An old story will soon be given new life — and its protagonist might just get an opportunity to further reclaim her power in the process.
Last week, it was announced that the third season of the award-winning anthology series “American Crime Story” will focus on the impeachment hearings for then-President Bill Clinton following his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
And Lewinsky herself will be a producer.
She admitted in a statement to Vanity Fair that she was initially hesitant to sign on. But now, she says she is “so grateful for the growth we’ve made as a society that allows people like me who have been historically silenced to finally reintroduce my voice to the conversation.”
She continued, “This isn’t just a me problem. Powerful people, often men, take advantage of those subordinate to them in myriad ways all the time. Many people will see this as such a story and for that reason, this narrative is one that is, regretfully, evergreen.”
It’s been a long road for Lewinsky — after all, the hearings took place just over two decades ago. But over time, she appears to have found strength and clarity in using her voice to speak out. Here are some takeaways from her journey:
1. Your story belongs to you. Use it.
“People have been co-opting and telling my part in this story for decades,” Lewinsky says. “In fact, it wasn’t until the past few years that I’ve been able to fully reclaim my narrative; almost 20 years later.”
Even if it’s a painful or difficult tale to tell, it can be empowering to have — or take back — control of your story and how it’s told. Lewinsky famously broke her long public silence with a TED Talk in 2015, telling a packed audience that the online harassment of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshmen who committed suicide after a roommate filmed him kissing a man, was a “turning point” for her. “It served to re-contextualize my experiences,” she explained.
Now, she hopes to use her story to inspire others to fight the culture of shaming. “I’ve seen some very dark days in my life. It was empathy and compassion from friends, family, coworkers, even strangers that saved me. Empathy from one person can make a difference,” she said in the talk.
2. It may take time to rediscover your purpose.
Lewinsky’s involvement with Clinton, and the celebrity that resulted from his impeachment proceedings, permanently altered her career trajectory. Though she tried to find work as a spokesperson and handbag designer in the first years following the trial, she struggled to be taken seriously. Even after she began living privately, she said her story followed her, and she was unable to find work.
As she began a return to public life a few years ago, Lewinsky penned a personal essay for Vanity Fair, in it saying it was time for her to “stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.” And she turned those words into action by becoming an ambassador for the nonprofit Bystander Revolution, as well as by taking on public speaking engagements.
It may have taken her a long while to find opportunity and purpose, but it’s never too late for a new start. Earlier this year, we interviewed a number of older women who had gotten fresh starts as entrepreneurs, often after previous careers turned out to be unfulfilling. And one woman on our Fearless #Over50 list, Jules Pieri of The Grommet, said she was told she was “too old, too blonde, too female” to start a company. Fortunately she didn’t listen.
3. Ground yourself in your beliefs.
Lewinsky’s decision to step back into the spotlight was motivated by wanting to speak out against cyberbullying and public shaming — societal problems with which she’s personally familiar.
Other female founders have felt similarly inspired by their troubled pasts to help others. Angela King, a former skinhead, is the cofounder of nonprofit Life After Hate, which helps people transition out of hate groups. “We are hoping to open up a platform for not just the small team of us doing this, but for a large group … [that can] prevent young people from making the kinds of choices we made,” she told us.
Lewinsky, too, sees an opportunity to make a difference — in part, through this new television show.
“Yes, the process of filming has been exceedingly painful,” she admitted in her Vanity Fair statement on it. “But I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life — a time in our history — I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.”