With a single emoji, Monica Lewinsky had the Internet collectively in tears last month, after poking fun of herself in a quote-tweet. Last May, the ‘infamous’ former White House intern shared a tweet by UberFacts which asked ‘What’s the most high-risk, low-reward thing you’ve ever done?’ Lewinsky’s answer was (much like a Hemingway novel) short and simple, and yet said more than any New York Times op-ed could’ve. She replied to the tweet with the simple side-eye emoji, an unostentatious response that (no pun intended) meant more than what meets the eye.
You see, back in the 90s Monica Lewinsky became the object of collective ridicule, the butt of an ongoing national joke, after the then 22-year-old was caught having an affair with President Bill Clinton— who was 27 years her senior at that time. Seemingly overnight, Lewinsky’s life was turned upside down. Her name became one half of what was quickly dubbed the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal, the affair led to the impeachment of a sitting president, and she was stripped of her dignity, her privacy, and her life for many years. Her name became an easy target for late night comedy shows, which made many less-than-flattering jokes about her and her promiscuity.
While it seemed clear early on that Clinton was the one who had initiated the affair, and had done so in the past with numerous other women, the public found it far easier to attack a young intern than one of the most powerful men in the world. Thus, as the scandal emerged, Lewinsky quickly shrank from the public— choosing to disappear into obscurity rather than continue being the object of everyone’s ridicule.
However, like others, Lewinsky seems to have discovered one of the lesser known potentialities of the age of the internet; that power being that suddenly she has a way of controlling the narrative. Suddenly, she’s the one who can make jokes about the situation— not just the late night hosts. And while her jokes may be short and sweet, there is undeniably a power behind them.
Case and point, her eyeball emoji tweet has since accumulated almost 60 thousand retweets, and has been liked over 277 thousand times. Her joke was well received by her million followers, which in and of itself is a staggering following. Her name was soon trending on Twitter, with many other users applauding her for her grace and ability to laugh at herself. “You are a shining example of womanhood,” replied one user. “I wish we could all learn from our mistakes as gracefully and therapeutically as you,” applauded another.
Her eyeball tweet wasn’t the first time that Monica Lewinsky showed the world that she’s ready to laugh about the scandal. Back in 2019, Lewinsky responded to a tweet asking ‘What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever received?’ with ‘An internship at the White House will be amazing on your resume.’ And earlier this year she responded with ‘not playing’ to a tweet that asked ‘If Twitter was around in the 90s, name a famous event/moment that definitely would’ve had the TL (timeline) in shambles.’ It seems as though Monica Lewinsky really isn’t here to play after all.
While for many years, Lewinsky may have shrank away from the public, recently she has been able to reap the rewards of an ever changing society— one which has learned lessons about stigmatizing and degrading young women. In the post-Me Too era, Lewinsky has enjoyed a public rehabilitation in a sense, and is using her online platform to show people the human that exists beneath the scandal. Back in 2018, Lewinsky reflected on the scandal in an essay for Vanity Fair. In it, she described the trauma and PTSD that the affair caused for her, and how difficult it was to be Monica Lewinsky in 1998. In the years which followed, Lewinsky turned her pain into progress, becoming a staunch anti-bullying activist and writer. Now, it looks as though Lewinsky is finally able to laugh at herself— and it seems as though the world is ready for that as well.