Check Out Monica Lewinsky's Amazing Advice For Anyone Being Bullied Or Abused Online
The Debrief: Monica Lewinsky who, as she puts it, ‘went from from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide’ overnight in 1996, has some really good things to say about cyberbullying and online abuse
Monica Lewinsky who, as she puts it, ‘went from from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one worldwide’ overnight in 1996. She found unwanted infamy after having a sexual relationship with the then-US President, Bill Clinton at the age of just 22.
In the near decade which has followed the 1998 impeachment trial which put her not only on a witness stand in the US, but across the globe, Lewinsky has been trying to reconfigure her life and reclaim her identity, which was hijacked by something she did at a young age, ‘a mistake’ as she now calls it. Monica Lewinsky has been through a lot, she’s had to put up with a lot and, you could argue, she was effectively slut shamed in front of the whole world, hung out to dry and left unsupported as a young woman when she should have been protected.
Lewinsky gave a TED talk last year about being the first victim of online shaming and the bullying she was subject to because of said mistake and, this weekend, she spoke to Jon Ronson for the Guardian about how she is turning what was a very dark time for her into a force for good. Once the punchline of people's jokes around the world, Lewinsky is now a respected anti-bullying advocate.
She became fair game for media commentators who routinely made misogynistic jokes about her, with Jay Leno among the cruellest: ‘Monica Lewinsky has gained back all the weight she lost last year. [She’s] considering having her jaw wired shut but then, nah, she didn’t want to give up her sex life.’ The treatment she got from the feminist community was no better. As Ronson also points out, in February 1998, the feminist writer Nancy Friday was asked by the New York Observer to speculate on Lewinsky’s future. ‘She can rent out her mouth,’ she replied.
Here are some of the really great things that she said about bullying and how to deal with it in her most recent video that we should all take on board:
1. ‘Shame sticks to you like tar’
Monica recalls how she felt when she was subjected to public humiliation after news of her affair with Clinton broke. ‘I felt like every layer of my skin and my identity were ripped off of me in ’98 and ‘99’ she tells Ronson. ‘You feel incredibly raw and frightened.’
With the Internet being what it is today and cyber bullying being all too common, she says ‘Destigmatising the shame around online harassment is the first step’ to recognising that there’s a problem and encouraging people to come forward, to letting them know that they’re not alone.
2.’Don’t bully the bully’
Lewinsky points out that online abuse can be incredibly public, you might see someone you know being bullied or abused online and be tempted to react. While this can be productive, it means it’s also easy to come down on someone who’s being abusive collectively, to bully them in turn.
‘Don’t bully the bully’, she says. ‘It doesn’t move the conversation forward. I see bullying as similar to cutting. People who cut are trying to localise their pain. I think with bullying, people are suffering for myriad reasons and are projecting it. Instead of cutting themselves, they’re cutting someone else.’
3. Nothing is ever as it seems
Despite what she has been through wat comes across in her interview with Ronson is Monica Lewinsky’s focus on the bigger picture. ‘I’m endlessly fascinated by how people derive meaning in life,’ she tells him, “’the chasm between how idealised people pretend life is and how complex we really are.’
‘It’s very easy to get micro, especially when someone is telling you a personal story that’s gutting,’ Lewinsky says. ‘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.’
4. Being bullied is incredibly lonely
Human beings are pack animals, we are social beings which thrive as part of a community. ‘The fear of ostracisation strikes at the core of who we are,’ Lewinsky says. ‘We cannot survive alone.’
These days, she tells Ronson, she is often approached by victims of online bullying, ‘when I’m on the subway, in line for coffee, at dinner parties.’ Shamed people tend to seek each other out, the cure for shame being empathy. ‘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.’
Because of this she tries to give practical advice to people. Her number one piece of advice is that people who have been bullied should try to understand the experience, to conceptualise it as part of their life and own it, even though that might be difficult. ‘There’s shame about the shame’ she says, ‘so there’s a tendency to not want to tell someone what’s going on.’
5. Nobody is immune from abuse
Lewinsky points out that anyone can be a target, ‘a lot of vicious things that happen online to women and minorities do happen at the hands of men,’ she says, ‘but they also happen at the hands of women. Women are not immune to misogyny.’
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