When it came time to pick the worst name she’d ever been called, as part of a new anti-bullying campaign, Monica Lewinsky says, "I had a long list of things from which to chose"
When it came time to pick the worst name she’d ever been called, as part of a new anti-bullying campaign, Monica Lewinsky says, “I had a long list of things from which to chose. Where I landed, given the 50 characters you could have for your display name, is ‘Monica Chunky Slut Stalker That Woman Lewinsky.’ And that just scratches the surface.”
It’s all part of a new anti-bullying campaign, #DefyTheName, which Lewinsky is spearheading and which is being launched with a new PSA — produced by ad agency BBDO New York and Dini von Mueffling Communications — debuting Friday for National Bullying Prevention Month. The PSA, which Lewinsky helped produce, asks people to change their display names on Twitter and Instagram for the month of October, or part of the month, to a name they’ve been bullied with.
“Name-calling is one of the most common instances of bullying behavior,” says Lewinsky, 45. “The core message is, don’t let the names that other people choose to call you, define you. And don’t let being bullied define your future either.”
“It’s scary,” she says of her name choice, which includes a reference to then-President Bill Clinton’s infamous remarks at a 1998 press event: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.”
But, in the end, she says, “I felt very connected to the concept of the campaign.” And, she adds, “You’ve gotta walk the talk.”
“I felt comfortable in the idea of what we’d be doing and asking of people,” she says. “And then I started to think about my names, and I tried to laugh about them, to make myself feel better, but when I actually had to say them out loud, on the record, and own them in a different way, even though it’s about empowering, there was still a small echo of hurt. There’s still a pain that’s there.”
Yet what’s important, she stresses, “Is to show people that you can still feel something around the names and reclaim that power and move beyond it, to defy all those names.”
The PSA features some other well-known names, such as Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, Olivia Munn, Maysoon Zayid and John Oliver, who are changing their display names to insults they were bullied with, often as kids. “For Alan Cumming, who’s been a dear friend for over 20 years, his new name comes from being bullied by his father,” notes Lewinsky. “It’s ‘Alan Useless Cumming.’ “
Lewinsky hopes the idea will spur an online community of support. “We’re hoping the whole campaign will create a counter wave of empathy and community online,” she says. “The idea is to take back the power from the name and reclaim that power for ourselves.”
For Lewinsky, it’s the latest step in retelling her story, her way.
It’s been 20 years since prosecutor Kenneth Starr broadened the investigation of Bill Clinton to include their affair, and she became the target of a federal investigation, as well as the target of widespread ridicule and insults online.
As she described in her 2015 TED Talk, now seen over 13 million times, she was “patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”
Now a passionate and outspoken anti-bullying activist, she says she was moved by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27.
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“Dr. Blasey was bullied but didn’t let that stop her from being brave,” says Lewinsky. “I was thrilled to see the huge strides we’ve made in terms of how we support women.”
“What Dr. Blasey Ford did was incredibly brave,” she adds. “She also experienced some of the worst name-calling imaginable for doing the right thing.”
And that, in a way, is what the new campaign is all about. “You can be called every name under the sun but it doesn’t have to break you,” says Lewinsky. “It doesn’t have to define you forever.”
It’s something she’s learned in the last year, through the power and solidarity of the #MeToo movement, which has given her a “new lens,” as she wrote in Vanity Fair earlier this year, through which to see her own story.
“To see the #MeToo movement has been both heartbreaking and heartwarming,” says Lewinsky. “To see millions of women from around the world speak out and stand up. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Tarana Burke in starting the movement, and all those who are fighting and sharing their stories. I feel like I was gaslit for many years, and the movement has helped me to continue to emerge from that and see my situation more clearly.”
Lewinsky is participating in an upcoming A&E documentary series, The Impeachment of Bill Clinton, produced by Alex Gibney, debuting on Nov. 18. It’s the most extensive interview she’s given on the subject in 15 years.
There was a “dove tailing,” she says, “preparing for the last interview, while we were starting to work on the #DefyTheName campaign and preparing and going through the process.”
“It was bad enough to live it the first time,” she says. “And reliving it was less than ideal.”
It’s another step towards her desire to “find a purpose to her past,” as she wrote in her 2014 Vanity Fair essay.
Now, it’s about reclaiming her story and helping others do the same, this time with #DefyTheName. “My hope is that people will be inspired and emboldened to join,” she says, “because the more people who join, the more it’s going to help. It will be a collective experience, helping each other.”