“[Donald Trump] was sitting, you know, on the edge of the bed when I walked out, perched,” Stormy Daniels told Anderson Cooper Sunday night on an explosive episode of "60 Minutes," one that drew the highest ratings in 10 years as Americans tuned in to hear more about the president’s latest sexual scandal.
“I realized exactly what I’d gotten myself into,” Daniels continued, “and I was like, ugh, here we go." She laughed as she added, “And I just felt like maybe, it was sort of, I had it coming for making a bad decision for going to someone’s room alone, and I just heard a voice in my head: Well, you put yourself in a bad situation and bad things happen, so you deserve this."
Daniels firmly stated, “This is not a Me Too," referring to the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and violence. She admitted feeling like she “had it coming,” because of her poor decision to go to Trump's room alone and her feeling that she'd got what she deserved.
When Cooper followed up, asking if she was attracted to Trump and if she had wanted to have sex with him, Daniels responded no. “But I didn’t, I didn’t say no. I’m not a victim. I’m not.”
“It was entirely consensual,” Cooper said.
“Oh yes, yes,” Daniels responded.
It would be too simplistic, and unfair to Daniels, simply to assert that despite her protestations, she was indeed a victim of Trump’s narcissistic sexual predation back in 2006. Daniels presented herself to Cooper as a smart, savvy businesswoman, as well as a strong woman looking out for the interests of her family, particularly her daughter, as she recounted being physically threatened in 2011 by an unknown man who warned her not to share her story about Trump with the world.
Yet it is equally simplistic to easily accept Daniels’ denial of victimhood. Her narration of events reveals a troublingly honest truth about sex between men and women, a truth at risk of being lost in the various legal, political and straight-up salacious takes on this story.
In her 2005 book "Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality," feminist scholar Deborah Tolman documented her interviews with teen girls as she sought to better understand how they viewed sex, relationships and self-image. One prevailing theme Tolman found was the tendency for girls to describe sex as something that “just happened” to them. Some of the girls felt uncomfortable saying no to sex and didn’t want to be labeled a “prude,” while others wanted sex, but didn’t want to appear “slutty.” But what all the girls had in common was their attempt to navigate a world in which their ability to be sexual subjects, fully able to express and act on their sexual needs and desires without shame, was deeply constrained by the double standards governing society’s expectations about sex between men and women.
Daniels’ narrative fits remarkably well into those analyzed by Tolman, despite the fact that she was a 27-year-old woman and not a teenager at the time. Her account of having sex with Trump is marked by Trump presuming her consent to have sex with him based on her presence in his room; he “perched” on the edge of the bed. Despite her lack of attraction to him, she went through with it seemingly out of pressure, blaming herself for even being there. It’s questionable how consensual the alleged encounter was, absent the underlying prerequisite: her enthusiastic consent.
Tolman writes about the need to create a world that centers what she calls the “sexual subjectivity” of girls and women, writing, “When a girl . . . disconnects the apprehending psychic part of herself from what is happening in her own body, she then becomes especially vulnerable to the power of others’ feelings as well as to what others say she does and does not want or feel.” Tolman advocates for girls being able to connect to their desires without judgment in order to make better choices about sex that align with their own preferences, rather than the preferences of their sexual partners, a goal that remains timely in the present #MeToo moment.
Consensual sex is sex where both parties are in open communication about their desires. Consensual sex is not a power imbalance in which a famous and wealthy 60-year-old businessman perches on a bed, assuming the 27-year-old woman in his bathroom will have sex with him because she has agreed to enter the premises. An encounter that felt like a "bad situation" to Stormy Daniels ideally should not be defined as consensual sex.
Yet, as both Daniels’ story and Tolman’s research indicates, too often in the area between overt rape and consensual sex, girls and women continue to internalize ideas about their status as sexual objects, rather than sexual subjects.
When Cooper asked Daniels if Trump wore protection during sex, Daniels, like Karen McDougal before her, said no.
“Did you ask him to?” asked Cooper.
“No,” responded Daniels. “I honestly didn’t say anything.”
Daniels’ silence in these moments of sexual decision-making must be understood in a larger context in which girls and women are taught not to own their sexual desires, in which speaking up frankly about sex is still seen as somehow unseemly. And the consequences can be dangerous, ranging from the transmission of sexual disease to unwanted pregnancy to sexual violence.
Some may argue that as a woman in the porn industry, Daniels doesn’t need or even deserve these considerations of sexual subjectivity. Her career requires her to have sex, so how could her subjectivity be constrained? But this conflates her work as a porn actress with an automatic willingness to have sex with everyone she encounters in her personal life, a damaging slippery slope leading toward the falsehood that sex workers can’t be sexually violated.
At its core, the "60 Minutes" interview illuminates larger questions about men’s anticipated sexual access to women’s bodies that can no longer go unchallenged. Donald Trump must be held accountable for his role in perpetuating these dynamics — including his alleged sexual assault of Summer Zervos, who is now suing him for defamation, as well as accusations made by many other women — as he sits perched atop the highest political office in the land.