Opinion: Stormy Daniels testified about something billions of humans do. Why was she demeaned for it?

Editor’s Note: Danielle Campoamor is a freelance writer formerly of TODAY and NBC. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

Satin pajamasMagazine spankings. The missionary positionCondom-free sex.

For two days in Manhattan, Stephanie Gregory Clifford — better known as Stormy Daniels — detailed her connection to former President Donald Trump and alleged sexual encounter with him in 2006. Her testimony came as part of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s criminal trial for allegedly falsifying business records in an attempt to suppress stories of alleged affairs ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Danielle Campoamor - Ashley Batz
Danielle Campoamor - Ashley Batz

During and certainly after Daniels took the witness stand, news anchors, on-air correspondents and political pundits almost universally described her court testimony as “salacious,” “lurid” and ”tawdry” solely because she was asked and answered questions about the evening she allegedly had sex with the defendant in a Nevada hotel suite.

Perhaps the adolescent-minded headlines should come as no surprise. This country’s political landscape — heavy with name-calling, grandstanding and toddler-like tantrums — is childish at best, and, make no mistake, it is childish to consider something as normal as sex to be improper.

But it matters that the media decided to erroneously describe a grown woman openly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with a grown man as obscene. The words used to characterize Daniels’ testimony evoke a feeling of inherent wrongness or dirtiness — and not on the part of the accused but of the woman who dared to speak up.

When nearly half of 2016 voters considered Trump bragging about sexual assault to be typical “locker room talk,” to describe Daniels’ testimony as anything other than what it was — a recollection — is hypocritical at best, and misogynistic to say the least.

While the Manhattan criminal case is not directly tied to Trump’s alleged encounter with Daniels, the details of their brief alleged tryst are crucial to the prosecution’s case. In the wake of the revelations in October 2016 of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump proudly described grabbing women without their consent, accusations of an affair taking place years earlier, soon after his wife gave birth to their son, could have further damaged then-candidate Trump’s already controversial presidential campaign.

So Daniels did what she was asked to do by the prosecution: She carefully described the hotel room where she met Trump, down to the floors, furniture and contents of Trump’s toiletry kit. Daniels detailed how Trump posed for her on the hotel bed, how she “blacked out” while they had sex, how she was “shaking” when she got dressed and, from that point on, made sure any future meetings with Trump were held in public.

The details were crucial to establishing Daniels as a credible witness, since Trump has repeatedly denied the affair and attacked Daniels’ appearance, much like he has denied every allegation of sexual assault, harassment and improper sexual behavior levied against him and demonized the women behind them. It is common for Trump to deny ever meeting or knowing his accusers or claiming they’re too ugly to victimize — including E. Jean Carroll, whom Trump was found liable for sexually assaulting — so Daniels’ ability to adequately describe what she alleged occurred and how enthusiastically consenting Trump was before, during and after was necessary.

The defense undoubtedly knows this, as does Trump and, apparently, members of his family. After Daniels testified on March 7, Trump’s son Eric described the court proceedings as a “salacious show,” only to have mainstream media outlets regurgitate his claim via excessive and bombastic headlines.

To no one’s surprise, the defense also tapped into the palpable air of chauvinism surrounding Daniels’ court appearance during cross-examination. The 45-year-old was accused of “selling herself” via strip club appearances, books and interviews, and by the very lawyers representing a man who has sold NFTs of his likeness and mediocre steaks adorned with his name, and who is continuing to use his ongoing court proceedings to raise campaign funds.

The defense accused Daniels of fabricating the affair, solely because as an adult entertainer she has “a lot of experience making phony stories about sex appear real.” Her career decisions were scrutinized, her desire to become more financially successful condemned, all seemingly an effort to discredit her testimony not only on its merits but on the basis of her innate morality. Like the descriptions of the alleged encounter, the defense aimed to paint Daniels herself as “salacious,” “lurid” and “tawdry.”

On more than one occasion, Daniels has insisted she is not the victim in her story. In a 2018 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, she described her alleged sexual encounter with Trump as consensual.

“This is not a ‘Me Too,’” she said at the time. “I was not a victim. I’ve never said I was a victim … I didn’t say no.”

Yet Daniels has arguably been victimized by this country’s rampant misogyny, on the witness stand, in the news and certainly online. Descriptions of Daniels’ testimony alone have endorsed the scarlet letter that society at large attaches to women like her: Women who have chosen a profession within the sex industry. Women who shamelessly own and monetize their sexuality. Women who do not consider sex or having sex to be morally wrong.

Sex is a normal human activity — countless people are enjoying it (I hope) right now. What is not normal, despite how normalized it has become, is to demonize the women who speak openly and honestly about it.

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