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Push Back

"Interior," aka, "The Rape," by Edgar Degas 1868-9, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 


In the end, the courage of women can't be stamped out. And stories - the big ones, the true ones - can be caught but never killed.


 Ronan Farrow, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators



Of all the commentators pontificating after the first day that Stephanie A. Gregory Clifford—aka  Stormy Daniels—took the stand in a New York City courtroom, it was only Molly Jong Fast, daughter of Erica Jong, author of the iconic feminist novel, Fear of Flying, who, in my opinion, got it right: Ms. Clifford did okay, she stood up to a hectoring insulting cross examination, she's brave. In other words, let's reframe the reporting and the words we use to describe what we are witnessing here: Election interference, yes. But also an exploitative casting couch story reminiscent of Harvey Weinstein. A 20-something-year-old woman was hoping for a gig and the gangster who refused to use a condom and blocked the door, well that bully in the story is familiar by now. Think about how young Ms. Clifford was at the time, 30 years the bully's junior. Who has more power in that situation?  And, please, call her Stephanie Clifford, her given name, and stop using the now tiresome moniker "porn star." More accurately, she's a sex worker, and like every other American woman, she has rights, and is deserving of respect on the witness stand and in the media. If she cries, if she rants on, she's communicating. Listen to her.


By the second day on the witness stand, the pundits referred to Ms. Clifford as "impressive," "stalwart," and "admirable," her shoulders back, sitting up straight, or her body leaning forward attentively to counter aggressive questioning from the defense attorney. I consider her a heroine, and a beneficiary of the women's movement from the days of suffrage to #pro-choice to #metoo and beyond.


Let me affirm for the jury that I am not, nor ever have been, a sex worker, but like most women, I've had my share of inappropriate propositions over the years. Like Ms. Clifford's experience, the most egregious was firmly tied to a job offer, a job I coveted. I was called in to WNET—a PBS affiliate—for an interview with a well-known producer who insisted that we meet at a diner for breakfast, his go-to for "taking meetings," he told me. But we'd never met before and I thought the setting strange, and a bit too intimate. I don't like to eat when I am interviewing, or being interviewed. No chomping, no food dribbles, or worries about what to choose from the menu, or who will pay. A diner? Really? I ordered a cup of tea and watched the guy eat and ramble on about his life and his wife. I didn't care about any of it, but I didn't stop him, and I didn't walk away, which in retrospect, I should have once he started talking about his wife.  Once the meal was over—and  it seemed endless—too much friendly chitchat to the waiter slowed it down—we  headed across the street, up the elevator and into a secluded office, door shut. I was already worn down by the guy's self-aggrandizing chatter and felt intimidated and a bit woozy. He saw my weakness and started coming on to me with more pointed suggestive remarks. He asked about my marriage. Firmly, I told him it was none of his business and that I was leaving. For an instant I worried that the door was locked. It wasn't. Needless to say, I didn't get the job.


So, it isn't hard to imagine what a very young Stephanie Clifford felt like in that hotel room, or to identify with what she said to herself, "What did I get wrong to end up here?" Now she has had her day in court and did well, or well enough.


This post is dedicated to every woman in these United States who has been harassed, intimidated, gaslit, silenced, or refused an abortion. May we all get out to vote in November for the men and women—gay straight or trans—who  care about the future of this country, and the world.


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