Remember that scene in 2004’s “Mean Girls” when Tina Fey leads the gym full of high school girls in a raise-your-hand exercise and everyone realizes (in a movie ah-ha moment) that they have all been both victims and perpetrators of girl-on-girl meanness?
Sure, we’ve all laughed and smiled at that scene-unless you were in elementary school in 2004 and/or have never spent an afternoon watching TNT at any point in the past 10 years-but have you ever thought about the real-life version of that exercise, the your-life version?
(Yes, this article will be about girl-on-girl troubles. If you’re not into reading about that, here’s another Tina Fey gem, a sentence from her book “Bossypants,” in which she describes a co-worker she once had at a Chicago YMCA: “Donna was an enigma wrapped in bacon wrapped in a crescent roll.” You’re welcome.)
Recently, I was thinking about my own participation in the mean girls culture, playing both victim and perp, as I read an article by a woman who also was cast as a little of both in a very public, late 1990s scandal: “Shame and Survival” by Monica Lewinsky.
The essay ran in Vanity Fair’s June issue of this year and caused a bit of a stir. I had my own apprehensions before I read it.
The timing of her first major interview/public comment in 10 years so close to when Hillary Clinton might or might not announce her 2016 campaign seemed dodgy. I couldn’t remember ever actually hearing her speak, either, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Lewinsky talked about her good times and bad since 1998-her struggles to land a job and build a life, her experience at grad school in London and her mother’s fear that the 20-something would be “humiliated to death.” She shared her thoughts on public shaming in the age of the Internet and our culture of rewarding the ones doing the shaming and her misgivings about the upcoming election season should Hillary run. She affirmed that the relationship was and had always been mutually consensual.
I was pleasantly surprised by a good read, one that added another, interesting voice on the affair. But one point Lewinsky made shocked me and brought the mean girl culture, pre-“Mean Girls,” home.
She is no-holds-barred when it comes to indicting women, the feminist crowd in particular, for not offering a counter to her slut shaming that spanned from Kenneth Starr’s report with its detailed parsing through of her “intimate sexual activities” to the Fox News poll that asked Americans to chose between “average girl” and “young tramp looking for thrills” to describe the then-intern, all of which led to the modern-day hangover of her cultural position.
Lewinsky cites an article published in the New York Observer. It features the transcript of a roundtable discussion between 10 New York women, a kind of who’s who in the literary world of women and sex around the turn of the century.
It’s pretty disappointing. The worst of the cattiness is the proposal that instead of writing a book or fading out of the picture, Lewinsky can “rent out her mouth.”