Monica Lewinsky showed us all how we should act when someone violates boundaries: Get up and walk out.
On Monday night, Lewinsky got up and walked out of a live interview in the Jerusalem Convention Center when Channel 2 news anchor Yonit Levi asked a question that Lewinsky said they previously agreed was off limits. You can watch the video here.
She didn't scream, cry, or throw a fit. The boundaries had been violated and so she left. Interview over.
She didn't worry that she was making the interviewer feel uncomfortable, or that the event planners now had time they needed to fill.
According to Lewinsky, she and Levi had agreed before the interview that the question about former President Clinton was not to be asked. If this is, indeed, the case, Levi was counting on social pressures to make Lewinsky address the question.
After a talk today on the perils and positives of the Internet, there was to be a 15 minute conversation to follow up on the subject of my speech (not a news interview). There were clear parameters about what we would be discussing and what we would not. In fact, the exact question the interviewer asked first, she had put to me when we met the day prior. I said that was off limits. When she asked me it on stage, with blatant disregard for our agreement, it became clear to me I had been misled. I left because it is more important than ever for women to stand up for themselves and not allow others to control their narrative. To the audience: I'm very sorry that this talk had to end this way.
This is something that we should all stand up and cheer. We are not obligated to stay when someone does something rude to us. Lewinsky was very polite. She apologized and left. That's all.
But she didn't put up with it.
You may say, this isn't harassment or discrimination. It's just news. But, it's violating an agreed upon boundary. That is exactly what harassment is.
Imagine if we all behaved that way. If a boss makes an inappropriate comment and we just got up and left, what would happen? Behavior would change and in a big way. Initial harassment can happen to anyone. But a lot of secondary harassment would end if we walked away, called it out, or refused to put up with it.
Now, this, of course, doesn't address power differentials. Lewinsky can be confident that doing this won't end her career and (I hope) will advance her message that she advocated in her TED talk.
Many women (and men) have to worry that if they get up and walk out, their job will disappear. While harassment is illegal, many companies are willing to ignore it or downplay the seriousness. It's a very real fear. And I never blame anyone who doesn't stand up to, walk out, or immediately report inappropriate behavior on the job. But, those of us who can stand up and walk out when people violate agreements and boundaries should.
Do not let people take advantage of our natural desire to be nice or to make a scene. Remember, the person who violates the boundary is the one who caused the drama.
Lewinsky didn't cause any drama when she got up and walked out. Levi did when she asked a question she had previously agreed not to ask. I did reach out to Levi and will update if she shares her side of the story.