HP accuser's sexual past put on trial

Why is it relevant that Jodie Fisher, who allegedly caused CEO Mark Hurd's downfall, did softcore porn?

Published August 9, 2010 8:16PM (EDT)

Jodie Fisher
Jodie Fisher

It turns out the woman who accused Hewlett Packard CEO Mark Hurd of sexual harassment, and ultimately brought about his resignation Friday, has a past in softcore porn. That means two things: 1) This story will be making headlines for some time to come, and 2) His accuser, Jodie Fisher, can look forward to having her character and integrity called into question. 

In the eyes of the media, first and foremost she isn't a single mother or a former executive at a real estate firm -- both of which are true -- but a "softcore porn star" who has starred in such "movies as 'Sheer Passion,' 'Body of Influence,' and 'Intimate Obsession.'" Valleywag could barely contain its excitement: "The woman involved has come forward, and it's ... a skin-flick actress! (And saleswoman.) Want to see her sexy movies?" Then follow embedded previews of her R-rated work. The disreputable Sun went with the headline: "Porn girl behind HP boss's exit." Even the Wall Street Journal qualified her as "a 50-year-old sometime actress whose film credits include 'Intimate Obsession' and 'Body of Influence 2.'" 

Certainly none of this is untrue, but the films mentioned were released between 1992 and 1998. We're talking about work she did more than a decade ago; work that is neither related to her contracting for HP nor relevant to her claim of sexual harassment. Is it surprising that the media is rushing to define her as a softcore porn star as opposed to a 50-year-old single mom or a former executive? Hardly. Last I checked, we're all still desperately hungry for readers and, per that old journalistic saw, sex sells. But there is something else here, something common to accusations of sexual harassment or assault: a push to discredit and shame the accuser based on her sexual past.

It makes me think of how rape accusers too often have their sexual histories put on trial; if you've slept around or recklessly boozed it up, you can forget being seen as an undeserving victim. It seems Fisher's softcore porn work is presented as incriminating evidence that she has cashed in on her sex appeal in the past. There's an inability to see a woman with such a past as having possibly been trespassed in any way; a woman who has trafficked in her sexuality cannot possibly maintain sexual autonomy. The porn angle also facilitates the fearsome and titillating femme fatale narrative: Softcore succubus causes man's downfall! 

Ultimately, the speculation is pointless. HP determined that Hurd did not violate the company's sexual harassment policy (although the investigation turned up shady expense reports connected to Fisher, and that's why he stepped down); and last week he reached an undisclosed settlement with Fisher. It's done, it's settled, finito. There's no reason to stir up her past other than to enjoy that intoxicating cocktail of shame and titillation.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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