Window Into Monica's World
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 14, 1998; Page B1
Monica, we hardly knew ye.
But we sure know a lot more now.
Never before has a legal document provided so many people with a keyhole view of a young woman's hopes, dreams and sexual proclivities, offering the public at large a chance to analyze, sympathize and criticize. Readers of Kenneth Starr's report imagine her as the star of either "Fatal Attraction" or "Seduced and Abandoned" or "Dumb and Dumber."
Just looking at a list of the (numerous) gifts she presented President Clinton offers a portrait of a girl/woman, a person who is, or is trying to be, coy, seductive, sophisticated and supremely tacky. She delivered them in batches, too, as though trying to cover all bases if he didn't like the frog-embossed letter opener, maybe he'd go for the copy of "Oy Vey! The Things They Say: A Guide to Jewish Wit." In another batch there was a "Hugs and Kisses" box although the report's authors don't explain whether this refers to chocolate or something even cutesier. With it a clue to Monica's idea of a joke was an antique silver cigar holder. (See Section III, Subsection F.)
Or what about the selection that included an erotic postcard and her "thoughts on education reform." Clinton must have been extra happy to get those.
Lewinsky's spokeswoman Judy Smith said neither she nor Lewinsky would comment on the report by independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Indeed, one of the oddities of this episode is that millions of people now know more about Lewinsky in some ways than they do about their closest friends, but have no idea what her voice sounds like.
Opinions about Lewinsky are as diverse as her pres ents. She's a conniving tramp; she's pathetic; she's bravely honest. On one level, thoughts about her reflect a generational divide, as people closer to her age tend to be less shocked by what older people see as Lewinsky's brazen aggression. (Showing the president of the United States of America the straps of your thong underwear by way of introduction, for example.) And for some her story demonstrates a quandary faced by many young women today they are well schooled in the techniques of sexual congress and seduction, but less prepared for a multidimensional relationship.
"Women my age don't necessarily think she is the worst tramp in the world," said Amy Holmes, 25, special proj ect manager for the Independent Women's Forum, an anti-feminist group of women intellectuals. "We understand it. We didn't grow up with the idea that you don't call a boy, or you don't jump into a sexual relationship on the first date. She is typical of the nihilism of female sexuality at this point. I think it's tragic someone in his position so brutally exploited her lack of understanding and sophistication. This poor little girl thought this was going to be like 'Dynasty.'"
Paul Hemesath, 25, is also sympathetic. "I know a lot of people that would do the exact same thing," Hemesath said Saturday at a dinner party for Alianza del Derecho, a Hispanic student organization at Georgetown Law School. "I don't think you'd find too many unattached single women who would pass that up. In a similar position, if there was an attractive woman who was the most powerful woman in the world, who knows how I would have reacted?"
Sally Rosenthal, 25, a research assistant for a film production company in Manhattan, views Monica as "a naive little ho, actually. . . . I don't generally have much sympathy for a woman who'll go chase after a married man, even if he is who he is." Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) called her "one sick puppy."
A therapist consulted by Lewinsky, Kathleen Estep, told the prosecutors that her patient suffered from depression and low self-esteem, but was "self-aware, credible, insightful, introspective, relatively stable, and not delusional," the report said.
Others see in Lewinsky a product of Beverly Hills and Brentwood, Calif., where Lewinsky grew up among the brain trust that produced "Melrose Place." "I don't for one minute think she was anything but a conniver," said a friend of Lewinsky's father who observed the daughter as a teen. "I would never consider Monica a victim. She knew exactly what she was doing and that she would capitalize on it big time."
The young women shopping Saturday at the BCBG store in Brent wood a store for the impossibly thin and extremely hip located a few blocks from Lewinsky's father's house know women like her. In this part of the world, star stalkers are a dime a dozen. Everyone knows someone who has slept with someone famous.
"I call those people spotlight vampires," said recent UCLA graduate Tassa Hampton, as she fingered a $60, pale blue shell. "They always need to be in the spotlight. She seems like the type to make herself known at a party."
"Spoiled. Daddy's little girl. Knows how to wrap a man 'round her little finger," said her friend and classmate Grace Kim.
"I was smart enough to know better at 21," Hampton added. "And she's gotten around, because she obviously knew what she was doing."
It seems that in Brentwood and parts nearby (Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, Hollywood), young women are schooled too early and too completely in the power of feminine wiles to sympathize when things go wrong.
But one woman who went to Brent wood High School and saw one of her precocious classmates begin her career with convicted madam Heidi Fleiss had some compassion for Lewinsky. "I really feel sorry for her," said Llisa Marie Novins, 35, having coffee at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf barely two blocks from Lewinsky's father's house. "I'm most incensed at Kenneth Starr. He's humiliated her. Her life is ruined. How dare he take this young woman and degrade her to the world, and pass it on to Congress? He had no remorse for that young woman. We're all human, we all have desires, make mistakes."
The potency of wealth, fame and power as an aphrodisiac has a long and dishonorable history, especially in Washington. People who have worked in politics have seen the groupies who cluster around even the dullest legislator, fawning and compliant in the presence of status. Whether these women evoke revulsion, pity or envy, they have become an archetype that seems to have endured through feminism, the sexual revolution and the advent of special prosecutors. It may be a sociobiological phenomenon, echoing evolutionary patterns in which females are attracted to the mate who appears to have the best genetic material.
It is in this area that people seem either to feel or lose sympathy for Lewinsky that Clinton, notoriously experienced in these matters, exploited her willingness, or, alternatively, that she methodically went after him like a '70s-style Plaster Caster.
Some believe Clinton played with her psyche as well as her body, pushing her away one day and pulling her back the next, suggesting a future, affection and real interest while their encounters in the Oval Office hallway had all the intimacy of a subway car at rush hour.
"Intermittent gratification is the most potent psychological reinforcer," said psychiatrist Sally Satel, who feels some sympathy for Lewinsky. "It creates the most intense expectation."
One former White House intern from the summer of 1995, who knew Monica, puts more responsibility on Lewinsky. "She was always demanding attention and she was a little naive. It takes a certain kind of naivete to show the president your G-string, to not censor yourself and realize this was inappropriate," he said. After reading the report and coming to view her to be a willing participant, he's lost any sympathy he felt for her. "But I wouldn't wish what she's going through on anyone."
There is one subject that nearly everyone interviewed was skeptical about: The Dress. They don't buy her explanation that she thought the stain could have been "spinach dip," or that she doesn't take things to be cleaned until she wants to wear them again. The stained dress was a trophy, they say, and suggests that Lewinsky was expecting to have to prove her liaison with the president to someone, sometime.
"I have spoken to hundreds of women about the dress, and not one of them would have kept the dress" uncleaned, said the friend of Lewinsky's father.
Said Laura Grody, 30, a part-time film editor, "I don't think anyone is a victim. . . . And she definitely needs to learn to use a washing machine."
The text suggests another stereotype the Princess. She whines, she pesters, she cries, and thinks nothing about complaining to the leader of the free world that he hasn't done enough to help her get a job. "I know what is going on in the world takes precedence," she wrote, "but I don't think what I have asked you for is unreasonable.
"This is so hard for me. I am trying to deal with so much emotionally, and I have nobody to talk to about it. I need you right now not as president, but as a man. PLEASE be my friend."
Of course, she didn't want a job she had to work to get. "I just want it to be given to me," she said. And she didn't want to be "someone's executive/administrative assistant"; she wanted a salary that would "provide a comfortable living" in New York City. Enough, presumably, to continue to receive house calls from hairdressers.
"I save my sympathy for people who deserve it, not for some Beverly Hills princess who's bored and tries to spice up her life," said Matt Donahue, 23, an elementary school teacher in Monica's college town of Portland, Ore.
"I think this all goes back to when she wasn't invited to Tori Spelling's birthday party," he says, referring to a report in George magazine that she was snubbed as a child.
"I think she's a little more sophisticated than we've been led to believe," said Cabot Orton, 28, an independent film producer in Los Angeles: "She was leveraging herself for better job positions, turning some down, trying to eke her way up the ladder."
But even some of those who feel little compassion for Lewinsky's situation now show concern about what may await her in the future. Here she is, with few marketable skills and a reputation that could only get her employment in Las Vegas. Aside from a job as a pitchwoman for Altoids breath mints (see Section X, subsection C), what can she do?
"Who's going to want to marry her, now that she's famous for this?" said Julie Hayes, 36, a management consultant in Chicago and a "Clinton fan."
Writing is also not her forte, judging from the examples provided by Starr, although that may not prevent her from getting a $6 million book contract.
"A little phrase (with only eight letters) like 'thank you' simply cannot begin to express what I feel for what you have given me, she wrote thanking Clinton for his gift of "Leaves of Grass." "Art & poetry are gifts to my soul! I just love the hat pin. It is vibrant, unique and a beautiful piece of art. My only hope is that I have a hat fit to adorn it (ahhh, I see another excuse to go shopping)! . . . I have only read excerpts from 'Leaves of Grass' before never in its entirety or in such a beautifully bound edition. Like Shakespeare, Whitman's writings are so timeless. I find solace in works from the past that remain profound and somehow always poignant. Whitman is so rich that one must read him like one tastes a fine wine or good cigar take it in, roll it in your mouth, and savor it!"
See, again, Section III, Subsection F.
Staff writer Sharon Waxman in Los Angeles and Lisa de Moraes in Washington contributed to this report.
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