On Monday, at an event in Israel, Monica Lewinsky gave a speech about cyberbullying and the internet. After the speech, in what was supposed to be a 15-minute conversation, a celebrated Israeli newscaster Yonit Levi, asked Lewinsky if she expects an apology from President Bill Clinton.
After saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” Lewinsky walked off stage, ending the conversation before it even began.
According to a tweet, Lewinsky said she walked offstage because “the exact question the interviewer asked first, she had put to me when we met the day before. I said that was off limits.” The Israeli news company denied these allegations.
so here’s 👇🏻 what happened… pic.twitter.com/Y7gLs3SDLF
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) September 3, 2018
Unfortunately, the media coverage of the incident amounted to what Time Out Tel Aviv’s editor called “levels of [male] chauvinism that have not been seen here in decades.”
While this might be hyperbole, I can’t help but agree that the sexism in the reporting of the event has been appalling. Many wrote that Lewinsky “stormed off the stage” — a description that’s perniciously sexist (oh, you know us women, we can’t control our emotions!), like it was some kind of outburst, instead of a level-headed decision not to allow her boundaries to be crossed.
As one of Levi’s said the following morning, “Is her honor [Lewinsky] a graduate of the Weizmann Institute of Science? Did she come to talk about the nuclear program? She came to talk about something that happened to her 20 years ago and that she made money off.”
Many male colleagues alluded to the same thing — that Lewinsky should not expect to be asked about anything but her involvement with the former U.S. president.
Never mind that she was all of 22 when she was working as an unpaid summer intern in the White House, having a “relationship” with someone who was far older and more powerful. It takes a simple Google search to know that, today, Lewinsky is an accomplished columnist, entrepreneur, social psychologist, and activist.
stormed? not quite.
politely said i was leaving? yes.
walked as fast as i could off stage in heels? yes.
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) September 4, 2018
In this YNet article, like in many others in the Israeli media, Lewinsky is solely described as the intern who had an affair. The writer also stresses that Levi took time off from her maternity leave to interview Lewinsky — as if the fact that Levi just had a baby has some bearing this fiasco (it’s not her fault, it’s just mommy brain!).
It’s interesting to see how, since Levi has been silent on the issue, her side has been shaped by mostly male colleagues and spokespeople. As for Lewinsky, she’s been very clear why she did what she did: “I left because it’s more important than ever for women to stand up for themselves and not to allow others to take control of their narrative.”
Since the incident, it was revealed that Lewinsky intends to open up about the affair in an upcoming documentary, and that is why Lewinsky refused to talk about it. But it is Lewinsky’s prerogative to decide when and where to tell her side of the story, and what control she has to have over it. It is her right to walk off the stage after being asked an impertinent and off-topic question about a speech she gave that had nothing to do with Clinton.
It’s a shame that decades later, Lewinsky continues to be a victim of media bullying. And it’s too bad that the crowd at the conference she attended was deprived of hearing her being interviewed in a respectful, on-topic way. But if you do want to read a good interview with Lewinsky (because she is amazing), check out this one with our own Jordana Horn.