Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Only in the Donald Trump White House would a president getting sued by a porn star – with whom he allegedly slept shortly after his wife gave birth, and who his lawyer allegedly paid to stay quiet – seem more par for the course than career-ending.
Yet here we are: Stormy Daniels is suing Donald Trump, saying that the nondisclosure agreement she signed is invalid because the President didn’t also sign it. She alleges that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen – the man who says he cut her a $130,000 check – is attempting to intimidate her into silence.
For his part, Cohen won’t say what the $130,000 check was for (it reportedly came a few weeks before Election Day), but will say that the President denies sexual relations with that woman.
And so Stormy Daniels is speaking out. Good for her.
The whole affair is tawdry and sordid, in so many ways below the dignity of the presidency. If Trump did cheat on his wife, it would not come as much of a surprise, given his history: he cheated on his first wife with the second, and then fed the story to New York tabloids to humiliate her. A loyal, chivalrous man he is not.
But were the Stormy Daniels allegations simply about an affair, they would reflect poorly on him, but wouldn’t be particularly relevant to his current office.
What’s different here is the systematic silencing of women. Nondisclosure agreements are too often leveraged against people who have little ability to refuse to sign them – often employees trying to settle sexual harassment complaints, for example.
They paper over serious problems, and allow harassers and abusers to behave with impunity. In Trump’s case, the problem is less the affair allegations than the allegations of hush money and threats to keep a woman quiet.
There’s also the treatment of Daniels by the Trump team and the media, who are trying to undermine her credibility by casting her as an attention-hungry porn star who will do just about anything for the right price (as opposed, I guess, to our attention-hungry reality TV star President who will do just about anything for the right price).
There are always good reasons to be skeptical of those who come forward with tabloid friendly stories that indict the powerful, not for legal wrongdoing or abuse of power, but for bad private behavior. But what Daniels seems upset about – what she wants on the record – seems to be less about the alleged affair and more about the alleged efforts to stifle her.
Imagine the same scenario with a woman who was an office manager: Say this imaginary woman and a high official in government allegedly have an affair. She definitely gets a six-figure check from his lawyer, and even though that same lawyer carefully asserts that his client denies the affair, the lawyer confirms the existence of a nondisclosure agreement between them. This would all point to one fairly obvious conclusion.
Would we be so quick to doubt Daniels, and so hasty to make her the butt of a joke, if she had a different job? Getting paid to engage in consensual sexual acts on camera doesn’t make one a liar or an irredeemably immoral person; it makes one a person who has gotten paid to engage in consensual sexual acts on camera.
And while it’s interesting, in a prurient way, that the President – who enjoys the backing of the evangelical right – might have cheated on his postpartum wife with a porn star, the real story here is the attempt to shut her up, and then to trash her when she refuses to stay quiet.
We shouldn’t let his team get away with that. Daniels deserves to be given a fair hearing, regardless of whether one thinks her occupation makes her a “bad” woman (it doesn’t).
In a post-Harvey Weinstein world, Americans have little patience for powerful men who bully women into silence. Let’s hope that extends to “bad” women, too.