Monica Lewinsky is back, and playing offense. The woman in the little blue dress is giving a Ted talk about the "culture of humiliation," scolding cyber bullies who wound innocents and reclaiming a personal narrative in her own voice. She's burning the beret and the blue dress with a telltale stain, "giving purpose to my past" in the name of a softer feminism that she says begins with a "little f."
Hillary Clinton, who never left, is playing defense, angry and aggressive, asserting her "rights" to remain private in a high public office. She asserts such "rights" by deleting 30,000 "personal" emails from an account meant for official business as secretary of state. This eclectic account included details of her mother's funeral, (related as a creepy bid for belated sympathy), schedules of her yoga sessions, Chelsea's wedding plans and email exchanges with Bill, which weren't exactly exchanges because he didn't send any. She wanted to control her own history, on her own server, in her own way. She hasn't cited "a vast right wing conspiracy" as the threat to her privacy. Not yet.
Well, you've come a long way, babes. What a difference the passage of a couple of decades make.
As an approach to life, feminism is a many-splintered thing. These two women demonstrate that when the political is truly personal, feminism won't help much. Hillary has played the hurt, forgiving wife who rises from the ashes of her husband's sordid adultery to become a U.S. senator, secretary of state and autocratic destroyer of public documents. She has alternated between modes of hurt and heroic, angry and aggressive, wife and candidate, to the softer ken of grandmotherhood.
Monica, recalling her life in the frantic and furious fast lane, says she was "branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, 'that woman.'" Feminists who are usually on the prowl to identify and celebrate victims of male power, did not rise to her defense.
"I sorely wished for some sign of understanding from the feminist camp," she writes in Vanity Fair. "Some good, old-fashioned, girl-on-girl support was much in need. None came."
When Hillary ran for president in 2008, she played the tough-as-any-man feminist card, insisting that she wasn't running as a "woman candidate" but as "the best qualified and experienced person." We were instructed to ignore her sex. That was then. At a recent gala for Emily's List, an organization that supports the election of Democratic women, she boasted that her election would be a first for women.
"Don't you someday want to see a woman president of the United States of America?" she asked. The audience roared a resounding "yes!"
"She's really relaxed and comfortable and clearly more willing to say, 'I am woman, and so are you, and so are your children, and this is why it's important,'" Bonnie Campbell, a Democratic campaigner in Iowa, told NPR News. That's hardly a compelling argument from someone who wants to be the commander-in-chief, and who, at a press conference at the United Nations, stood before the tapestry of "Guernica," Picasso's famous image of the brutality of war, a reminder that it's a hard, mean, tough world and war is not coffee in the kitchen with the girls. It was not an impressive performance by a woman who consistently blurs the personal and the public in a position of leadership.
"This was a notably transparent exploitation of gender," observed David Remnick in New Yorker magazine. "It's one thing for a politician to be stupid; it is quite another for her to assume that we are."
Hillary and Monica have sharp differences of opinion over what's public and what's legitimately private. Hillary, the public figure, says she, as secretary of state, deleted the personal emails as a matter of "convenience," as if she were a housewife busy with her spring cleaning. Monica Lewinsky describes how the public exposure of her affair with Bill Clinton moved her overnight from "being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide."
Monica at 41 sees things differently than she did at 22. "Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply." She has paid her dues, and now wants to spare others who suffer from the slings and arrows of public humiliation when such "goes viral" on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, TMZ or Gawker.
Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be talking about the United Nations report of the violent abuse of women worldwide, instead has to talk about the Clinton family's charitable foundation taking enormous gifts of money from potentates responsible for much of that violence.
Monica Lewinsky calls her experiences "shame and survival." Hillary would never call hers that, but the rest of us can, and do.