Prominent adult film actress Stormy Daniels has been under attack since she went public with her 2006 affair with President Donald Trump—a scandal which has unveiled allegations of threats and campaign finance abuse. But on Saturday, the New York Times published a profile (paywall) on her that echoed a line of criticism familiar to many women in powerful positions.
Under the headline “Stormy Daniels, Porn Star Suing Trump, Is Known for Her Ambition: ‘She’s the Boss,’” the profile makes several pointed references to Daniels’s unapologetic desire for career success—which, in Daniels’s case, happens to be in the adult film industry. It even lobs the “C” word: competitive.
“Her competitive streak is not well concealed,” the article points out. It quotes her agent as saying that Daniels “likes to maximize her profits… not only on the feature dance bookings but at all times.”
Daniels is first and foremost a businesswoman, who has made no secret of her desire for financial and professional autonomy in an industry famous for exploiting its talent. It’s pretty hard to achieve commercial success without a competitive streak or a desire to maximize profits. Why is it worthy of note here?
Emphasizing Daniels’s ambition could be a way of noting the possibility that she’s coming forward for notoriety or profit, something Daniels has denied. (For what it’s worth, former adult actress Jenna Jameson said Daniels has committed “career suicide” by going public.) The scrutiny of Daniels’s aspirations also has a tinge of something that women in far lower-profile roles have experienced: the suggestion that there’s something shameful, ugly, or devious about a woman with ambition.
Former president Barack Obama alluded to this while stumping for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “When a guy is ambitious and out in the public arena and working hard, well, that’s okay,” he told an Ohio rally. “But when a woman does it, suddenly you’re all like, ‘Well, why is she doing that?’”
Many women, even highly accomplished ones, have a fraught relationship with the desire for success. As therapist Diane Barth has pointed out, traits long associated with success (pride, aggression, self-regard) clash with those associated with femininity (selflessness, empathy, modesty). Visible ambition in a woman comes off as unlikeable, and being seen as unlikeable—or aggressive, or insufficiently warm, or any other number of qualifiers that aren’t applied to men—cost women promotions and opportunities.
In the introduction to an essay anthology on the subject, writer Robin Romm describes this conflict as “the double bind of the gender, success paired eternally with scrutiny and retreat.”
Daniels has success and no shortage of scrutiny. She just refuses to retreat. She has been criticized for continuing to make public appearances at strip clubs and elsewhere while her lawsuit against Trump proceeds.
“People are like, ‘Oh, you’re an opportunist. You’re taking advantage of this,'” she told Anderson Cooper during a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday. “Yes, I’m getting more job offers now, but tell me one person who would turn down a job offer making more than they’ve been making, doing the same thing that they’ve always done?”