Monica Lewinsky: Bill Clinton's refusal to apologize is proof of 'what power looks like'

More than 20 years after she began facing public humiliation and demonization because of her affair with then-President Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky has become a prominent voice in reflecting on the ways powerful men abuse their positions over less powerful women.

“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 in March for Vanity Fair. “I’m beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot. (Although power imbalances — and the ability to abuse them — do exist even when the sex has been consensual.)”

In a new Vanity Fair essay published Tuesday, Lewinsky again examines this disparity in power as she explains why she decided to relive the painful memories of her experience for a forthcoming documentary series airing on A&E.

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Monica Lewinsky out and about in recent years
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 04: Monica Lewinsky attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Honoree and activist Monica Lewinsky arrives at TLC's Give A Little Awards at NeueHouse Hollywood on September 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images,)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Monica Lewinsky arrives at the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 26: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS, SPECIAL RATES APPLY) (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS, SPECIAL RATES APPLY) Writer Monica Lewinsky attends the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/VF17/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Monica Lewinsky attends MARINA 70 at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on December 8, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Monica Lewinsky attends MARINA 70 at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on December 8, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: Monica Lewinsky attends Vanity Fair & SAKS Fifth Avenue International Best Dressed List at Saks Fifth Avenue on September 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 20: Talent agent Ronald Meyer (L) and Monica Lewinsky attend the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 20, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Monica Lewinsky poses backstage at the hit musical based on the cult film 'American Psycho' on Broadway at The Schoenfeld Theatre on May 02, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Monica Lewinsky arrives for the gala screening of 'Despite The Falling Snow' on March 23, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
Monica Lewinsky arrives to the Vanity Fair Party following the 88th Academy Awards at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday evening, February 28, 2016. (Photo by Axel Koester/Corbis via Getty Images)
Monica Lewinsky arrives to the Vanity Fair Party following the 88th Academy Awards at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday evening, February 28, 2016. (Photo by Axel Koester/Corbis via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12: Alice Temperley (L) and Monica Lewinsky attend an intimate dinner party hosted by Alice Temperley to celebrate 15 years of Temperley at GWP Studio on November 12, 2015 in London, England. Guests drank Baileys Flat White martinis to toast the occasion and mark the significant milestone for the brand. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Temperley London)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09: Monica Lewinsky attends the launch of A.A. Gill's new book 'Pour Me: A Life' at Daunt Books on November 9, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09: Monica Lewinsky attends the launch of A.A. Gill's new book 'Pour Me: A Life' at Daunt Books on November 9, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 22: Monica Lewinsky attends Andy Cohen & SiriusXM celebrate the launch of Cohen's New, Exclusive SiriusXM Channel, Radio Andy, at PHD Rooftop Lounge at The Dream Downtown in New York City on October 22, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 22: Monica Lewinsky, Mark Consuelos and Kelly Ripa speak with Andy Cohen & SiriusXM to celebrate the launch of Cohen's New, Exclusive SiriusXM Channel, Radio Andy, at PHD Rooftop Lounge at The Dream Downtown in New York City on October 22, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Monica Lewinsky (R) visits TV/Radio host Andy Cohen (L) at Radio Andy at SiriusXM Studios on October 19, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 22: Monica Lewinsky attends Andy Cohen & SiriusXM celebrate the launch of Cohen's New, Exclusive SiriusXM Channel, Radio Andy, at PHD Rooftop Lounge at The Dream Downtown in New York City on October 22, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Monica Lewinsky visits SiriusXM Studios on October 19, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 06: Monica Lewinsky attends the Forbes Under 30 Summit at Pennsylvania Convention Center on October 6, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 06: Monica Lewinsky attends the Forbes Under 30 Summit at Pennsylvania Convention Center on October 6, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Monica Lewinsky attends the Television Industry Advocacy Awards benefiting The Creative Coalition in Partnership With TV Guide Magazine and TV Insider held at Sunset Tower on September 18, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 01: Monica Lewinsky attends a dinner following the private view of 'Raw Footage' at The Cafe Royal on July 1, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - JUNE 25: Monica Lewinsky gives a speech at the Ogilvy & Mather Seminar during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on June 25, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Francois G. Durand/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - JUNE 24: Monica Lewinsky arrives at the Palais des Festivals during the 'Cannes Lions Festival' on June 24, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Monica Lewinsky attends American Theatre Wing's 69th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
Monica Lewinsky arrives for the American Theatre Wing's 69th Annual Tony Awards at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 12: Monica Lewinsky is seen arriving at Claridge's hotel, Mayfair on May 12, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Niki Nikolova/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 23: Monica Lewinsky attends #iamdancingman Event Featuring Moby at Avalon Hollywood on May 23, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Bezjian/Getty Images for gudly)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 12: Monica Lewinsky (L) and Heather Kerzner attend the Spring Gala In Aid of the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital hosted by QBF and Kerzner Calliva at Claridge's Hotel on May 12, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Quercus Biasi Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Monica Lewinsky (L) and Alan Cumming attend the Performance Space 122 2015 Spring Gala Honoring Claire Danes at Capitale on April 20, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Monica Lewinsky (R) attends 'The 35 Most Powerful People In Media' celebrated by The Hollywoood Reporter at Four Seasons Restaurant on April 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Monica Lewinsky arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Monica Lewinsky arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Monica Lewinsky attends the Rachel Comey fashion show at Pioneer Works Center for Arts & Innovation during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on February 11, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: (L-R) Actor Alan Cumming and Monica Lewinsky attend HBO's post Golden Globe Awards party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Barry King/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Monica Lewinsky attends a screening of 'Lost In Karastan' during the 4th annual LOCO London Comedy Film Festival at BFI Southbank on January 22, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07: Monica Lewinsky attends TrevorLIVE Los Angeles at the Hollywood Palladium on December 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
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Central to her decision to participate was being able to redefine the narrative about herself, she wrote, noting how Clinton’s position of power has allowed him to escape the same levels of public scrutiny.

A recent example: Clinton’s continued refusal to personally apologize to her and accept responsibility for contributing to her public humiliation, which he demonstrated during a combative interview on NBC’s “Today” show in June.

This summer, Clinton participated in a number of interviews to promote a book with author James Patterson. In several of them, the former president appeared to be caught off guard by questions about the Me Too movement and gave tone-deaf answers, despite Me Too bringing an increased focus on and a re-examination of his affair with Lewinsky, as well as the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him.

“If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer,” Lewinsky wrote of Clinton.

In the “Today” interview, an indignant Clinton asserted to host Craig Melvin that he did not owe Lewinsky an apology. But Lewinsky wrote that the problem with his response was less about the apology directly and more about his insistence that he need not apologize.

“What feels more important to me than whether I am owed or deserving of a personal apology is my belief that Bill Clinton should want to apologize. I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him,” she wrote. “He would be a better man for it ... and we, in turn, a better society.”

Another example of the disparate power dynamic, according to Lewinsky, is how at the time of the affair, Clinton’s position of power protected him from experiencing as much public humiliation as she did.

Recalling his infamous Oval Office declaration that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman,” which turned out to be a lie, she said that at the time, she thought it was good that he was not planning to resign. 

“Forty-five-year-old me sees that footage very differently,” she wrote Tuesday. “I see a sports coach signposting the playbook for the big game. Instead of backing down amid the swirling scandal and telling the truth, Bill instead threw down the gauntlet that day in the Oval Office: ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.’ With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began. As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.”

In the essay, Lewinsky also explores how our public narratives are often shaped by men, as was the case with the coverage of her and Clinton’s affair — “history literally being written by men,” she wrote, explaining that she appreciated that the A&E docuseries “embodies a woman’s gaze,” with a majority of the editors and producers being women. 

“Why did I choose to participate in this docuseries? One main reason: because I could,” she wrote. “Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words.”

Read Lewinsky’s full essay here.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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