Balancing Act

I want to hear from Monica Lewinsky

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Monica Lewinsky in 2006

Monica Lewinsky in 2006 (Scott Gries, Getty photo for Rodale)

First of all, let's drop the "old news; no one cares" bit.

Vulture's "10 Years Later: 'Friends' 10 Most Quotable Lines" (recommended by 44,875 Facebook users) popped up more than once in my Twitter feed yesterday, right below Chicagoist's "Kerry Wood Made History 16 Sweet Years Ago."

"Which 'Grease' Pink Lady Are You?" was one of the most-trafficked BuzzFeed posts of 2013.

We're hardly above revisiting our past.

And yet, when news of Monica Lewinsky's upcoming Vanity Fair article (available online May 8 and on newsstands May 13) broke, the social media reaction was swift and unfriendly. Lots of slut-shaming and plenty of political conspiracies, sure. But above all else a resounding, "Go away already."

From @KenWahl1 on Twitter: "Monica Lewinsky is in the news? Seriously? Unless Hillary announced Lewinsky as her running mate — does anyone really care?"

I do. I want to hear her story and I think she has as much right to tell it as Bill Clinton has to move forward as the charming, beloved, bemused Comeback Kid.

It's not even a matter of evening the score — he bounced back; she should too. That would be nice, of course. But our culture is eons away from embracing mistresses in the same way it embraces cheating men.

(Remember Gen. David Petraeus? He resigned as CIA head and went on to teaching positions at the University of Southern California, City University of New York and Harvard, plus a gig as chairman of a global investment firm. His mistress, Paula Broadwell? She went into hiding for a while before moving back to her hometown in North Carolina and quietly volunteering with veterans groups.)

Anyway. The reason I want to hear from Lewinsky is captured succinctly in the headline that appears above her Vanity Fair piece: "Shame and Survival."

She's ashamed of her past. She's talking about it anyway. We should all be so brave.

"People want her to go away so they don't have to think of their well-loved Bill Clinton like that," says Connecticut-based clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg. "But her message, that it's OK to speak out in spite of your shame, is an important one."

"Shame is the hardest human emotion to live with," Greenberg says. "People kill themselves when they feel deep shame. If more people spoke out about things they feel ashamed of, there would be fewer suicides. There would be less depression."

Indeed, in the portion of the essay that Vanity Fair released, Lewinsky acknowledges that she contemplated suicide. She writes about her mother's intense reaction to the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, who took his life in 2010 after classmates secretly streamed Webcam footage of him kissing another man.

"(My mother) was replaying those weeks when she stayed by my bed, night after night, because I, too, was suicidal." Lewinsky writes. "The shame, the scorn and the fear that had been thrown at her daughter left her afraid that I would take my own life — a fear that I would be literally humiliated to death."

I agree we need to move on. We need to move on from a mistake that a 40-year-old woman made when she was in her early 20s.

We need to let her tell her story. And we need to listen to what it says about all of us.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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