A woman stands on stage poised to begin only her second major public speaking engagement as part of the viral TED Talk series. What should be an incredible accomplishment in her life is dampened by her past; she struggles to maintain composure during the course of her speech.
You might know her as Monica Lewinsky or “that woman.”
We all know the details of her relationship with President Bill Clinton; we know she wore a blue dress and a bad beret.
Her recent return to the spotlight with a TED Talk on cyber-bullying and an essay in Vanity Fair is giving us a chance to learn about who Lewinsky really is.
“It was easy to forget that that woman was dimensional, had a soul and was once unbroken” she told the audience.
Lewinsky has broken her long silence in an effort to help other victims of cyber-bullying. In her Ted Talk, Lewinsky talked about how deeply the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi in 2010 moved her and her family. His death motivated her to advocate for victims of harassment online.
“My mom was beside herself about what happened to Tyler and his family,” Lewinsky said. “I realized she was reliving 1998…reliving a time when both of my parents feared that I would be humiliated to death, literally.”
What happened to Lewinsky, Clementi and countless others is unacceptable.
Instead of holding the president of the United States accountable for lying under oath, the country humiliated a young woman who had never been a public figure. According to a 2014 GALLUP poll, Clinton is the most popular living president of the U.S. His reputation rebounded from “Lewinsky-gate” so well that if he could run for President again, he would be an instant front runner. None of the shame of having an affair while occupying the White House seems to have stuck to Clinton. For Lewinsky, it never went away.
When I watched Lewinsky’s TED Talk, I saw a woman who deserves respect. She survived her ordeal and is now risking reliving the humiliation that could have cost her her life to help others navigate the insane world of viral shaming. To reduce this intelligent, articulate and compassionate human being to a bad decision she made in her twenties is wrong.
The problem of cyber-bullying isn’t going to get better anytime soon. However, if we listen to Lewinsky’s pleas to consider how our actions online can have real life effects others and act compassionately towards those who become victims, we will have taken a large step forward.