Leslie Cannold: Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher
ARTICLES

A role model? No thanks

First Diana, now Monica. They became superstars, but that doesn’t make them admirable.

THE canonisation of Saint Monica has begun. Before our very eyes the media is transforming Lewinsky from a dumb-assed slut to an admirable young woman. She’s tamed her white-trash haircut and thrown away her baseball cap. She’s donned cheekbones and a dignified navy suit. She’s learnt her lesson. She’s showed him! Why, she’s turned out to be quite a remarkable young lady.

I don’t wish to be mean when it comes to Lewinsky. There’s no doubt she’s been through a lot. I mean, I would rather die than have the idiotic things I said and did in my early 20s – sexual and otherwise – broadcast to TV audiences worldwide in choice snippets and available verbatim to every geek with a computer. And I know she’s in debt, and I’m truly glad to see she’s managed to impress the newspapers and commentators she so desperately needs to sell the book, to make the millions, to pay the lawyers, to clean up the mess Bill and Monica made.

But I don’t like being asked to admire Lewinsky, even though being born and raised in America gives me an unpleasant clarity about why the American media and public, having spent most of last year eating her for breakfast, are this year happy to orchestrate her rehabilitation. It’s a penchant for tell-all confessions followed by true-grit struggle and redemption, plus a healthy dollop of guilt, that has got Americans working their way towards a love of Monica that rivals their love of Princess Di. And the parallel is not incidental.

One long afternoon in front of the tube is testimony aplenty to the American love for public confession. Whether it be about goats and grandmothers, or daughters who sleep with their similarly aged step-fathers, there is little Americans won’t divulge for Oprah or an Oprah-substitute, a live audience and a camera that broadcasts to the global millions at home.

But simply “letting it out” is no longer the name of the game. After the successful reactionary and society-wide assault on “victimhood” and the “culture of complaint”, Oprah now articulates America’s new focus on moving women past the “whining” stage. “Let it out and do something about it,” she now coaches. “Or shut up.”

And Monica has done just that. She’s stopped whining, stopped shopping and stopped looking like she can’t stop eating. And there’s nothing Americans like more than a success story, although their standards for success remain tragically low: be thin, be rich and be famous.

Now if that formula sounds depressingly like the one that endeared Princess Diana to the Americans, here’s another important similarity in both women’s self-promotion strategies. Both Monica and Di “made it” in that quintessentially female way – through their relationships with men. Relationships in which they stood by their men until they were so hurt, so tragically wronged, that they had to let it out. “I see myself in a similar situation (to Diana),” Lewinsky revealed in a recent interview. “I was also wronged by a man who said he loved me.”

And let it out they did, in surprisingly similar ways. In “revelatory” interviews in which every question was known and every response and facial gesture scripted. Interviews in which tears and despair were importantly paired – not with bitterness but with a stoic determination to survive.

OK, so that’s the name of the game, and she’s playing it. But admire her? Feel for her, maybe. Want it to work out for her in the end, OK. After all, she’s been through the spin cycle of the well-practised presidential bimbo-control machine and, as I’m sure Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick would testify, this is not a particularly self-affirming experience.

But if Americans feel guilty about what’s happened to Monica (and what hasn’t happened to Bill) as a result of their dalliance, they should stop looking the other way each time another woman tied up with Clinton reveals not just how trying he finds keeping his pecker in his pants, but how difficult a time he has understanding the word “no”.

But spare me the spiel about her “self-awareness”, her “articulateness”, her “poise” and the “quick-witted” way she ducks the questions of those before whom she has placed herself – dollar signs registering Bugs-Bunny-like in both eyes.

I would love a woman of my generation to be put in the media spotlight for all to admire. Someone whose values and behavior somehow capture the essence and spirit of the women of Generation X as we face the millennium. There are a number of high-quality candidates out there, but Lewinsky isn’t one.

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Email: leslie@cannold.com Mobile: 0417 114 859 Fax: +61 3 9348 2015 - PO Box 1337, St Kilda South VIC 3182 Australia