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.
In recent days, Daniels has often been elevated as Donald Trump’s natural foil—the one person ballsy, unabashed, and entertaining enough to “take down” our reality-TV president. She’s been praised as someone who, unlike Trump, is honest about her artifice, and forthcoming about issues like sex and capital (as well as the relationship between the two). But for all of this mythologizing—Stormy Daniels as truth-teller, as avenger, as the underestimated enemy of Trump’s own making—Stormy Daniels the human being has been left to weather an almost unimaginable amount of unpleasantness.
Daniels doesn’t seem to have time to wrestle with the implications of Stormy Daniels, Resistance symbol—she’s too busy defending her reputation, being constantly attacked by internet trolls, and contending with potential retaliation and an uncertain future. Near the end of their interview, Cooper read Daniels a recent quote about her from Jenna Jameson: “The left looks at her as a whore and just uses her to try to discredit the president. The right looks at her like a treacherous rat. It’s a lose-lose. Should’ve kept her trap shut.” Daniels replied, “I think that she has a lotta wisdom in those words.”
You don’t have to look very hard to find media coverage and social media commentary to substantiate Jameson’s assessment. In a recent article on the slut-shaming of Stormy Daniels, The Daily Dot summarized that, “Twitter users have slut-shamed Daniels, calling her a ‘slutty porn star’ who’s somehow not as worthy as ‘the world’s most beautiful and classy women.’ Right-wing news sites like Breitbart and Infowars have written off media reports about her by calling them ‘porn star articles’ and ‘porn star affair fake news,’ respectively, in an attempt to discredit Daniels’ claims. Even celebrity news sites like TMZ have focused heavily on Daniels’ adult work for its sensationalist vibe, writing about everything from David Spade’s misogynistic jokes about porn stars to speculation over whether a porn parody will happen around Trump and Daniels.”
Mocking Daniels and denigrating her (legal, chosen) profession sends a strong message to the entire sex-worker community. As Twitter user Emma Evans remarked, “When you use PORN STAR to describe Stormy Daniels it’s not inaccurate, but ask *why* you’re continually using that description. Is it for the ‘shock value’ because it’s more salacious than if she were a librarian? That’s stigma, and it gets sex workers killed.”
On 60 Minutes, Daniels clearly laid out all of the reasons that she feared coming forward with her story; while some were threats of violence or legal retaliation, others were more insidious, revealing Daniels’ clear-headed awareness of the way that she would be treated as a sex worker at the forefront of a national story. “I turned down a large payday multiple times because one, I didn’t wanna kiss and tell and be labeled all the things that I’m being labeled now,” Daniels told Cooper. “I didn’t wanna take away from the legitimate and legal, I’d like to point out, career that I’ve worked very hard to establish. And most importantly, I did not want my family and my child exposed to all the things that she’s being exposed to right now. Because everything that I was afraid of coming out has come out anyway, and guess what? I don’t have a million dollars.”
Later, she continued, “I have no reason to lie. I’m opening myself up for, you know, possible danger and definitely a whole lot of shit.” When Cooper pushed back, theorizing that there could be potential professional or financial benefits to all of the recent exposure, Daniels replied, “That’s a lot of ifs. I could also get shunned. I mean, I could automatically be alienating half of my fan base right at this very moment.”
As Jameson posited, becoming a symbol of the anti-Trump Resistance isn’t a boon for Stormy Daniels; in fact, it might just be a further negative repercussion—one of the “bad things” that Daniels, a woman who has been mocked, threatened, and bullied for having sex with a powerful man and then daring to talk about it, “deserved.”