Paul Thomas: Take the wheel, ladies, and flatten the hypocrites

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Sixteen years after the scandal broke, Bill Clinton has largely been forgiven, but Monica Lewinsky still faces public scorn and derision. Photos / AP
Sixteen years after the scandal broke, Bill Clinton has largely been forgiven, but Monica Lewinsky still faces public scorn and derision. Photos / AP

The devil with the blue dress on, aka Monica Lewinsky, was back in the spotlight this week.

Despite the near-universal media take that she'd "broken her silence", Lewinsky didn't have much to say about the sex scandal that rocked Washington DC, transfixed the world and helped put George W. Bush in the White House, beyond reiterating that her relationship with President Bill Clinton was consensual.

The object of the exercise was to consign the beret and blue dress to the dustbin of history and "take back her narrative".

I wish her luck but it won't be easy, since she's up against up the old socio-religious tendency to demonise and/or diminish women who, inadvertently or otherwise, reveal their sexual selves. This tendency is the other pincer of the cultural double standard that holds male promiscuity as something to be envied and admired.

Hillary Clinton gave as good an example of this as you'll come across, explaining away her husband's serial infidelities with sly wink folksiness - "He's a hard dog to keep on the porch" - while trashing Lewinsky as a "narcissistic loony tune".

("Narcissistic loony tune" strikes me as an apt description of someone who, having sought and accepted the responsibility of being the president of America and leader of the free world, places his position and reputation in jeopardy and humiliates his wife by engaging in a furtive sexual dalliance with an intern 30 years his junior.)

Would the media give the breathless George Clooney treatment to a female movie star who'd finally decided to get hitched after years of playing the field, a woman so ruthlessly hedonistic that she would dump boyfriends the moment they showed signs of aspiring to be more than playthings? Would males who read the TV news be required to endure teasing about missing the boat while pretending to be heartbroken because the object of their desire was no longer on the market?

Bill Clinton did have to submit to the ignominy of impeachment proceedings which required him to dance on the head of a pin - "It depends upon what the meaning of 'is' is". But once that was out of the way, he effortlessly took back his narrative and enhanced it.

While making a fortune on the international speaking circuit, he upgraded his persona from roguish political wizard to elder statesman. Now he is preparing for a second coming as the power behind the throne in the court of Queen Hillary. His role in the scandal has been reduced to the role of red herring in his rise and fall and rise again narrative.

What of Lewinsky? In 1998 the media-imposed narrative was that she was "nutty and slutty" in columnist Maureen Dowd's phrase, a desperate wannabe, too tubby to be part of the high school 'in' crowd, who threw herself at the most powerful man in the world.

This week the New York Daily Post welcomed her back with the double entendre headline "My life sucks". Inside a (female) columnist called her "an imbecile" and scoffed at her claim of having suffered abuse from the public before concluding: "I'd recommend that you use your special talents to forge an exciting new career in whatever it is you do best."

In other words, forget about taking back your narrative: once a slut, always a slut.

And which of the participants in the Konrad Hurrell/Teuila Blakely sex tape affair is taking more flak now and will be defined by it?

The NRL fined Hurrell, although with league's recent track record you'd think they'd be grateful there was no violence involved and the other party was a human being. (Remember the curious case of the Canberra Raider and the dog?) Beyond the sanctimonious strictures, though, it seems likely that Hurrell's part in the matter has been filed under "boys will be boys".

You'd hope the same indulgence would be shown towards Blakely, but the early signs aren't good - she says she's had a barrage of "incredibly cruel" comments from social network witch hunters.

Her view that there are more important things in the world and people are becoming obsessed with the wrong things is understandable but naive, as what is in question is female sexuality and people have always been obsessed with it.

Perhaps the moral of these stories is that women can't win so might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. The next woman who finds herself in this situation should consider taking the wheel. And the selfie.

- NZ Herald

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