A lot of men on Twitter have been reducing the Stormy Daniels story to sex. It’s a disturbing but utterly predictable trend—of course the “porn star Stormy Daniels,” as so many outlets and commentators insist on endlessly invoking her, isn’t allowed to stand for anything more than her stigmatized profession and a sexual interaction she had in 2006.
Adding his voice to the barrage of tweets following Daniels’ Sunday night 60 Minutes interview, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver tweeted, “Everybody who’s interested in the Stormy Daniels story is interested in it for the sex/gossip. Which I don’t have any problem with. But the ‘actually, I’m interested in the story for the campaign finance violations!’ claims aren’t too convincing…” He later added, “The media is *obviously* having *lots* of fun with this story, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with. But voters are going to pick up on that signal and also not take the story too seriously.”
The notion that “voters” need any push not to take a sex worker’s story seriously is as ridiculous as the claim that we’re just tuning into Daniels’s tell-all for the salacious gossip. As many people were quick to inform Silver, some of us are actually interested in the story of a powerful man allegedly threatening and intimidating a woman into silence. It takes someone who’s truly ignorant of the ubiquity of gendered power imbalances to insist that Americans are only in it for the spanking.
Watching Daniels tell her story, it’s immediately apparent that nobody predicted the extent to which the adult film actress and director would be dismissed, denigrated, and altogether mistreated quite like Stormy herself.
In one of the many important moments that made the interview so compelling Daniels, who insists that her sexual interaction with Donald Trump was completely consensual, recalled leaving Trump’s hotel restroom to find the would-be president perched on the side of his bed. In that moment, Daniels divulged, “I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into. And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’”
She added that she felt like, “I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone”—“I just heard the voice in my head, ‘Well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this.’” Upon further questioning from Anderson Cooper, Daniels said that she didn’t want to have sex with Trump, but continued, “I didn’t say no. I’m not a victim.”
As recent conversations and New Yorker short stories have shown, issues of bad sex, unwanted sex, consent, and lack thereof are complicated ones, and Daniels should have complete control over whether she’s identified as a victim or a willing participant. But it’s the articulation of that voice in her head, the internalization of a narrative cribbed from the rape culture textbook, that should stick out to each and every listener. It’s not necessarily what Daniels believed—that she deserved it, or that she was solely responsible for the interaction and everything that came afterwards—but rather what she knew would inevitably be said about her. Because as omnipresent as rape culture, victim-blaming and slut-shaming is for any woman, sex workers—or really any woman that is overtly or publicly sexual—suffer tenfold.
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