She went through one of the most all-consuming public shamings in the country's history, and she came out swinging. Since opening up in an essay in 2014 about humiliation culture and her experience during the Clinton scandal,
Monica Lewinsky has shared many quotes and words of wisdom. In TED talks, essays, and interviews, the former intern has a lot to say — and it's something you need to hear.
is turning 45 on Monday. In honor of her big day, take a minute to read some of the things she's learned in her first 45 years on the planet. They may be useful to hear, especially in the age of the Internet, when shaming and humiliation has taken on a whole new level with social media.
This is something that Lewinsky has worked to tackle,
not just giving TED talks but also speaking to business conferences and corporations about bullying. She's on the board of the Childhood Resilience Foundation, working to protect kids who are victims of abuse and improve the legal process surrounding it.
She's been the part of worldwide initiatives to change the climate online as well as offline. Given how much she's gone through, and how much she's achieved, she's taking the time to make sure people can make a change in the world.
1) Giving Purpose To Her Past
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“To be able to give a purpose to my past, if I’m stuck with my past, feels meaningful to me,”
Lewinsky told in 2016, before sharing this advice: The Guardian Integrate what has happened to you. Integrate the experience, the faster the better ... There’s shame about the shame. So there’s a tendency to not want to tell someone what’s going on.
Lewinsky explained what she went through
in a TED talk in 2015: Now I admit I made mistakes — especially wearing that beret — but the attention and judgment that I received — not the story, but that I personally received — was unprecedented ... I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman’. I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.
3) Her Experience Is A Lot Like Others
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Just because others weren't shamed by the whole country, doesn't mean it doesn't feel the same,
Lewinsky told The Guardian.
"Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I went through this, but it’s nothing like what you went through.’ But I tell them that, if I drown in 60ft of water and you drown in 30ft, we both still drowned. You either know what it’s like to be publicly shamed or you don’t," Lewinsky said.
4) And Everyone Is At Risk
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“It’s very easy to get micro, especially when someone is telling you a personal story that’s gutting,"
Lewinsky told "And it’s important to highlight which groups experience cyberbullying the most. But this is an umbrella problem, and under this umbrella sit many people who suffer online harassment for many different reasons.” The Guardian.
5) On Calling Out Other Women
"A lot of vicious things that happen online to women and minorities do happen at the hands of men,” Lewinsky added in her
interview with with “But they also happen at the hands of women. Women are not immune to misogyny.” The Guardian. Mike Coppola/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
In one of her first essays for
Vanity Fair in 2014, Lewinsky wrote about feminists involved in the Clinton scandal in the 90s and how that affected her identifying with the movement: I still have deep respect for feminism and am thankful for the great strides the movement has made in advancing women’s rights over the past few decades. But, given my experience of being passed around like gender-politics cocktail food, I don’t identify myself as a Feminist, capital F.
7) The Difficulty Of Telling Her Truth
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Opening up about her past wasn't easy, she wrote
in the same : Vanity Fair essay One of the unintended consequences of my agreeing to put myself out there and to try to tell the truth had been that shame would once again be hung around my neck like a scarlet- A albatross. Believe me, once it’s on, it is a bitch to take off.
8) Responsibility Of Expression
In her TED talk, she addressed society's
need to speak with intention: We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. We all want to be heard, but let's acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.
9) Integrating Past & Present
another wrote further about moving on by integrating past experiences: Vanity Fair essay in 2018, If I have learned anything it is that you cannot run away from who you are or from how you’ve been shaped by your experiences. Instead, you must integrate your past and present. Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock
The strength in numbers has changed the story and reframed it from a woman's perspective, Lewinsky wrote in that same 2018 essay:
One of the most inspiring aspects of this newly energized movement is the sheer number of women who have spoken up in support of one another. And the volume in numbers has translated into volume of public voice.
11) The New Establishment
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Now, once again for
Vanity Fair, she argues, there are people in charge continuing this fight: The new Establishment is re-distributing power and influence, adjudicating merit and taste, and giving a voice to those who have been previously silenced or ignored.
With prominent women like Lewinsky using their stories to reframe the collective experience of shaming and humiliation, it will open more space for others. That's something to celebrate, 45th birthday or not.