3/19/18
The Slut Shaming of Stormy Daniels

Stormy Daniels’ important story of who President Donald Trump is and what he has done — an alleged cheater who had an affair while his wife raised their baby and then had his lawyer pay, perhaps illegally, to cover it up with a non-disclosure agreement right before the 2016 presidential election, after having this ex-paramour physically threatened — is being trivialized and buried by the “discussion” of who Daniels is and what she’s done.

Why? Because Stormy Daniels is a sex worker. And in the United States, being a sex worker is the adult equivalent of having cooties.

Our culture is simultaneously obsessed with and horrified by porn. Even those who regularly watch it privately disparage it publicly. In the U.S., sex work, especially porn, is a joke, a punchline, a moral failing, despite its massive economic influences. Those who engage in it — especially women — are consistently disrespected and dismissed.

How Exactly Has Daniels Been Disparaged?

Let us count the ways:

  1. She can only be described with the word “porn” somewhere within two words of her name.
  2. The very act of searching her biography will give you the cooties: as The New York Times warned, “an internet search for the particulars is not recommended.” 
  3. But even respected publications reporting on her don’t properly research her biography: The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, described her as a “former adult-film star” (our emphasis). A quick Google search disproves this.
  4. Her stage name is always given with an immediate “clarification” that her “real name” is Stephanie Clifford. But when did you ever see an article about John Wayne that was careful to point out that his “real name” was “Marion”?
  5. She is described as a “porn star” without acknowledgement that she really is a star, with numerous AVN awards, lucrative contracts, and crossover spots in mainstream media (like this Maroon 5 video). Some porn connoisseurs argue she’s poised to exceed Jenna Jameson’s popularity. But Republican strategist Mike Murphy said derisively and erroneously, “Porn actress…People go straight to ‘porn star.’ I like to see a few awards before you use that moniker.”
  6. Nor is there ever acknowledgment that she is a fine comic actor, a skilled director and producer, a nationally ranked equestrian, or a registered Republican.
  7. The fact that she ran for office is sometimes characterized as a publicity stunt rather than the sophisticated political commentary it actually wasConsidering the election to public office of Ronald Regan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and now Donald Trump, her run should be taken more seriously. 
  8. A reporter on MSNBC (Kelly O’Donnell) prefaced her report on the newsworthy legal story by saying she “drew the short stick” and thus got stuck covering the “porn star” that day.
  9. Even Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, writing ultimately about female empowerment, went to great lengths to find the silliest and most salacious possible films (e.g. Sexbots) that Daniels and other erotic actors have made, while saying nothing else about them as people. As if the sex itself were the problem with Trump.
  10. For the worst of it, look no further than Daniels’ Twitter account,  where the haters, trolls and bots can’t even be bothered to spell their insults correctly (see “skanc” and “cun“). But her comebacks are a master class in self-defense. In a recent CNN interview, she said, “So when someone says, ‘Hey, you’re a whore…’ I’m like, ‘That is ‘successful whore’ to you!'”

So according to her mainstream coverage and public reception, no, Daniels is not a person. She’s a joke, tainted by the stain of sex work, who is not be taken seriously. And she’s not the only one.

Other Women Branded with the Scarlet Letter “P”

Karen McDougal  — She also has cooties, though a milder case. Dougal (who similarly seems to have signed a nondisclosure agreement about an affair she allegedly had with Mr. Tump) was a Playboy model, which means she let people see her naked for money. So she must always and forever be described, within two words of her name, as a Playboy model or Playmate, often without any other humanizing characteristics.

But Dougal contains multitudes: she is a fitness model; has appeared—among other places—on the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine; has a small but real vanilla acting career; and owns and manages Pharmore Alternatives, a company selling various health and wellness supplement. Before all this she was a teacher.

All this is easily discovered but rarely mentioned in references to her. She, too, is not a person.

Jennifer Drake — The President allegedly groped and propositioned her. But she has sex on camera for money, so she must also always be described as a simply porn star without any further discussion. You would not know that she is a decent actor, or that she has produced a lengthy series of videos devoted to sexual education, or that she is a major spokesperson for the adult film industry.

Melania Trump —  She barely escaped the scarlet letter of porn. But it wasn’t for the media’s lack of trying. The New York Post ran a series of nude photos from over twenty years ago before the 2016 election. Memes littered social media unfairly comparing buttoned up First Ladies to a naked 25-year-old Melania Knauss. One of the biggest criticisms of her was that she allowed people to see her naked for money. She was even falsely accused of having previously worked as a prostitute.

But even though one could argue she currently has sex for money (i.e. legally with Trump, albeit not publicly), the fact that she has not let us see her naked recently, combined with the elevating imprimatur of the White House (despite the crassness of its main occupant), means Melania no longer has cooties. But just barely.

Question, Resist, and Push Back Against Shame

It does not require a massive dose of feminist theory to appreciate that slut shaming like all of the above is the immediatereflexive cultural response to any woman doing anything to challenge the existing power structure.

You can see it in contemporary writings about Marie Antoinette (in Citizens: A Chronicle of the French RevolutionSimon Schama describes pornographic etchings of her that were widely circulated).  You’ve seen it in discussions of Hillary Clinton (many on the right have claimed, throughout her entire career, that Clinton is a lesbian, in order to try to reduce her to an “aberrant, man-hating” set of sexual behaviors).  And you can see it in references to every important woman before, after, and in between (David Brock confessed in his book, Blinded by the Right, that he had printed “virtually every derogatory and often contradictory allegation” he could to make Anita Hill seem “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.“).

So when you see a woman characterized as “just a porn star,” a “skank,” a “slut,” “loose,” or “immoral” — particularly when nothing else is said about her — translate those code words. On the surface they seem derogatory. But they actually mean “has agency,” “is not afraid to speak her mind,” “derives power from her own sexuality,” and “gives established power structures the finger.”

Reclaim the word “slut.” Stand up for the women who stand up for themselves. Or even the women who, confident in their sexuality, lie down for themselves. Do it like Daniels does:


 

Dr. Alan, a psychologist specializing in the way people interact with ‘progress’ in general and technology in particular, describes himself as educated beyond his competence and opinionated beyond his education. Besides being an MVP commenter on EMandLO.com, he is currently working on a book about how increased healthy life expectancy will influence family structure.

 

Another P word we don’t have to dis:
The Power of Pussy


 

13 Comments

  1. Know what, the more I think about it? I think I WILL shame Stormy Daniels. Maybe not “slut” shame, since I don’t really care about the multitude of other men she’s slept with, or the fact that she has sex for money.

    But damn it, she had sex with Donald Trump, and there IS shame in that as far as I’m concerned. Disgusting. He was a revolting human being before he ran for president. I’ll defend the women who Trump groped and assaulted over the years. The ones who went to bed with that big orange turd willingly can lie in the mess they made together.

    Also, from a feminist angle, how do you defend a woman who willingly fucked another woman’s husband? Open relationships are one thing, but suppose Trump and his wife don’t have one? Suppose she and Trump were cheating? In that case, S.D. would be a woman who knowingly and egregiously wronged another woman. Is THAT who you want as a feminist sister-in-arms? A woman who would without qualms go to bed with your husband?

    The more I think about this the sillier it seems to defend Daniels.

    1. Yes, her biggest sin was voluntarily sleeping with such an odious human being. We don’t know if Donald and Melania had/have some sort of agreement (“you get a rich lifestyle, I get to sleep around”). If they didn’t, then Trump, not Daniels, should get the brunt of the blame for the cheating, because he’s the one who made promises to Melania — Daniels didn’t. There’s that quote from “Sex, Lies and Videotape” from the woman sleeping with her sister’s husband: “Yeah, right, but I didn’t take a vow in front of God and everyone to be faithful to Ann.” Enabling a cheater is definitely not cool, but let’s keep the blame where it most deserves to be: on Trump. And we’re not sure Alan is calling her a feminist icon, just challenging the anti-sex, anti-woman tendency of the media to use relentless mentions of her job as tool to discredit and devalue her.

  2. Excellent article! I, for one, have no issue with the references to “porn star” (we should all be so lucky),; and the trollsters slut-shaming is brilliantly rebuffed by Ms. Daniels. (Does heaven have a maximum dick-taking number? More importantly, does hell have a minimum? Just want to check that my quota is on track. https://twitter.com/anetizyn/status/974348004214956034 …)
    I do, however, long for the day when the “players” and the “sluts” are on equal footing – she should be high-fived and congratulated as well. I know I am.
    Signed, an unashamed and proud Slut.

  3. All well considered arguments. And yes–that Ms Daniels is an actor/producer/director of what Lenny Bruce once called “training films” is too good a part of the story to avoid, even if it actually has no bearing on the issues of dishonesty, adultery, and abuse of power that this story is ostensibly about.

    However, surely something along the line of “she is a well known actor in pornographic films, including such examples as ‘Operation Desert Stormy,'” is more than enough to give everyone a frisson and then let them move on. The multiply repeated references to her career exist only to trivialize her complaints., to make her a “non-person,” a “skanky whore,” so we do not have to listen to her. And, in passing, to remind us all of how terribly righteous we are. Bah.

    The male equivalent of a slut is a “man whore” or a “fuck boy” or a “player.” All said with a wink and a nod. Casanova would weep.

  4. My question is, what is the male equivalent of “slut” or “whore”? If there is not one, then it is a phony category.

  5. People are preoccupied with sex. Porn stars offer themselves up as objects of that preoccupation in exchange for money.

    You want news outlets NOT to mention that she’s a porn star? Or to focus on something else? No. When you do porn, that becomes the most remarkable thing about you.

    There are lots and lots and lots of people taking shots at Trump right now. Some of them get their own news stories and some of them don’t. The sex angle is why Stormy Daniels is newsworthy compared to the millions of other people who want to take Trump down. News media outlets have abandoned any pretense of serving the public – they’re a business selling a product, and sex sells. None of this should surprise anyone.

    Plus, you can’t slut-shame Stormy Daniels without saying, “Stormy Daniels.” A couple of weeks ago I didn’t even know who she was. This is major brand exposure for her I’m sure those nasty names people call her have her crying all the way to the bank.

    1. We don’t think Alan’s saying never mention her job as a porn star, just don’t try to yield it as a weapon. If you listen to someone like Mika Brzezinski on “Morning Joe” talk about the case, she NEVER utters a sentence about Daniels without saying “porn star”; she sounds like she’s using it as a slur. It’s super judgy. But Daniels’ job description is not really the important part of this story, it’s not the point; the important part is that the Republican Nominee for President, now the President (ugh – that never gets any easier), paid her hush money, possibly threatened her, possibly broke campaign finance laws, and lied about it. That she’s a porn star should really be a second tier detail.

      1. It should be, but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a prurient public to latch on to other details than that one. Or to expect an unscrupulous and lazy press to take the high road. Especially when the individual in question deliberately put herself in this position for profit. It’s just a slam-dunk for all involved. The minute you say “porn star” on network TV, everyone’s ears prick up. S.D. videos start flying through cyberspace, she gets paid to appear on talk shows, TV ratings go through the roof. It’s just… exactly what I’d expect.

        Want me to defend a presidential paramour against slut-shaming? Ok, I pick Monica Lewinsky. Man I feel bad for her – 21 year old kid set upon by the most powerful man in the world and then defamed on a global level. I didn’t realize how fucked up that was at the time, but I’ve really lost a lot of love for Bill Clinton over the years for using all his heft to trample one American girl.

        Stormy Daniels isn’t Monica Lewinsky. She’s right where she wants to be. For my own sanity, I’ve stopped paying attention to the details of the Trump dumpster fire. I guess in my head I’ve just got S.D. filed under “Trump Spam.”

        1. Merriam Webster just added “dumpster fire” to the dictionary. Next year, our money’s on the addition of “Trumpster fire.” Oh, and totally agree with you about Lewinsky!

  6. Just as an induhudusl’s personality is highly influenced by early experiences in the family of origin, American society was formed by religious adventures who overthrew a government and its military to be born. The current cultural personality traits of government mistrust, gun-love and puritanical judgement of all things sexual make perfect sense.
    Unfortunately it seems stuck in puerile adolescence, snickering behind a hand because someone mentioned “sex” and unable to hold an adult conversation without embarrassment.

  7. I think the news media continues to call her a porn star to take shots at Trump, not at her. Why is that a shot at Trump? Because most people believe being paid for sex is unsavory. So Trump is unsavory by association.

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