Monica Lewinsky: The Price Of Shame In A Culture Of Humiliation

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I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman.’ I was seen by many but actually known by few. And I get it: it was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.”

Monica Lewinsky, a woman who found herself at the epicenter of a media maelstrom in 1998 when she was just 24-years-old, gave a candid and brave talk at the TED2015 conference last week and had us hanging on her every word. What she said is important, it is relevant, and should give everyone great pause. This is not something to miss.

Over her 20 minute speech, the now 41-year-old, revisited the painful details of the public shaming she received almost two decades ago. Despite news being largely limited to newspapers, magazines, the radio, and television back then, she says, “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”

We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.

She goes on to connect what she experienced then to today’s online “culture of humiliation,” where the public shaming and personal harassment she went through has become constant and has reached an unimaginable level. It’s an epidemic and can turn deadly.

Now a social activist with a Masters in Social Psychology from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Monica takes a hard look at all of this through her very personal lens, and advocates for a safer and more compassionate social media environment.

There is a very personal price to public humiliation, and the growth of the Internet has jacked up that price.” She adds, “Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop.”

Direct link to interactive transcript of her TED2015  talk.

  • Anastasia Beavenhouser

    Positive message, but an unrealistic expectation. Judgement is everywhere.

    • Sonny

      leave her with your husband, son, father, grandfather, uncle or any man. All of our choices have consequences. Every society has social rules. We are the result of our choices. suck it up and show by your results you deserve our trust and respect. Its not free. kumbyah

  • Erin Patricia

    I think she is going to be able to help a lot of lives. Things happen in life that are difficult, but I believe they set you on a path of your life’s mission. If anyone can help young teens out there, especially girls, it will be her. She lived it. She survived it. I hope she continues on with this work. Teens these days need help. I’m grateful to have not grown up with social media. Life seemed hard enough back then without all this Internet crap. <3

  • Will

    Excellent talk. Outstanding story of resilience and strength.
    I believe compassion is a deep need of every human being to give and receive.
    She will make a difference for the beteerment of the world.
    She is already.

  • Susanne

    I don’t think it’s unrealistic for people to think and behave compassionately. Just because “judgement is everywhere” doesn’t mean it has to be. Compassion is everywhere too.

  • duneduder

    It IS her time, her turn. Glad she’s articulating the bully cycle. As politicians, media, marketing, society become increasingly cynical and combative, Ms. Lewinsky offers real strategies for change. WE can refrain from watching/clicking the TMZs of the world. Not only do we vote with our money, we vote with our clicks. What a concept to understand; I don’t have to click on crap, even though it’s accosting and/or teasing.during a search. You might say it’s practicing self-respect. Good on ya, Ms. Lewinsky!

  • Fala

    I consider myself a TedTalks aficionado, and I would say, hands down, that Monica’s talk was one of the best I’ve ever heard, if not THE best . . . .

  • Bronwyn Hawksworth

    Fantastic talk! Her bravery, courage and learning evident in every word. Great work!