When I was a young woman in the 70s and 80s, I did a number of stupid things…with men. Oh, I don’t mean I sold myself or regularly picked up guys in bars or did things that would be considered deviant. And I don’t mean this was a regular occurrence. I mean that more than once I allowed men to talk me into having sex when I really didn’t want to. Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say, I allowed men to talk me into having sex for the wrong reasons. I know I am far from alone in this. In fact, most women I know could tell stories of having sex and regretting it later.
Today I read an article about Monica Lewinsky. In it she speaks of the horror of being “the most humiliated person in the world.” My God. How would that feel? Everybody already knows this, but it bears repeating: Monica was 22 years old when she had “sexual relations” with President Clinton. I’m not sure she’s ever shared the exact circumstances of the encounter(s), but I can easily imagine how it happened. When a man, especially a man with money or power or charisma (and who had more than Bill Clinton in those days?) pays special attention to a woman who is far from certain of her own power, popularity or worthiness, it is a heady feeling. Hard to resist, in fact.
Just before my 19th birthday, after my freshman year in college, I came home for the summer. It was the day before I was to get my tonsils out and my mother and I were shopping. There was a very cute guy working in the store, and he asked me on a date. My mother was thrilled. I think she worried that I had never had a real boyfriend. And she knew I had never had sex. So that night, the boy picked me up in his minivan and we went out to eat or went to a movie or something, I don’t remember. But I do remember vividly what happened afterward. When he parked in front of my house, he kissed me and we started making out. (That’s what we called it in 1972. What is is called now?) Before long, he began to get more aggressive. I was afraid to say no and did what he asked (which, by the way, did not involve actual intercourse.) Nonetheless, what in the world was I thinking? I had barely even seen a naked guy, yet I submitted to somebody I hardly knew. I was mortified. Ashamed. The next day I got my tonsils out (which is symbolic, don’t you think?) and the boy came to see me in the hospital. I could barely look at him. Maybe he felt guilty, I don’t know. He did bring me a book, a biography of Edgar Cacey, of all things. Anyway, I never saw him again. I’ve often wondered: if I had stood up for myself and said no, would we have developed a real relationship? And after the way he acted, why would I have wanted one?
What was Monica thinking when she submitted to Bill Clinton? I bet she wasn’t thinking at all. Did she suspect, deep down, that she wasn’t that special; that she wasn’t that pretty; that her body wasn’t perfect? Maybe she (or am I talking about myself here?) wondered if any man could really love her. Maybe she was embarrassed by her voluptuous body, but had no one to help her find an identity that wasn’t tied to sex. I think about these things when I talk to the young women in my life. I’ve pointed this out before, but if I had a daughter, I would let her know over and over again how I admired her brain, her creativity, her humor, her ability to run or dance or play basketball; whatever made her, well, herself.
My parents were really young when they had us in the early 1950s. My mom got married two weeks after her 18th birthday, for God’s sake. What did she know? She loved her daughters, but she wasn’t able to nurture our spirits very well. My older sister carries a lot of baggage from my mother’s high expectations. She was beautiful, so she was expected to dazzle the world and reflect the glory back on my mother. Boy did she rebel against that! I was less physically gifted, so my mother married me off at 21 to an abusive air force fighter pilot. I didn’t rebel at all. Ah well, that’s a story for another time.
So now Monica is 41 years old. She’s got an advanced degree in economics. She recently gave a TED talk. Most importantly though, after being thrown under the bus by the handlers of the most powerful person in the world, and being the butt of countless jokes, she’s survived. And I, for one, think we owe her a heartfelt apology.
I’ll start: I’m so sorry, honey. I hope you’ve at last found self-respect and healing. You have a lot to teach us. Don’t be afraid any more. Love, Sandy