What is the Difference Between Monica Lewinsky and Rose McGowan?

Posted in #MeToo,Sexual Harassment,Sexual Harassment by Industry on April 10, 2018

By John D. Winer
April 10, 2018

If today, a news outlet reported that the President of the United States had a sexual relationship with a woman just out of college, there would be an outrageous uproar and the President would be undoubtedly shamed beyond belief. Given the events of the last six months, the young woman would not be seen as some sort of temptress, but rather the victim of a powerful man taking advantage of his office. However, twenty years ago this was not the case.

In 1998, a years-long firestorm began when a sexual relationship between Monica Lewinsky and the President of the United States was reported on in every media outlet on the planet. Ms. Lewinsky alleged that she began a sexual relationship with the President in 1995, when she was 22-years-old and that this relationship continued for roughly 18 months. The President was 49-years-old when this relationship began. Reputable publications such as the Washington Post dug deep into Ms. Lewinsky’s sexual history, reporting on an affair she had with one of her high school teachers and other individuals. Time magazine labeled her as one of the “Top Ten Mistresses in History.”

Had this affair come to light in 2018, would journalists treat Ms. Lewinsky in the same manner? Would the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post dig deeply into the sexual proclivities of a 22-year-old White House intern to suggest that a woman in such a position was somehow responsible for the affair? With so many women coming forward to tell stories of being taken advantage of sexually by men in power, this story would be received differently and most likely litigated in an entirely different way.

The #MeToo phenomena birthed more than just a movement, it has birthed in our culture a new and better understanding of these types of situations. When Rose McGowan came forward to explain how she’d been treated by Harvey Weinstein and others, the reaction was not one of questioning her sexual history–rather of understanding that as a young, ambitious woman she had fallen prey to predators in the entertainment industry. Actors, directors, U.S. senators, journalists, judges, professors, venture capitalists, attorneys, celebrity chefs, athletes, high-ranking corporate executives and many others have been outed for their behavior mainly towards women. These accusations are no longer brushed off by law enforcement, and many have already led to criminal charges and civil lawsuits.

Culturally though, this moment could have happened twenty years ago, but the law was not as fully developed as it is today regarding sexual harassment and in general people in power were not taking these accusations as seriously as we do now.

Sexual harassment laws are clear, both on the state and federal level. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California State Constitution all prohibit sexual harassment and provide recourse for employees who have to endure sexual advances by employers. Since the Lewinsky scandal occurred, several court decisions in California alone provided employees, including women who have been sexually harassed in some way, more defined rights. Edna Miller et al. v. Department of Corrections and State Department of Health services v. The Superior Court of Sacramento County are two such California Supreme Court decisions which demonstrate how the law, the courts and culture has progressed past blaming an intern for an executive’s behavior.

When Monica Lewinsky wrote a piece in Vanity Fair this year, she said that the relationship was consensual but was also a “gross abuse of power.” The Wall Street Journal went so far as to suggest she deserved an apology. This is a far cry from how anyone thought of, spoke of or treated this woman twenty years ago. Sexual misconduct in the workplace happens on a daily basis, and women often fall prey to men who know how to use their power to get what they want. Even though laws have been on the books on the state and federal level for decades, the courts have not always been willing to interpret the laws in favor of the women who have been taken advantage of.