I Don’t Care If Melania Trump Was a Sex Worker and Neither Should You
Melania Trump at the Republican National Convention. Photo: ABC / Fred Watkins
When Donald Trump lubed up and committed to actually, for real thrusting himself into the American race to be president, I made a little promise to myself. I won’t slut-shame his wife, former model Melania Trump. I won’t slut-shame her in a blog. I won’t slut-shame her on a log. I won’t slut-shame her in a tweet. I won’t slut-shame her with some meat.
This was always going to be a problem, both from Donald’s GOP Primary detractors and from the left as well. Melania is a rather appropriately atypical First Lady material thanks to her modeling career, and literally the first picture I ever saw of this woman was a tasteful nude composition. Since securing the nomination, the tabloids have been digging through her past trying to find two things: a picture of her nipples and maybe proof she’s had non-marital dick in her. Ah, journalism, where a picture of Taylor Swift’s uncovered right tit taken with a telephoto lens is probably worth more than I’ve ever been paid as a writer.
Well, they did find Mrs. Trump’s nipples, and a shot of her in a Sapphic pose to boot (no, I’m not linking to them). The New York Post managed to find a set of prints from a mid-‘90s shoot done in Manhattan for a now-defunct French magazine called Max that shows her naked and in bed with Scandinavian model Emma Erikkson, as well as more traditional nude shots.
Then, a story from the Slovenian magazine Suzy (are all European magazines just first names like Beyoncé?) ran a front page story that the modeling agency Melania was signed to also operated as an escort service. Inquisitr and Daily Mail picked it up, and suddenly everyone was talking about the possibility Melania was a sex worker.
Let’s be clear, the agency’s owner, Paolo Zampolli, immediately denied he ran an escort service on the side, calling the accusations “fucking rubbish.” The Trumps lawyered up as only tycoons can, utilizing the services of Charles Harder, who sued Gawker on behalf of Hulk Hogan and ultimately got the company shut down. Inquisitr and Daily Mail deleted the stories, and several outlets that regurgitated them apologized.
And just so we don’t incur The Donald’s wrath over his wife’s honor, if Melania says she wasn’t an escort I have absolutely no reason not to believe her. I assume that if there were any truth to Zampolli’s agency offering escort services, the national news media would have brought at least one other person out of the woodwork to talk about it. In a world where it’s Melania Trump’s word against some random magazine in Slovenia and the Daily Mail, I’m going with Melania.
But more than that, it really shouldn’t have mattered if she had been an escort, and the entire brouhaha over the whole mess got me really depressed by my own side of the aisle.
“But Jef,” so many people said, “It’s not slut-shaming. We’re pointing out the hypocrisy of how the GOP treats Michelle Obama as classless but celebrates Melania. It’s the hypocrisy that matters!”
Is it? Is it, really? The way I see it, if your critique of something is fundamentally identical to an example of something then it’s not a very good critique. Was it wrong when Republicans and their meat-headed flock on social media spread around pics of Michelle’s arms as if she was parading around in a Girls Gone Wild tank top? Of course it bloody was. Anyone who says that the First Lady should not show her shoulders because it’s cheap is being an out-of-touch sexist git.
The line between pointing out hypocrisy and screaming, “MY TURN,” is rail thin, and I saw a lot of feminist and other leftists snort that line up through a straw. If you want to deal with the way we treat the wives of public figures, the best bet is to just not be sexist. Slut-shaming Melania to avenge Michelle isn’t ironic, clever or ultimately helpful. You can’t really claim the right is worse about this sort of thing just because you’re willing to do it a little less.
Beyond that, I just really dislike the idea that letting someone take pictures of her breasts or being an escort would make Melania unfit to be the First Lady. I’m not sure exactly how I managed it, but I know a lot of people in the sex and sex-related industries. On my Facebook friends list I count an AVN Hall of Fame pornographic actress, two dominatrices, a script-writer from the Golden Age of Porn, nude models both traditional and fetish, three people who have sex-advice shows or blogs, about a dozen burlesque dancers, a few cam girls, erotica writers of every pairing you can think, and at least one woman I know who worked as an escort. That’s not even counting the number of people here in the Houston goth scene I have known that worked at one of the adult novelty stores or tried their hands as phone sex operators.
Every single one of these people is a completely normal and productive member of society. Some of them pursue the sex stuff as a second job or as a hobby, and some of them it’s their primary source of income. They pay taxes, raise children, have friends, and contribute to their communities. One of them is phone-banking for her presidential favorite the important state of Nevada as we speak, which is certainly more than I’m doing (and she’s definitely going to yell at me about it when she sees this article).
Melania’s modeling scandals have erased everything positive that might be said of her, casting her as a bimbo trophy wife. Did you know she speaks five languages? Judging by the comment sections I read that’s 4.5 more than most Americans speak. She also does a lot of charity work. Her Wikipedia page used to have a nice list of those accomplishments, and now it just sports dirt. I actually had to go digging pretty far into Google just to slog past all the listicles telling me about how she’d be the first First Lady to pose nude to find that charity work again. She’s a Goodwill Ambassador for the American Red Cross. She works with the Police Athletic League, a group that helps at-risk New York kids, and also the Boy’s Club of New York. It’s not the Clinton Foundation or anything, but these really seem like things we should know about a potential First Lady more than how she looked wearing nothing but high heels.
Treating sex and sexuality as a disqualification for respecting women and their accomplishments is something that is woven into the fabric of our society. The religious do it out of a sense of purity. Feminists sometimes do it out of a misguided sense of salvation. Everyone in-between does it just because that’s how it’s always been done. Very few of us ever take the time to bother getting to know people in the actual sex industry to find out what they’re like, what they want out of us regarding their industry, and what is unhelpful.
That’s bad. All those friends I listed? I imagine those women watching Melania burn across the media, marked for her sins and deemed unworthy. Each of those women knows that if they ever wanted to enter public service, or even just marry someone who wanted to enter public service, they risk the same stigma. The only narrative that we’d accept from them is how they’d “fallen,” but how they “bettered themselves,” because the only narrative we seem to have for a woman using her own sexuality as an instrument of financial agency is that she was somehow damned into it.
There’s nothing wrong with nude modeling or sex work. You want to scold Melania for possibly plagiarizing a speech from Michelle Obama? Go right ahead. Did she lie and tell people she graduated from college when she actually left to pursue modeling? That does seem to be the case. You want some real hypocrisy to point out, ask her how she can support her husband’s ideas on immigrants given that she is one, and that being a model definitely greased the skids for her to get here. However, if all you know about Melania is that she was a nude model, and that’s enough for you to write her off, you’re part of the problem, whatever side you’re on.
by Jef Rouner