinion pieces that poured in.

The incredibly different ways Clinton and Lewinsky are treated even today makes a shockingly sad statement about how, 15 years of discussion of gender equality later — including the insertion of slut-shaming into the national dialogue as something you're not supposed to do we can't even manage to divide our collective side-eyes evenly between men and women.

As Northwestern University psychologist Alice H. Eagly, an expert on the psychology of gender, said to Vox, the reaction "surely has to do with the preservation of a double standard for sexuality."

It's enough to make you wonder why Lewinsky didn't choose sexism, instead of cyber bulling as her new cause.  After all, ridiculous double standards and misogyny, more than the Internet's dark side, are to blame for the disproportionate focus on her role in this affair, and for her resulting trauma.

Sure, it could be argued that people simply don't have as much lingering disdain for Clinton because he's had more time in the public eye since the affair was exposed, and more time to repair his reputation. Perhaps he's distracted us from his missteps with his foundation and his support of his wife's career.

But that doesn't add up. Look what happened when Lewinsky tried to move on, attempting to raise awareness about cyber bulling and to prevent suicides. Instead of letting her new platform redefine her, people were too busy recycling old judgments of her to let her remake her image.

A report uncovered by the Washington Post this week says authorities exercised "poor judgment" and mistreated Lewinsky in a 12-hour interrogation about her relationship with Clinton, and that "the ethics of the situation were somewhat murky."

"Somewhat murky," huh? But there's nothing murky about the divergent ways Clinton and Lewinsky are being treated 15 years later. It's just wrong.

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