Herstory: Mistresses, Tarts and Real Women

Lisa Taddeo’s ‘Three Women’ and Stormy Daniels’ ‘Full Disclosure’

Radical feminists have historically sometimes characterised marriage as essentially
prostitution; wherein a woman sacrifices her autonomy and her sexuality to a man in return
for security. In these more enlightened times we might all hope this to be a reduced, if not
yet out of date, interpretation. We might hope, but optimism must be based on the
increasing power of the female voice in legislatures around the world, rather than a paradigm
shift in male attitudes.

Two recent books offer a timely reminder that even in what we like to consider socially
advanced societies, Adam and Eve continue the gender dance with all its complex and, on
occasion, both laughable and sad arabesques. The books have in common that they concern
women who have had to make choices in their relations with men, with mixed results.
Nothing new there then. They also share a focus on the sexual as well as social aspect of
their engagement with men. And by a small coincidence two of the subjects either live or
once lived in North Dakota – one in Fargo and the other in Bismarck. But there the
similarities end.

Three Women is a brilliantly crafted docudrama, Full Disclosure a personal narrative, albeit
co-written (with one assumes a professional editor/writer). Comment on the concept of
choice depends on your thinking about how decisions are conditioned or circumscribed. But
whereas the protagonists in Taddeo’s book represent, as it were (and with no disrespect),
‘ordinary women’, Daniels joins a galaxy of females who have used their bodies to entertain –
and personality to charm – the pants off powerful men.  Think Christine Keeler and, of course
in the US context, Monica Lewinski among so many others in past and present time.  A very
few, alumni of the Academy of Courtesans, have achieved position and power.

Both books share a sense of women’s (knowing and often complicit) adaptation to male
hegemony; but if anything defines the difference between these books as versions of the
female experience, it is that Taddeo’s is more about disappointment and Daniels’ about
defiance. However one senses all of the protagonists would say ‘Men!’ in a world-weary
way. The disappointments are expressed in retreats from marital neglect to the attentions
of a lover; accommodation to a husband’s sexual preferences; and fighting to redress a keenly
felt understanding of exploitation at the end of a once enjoyed relationship.

The defiance of Daniel’s memoire may well start with the disappointment in her father’s
defection, but it manifests in her exceptionally tough-minded and heroic way of dealing with
childhood sexual abuse, ownership of her sex and her body, her success as a striptease
dancer, then an adult movie performer, writer and director: and ultimately in her facing down
the would-be, and later actual, President of the USA.

Taddeo’s work is carefully curated and very polished. It is also justifiably candid and explicit
about its subjects’ experience of physical sex, and may well represent more general truths
about the female condition. It is enjoying acclaim from the bien pensant. Daniels was well-
received on first publication – mostly for the Trumpian relevance – yet approvals
came with a knowing condescension toward her background. One wishes her well with the

Of the two books this reviewer thinks Daniels’ deserves to be the more enduring. She stands
in a millennia-long line of truly gutsy women who took men on on their own terms, used their
sexuality to advantage and even in adversity come out winners. If Three Women is a fine
piece of social journalism about suburban American housewives, Full Disclosure is a rough-
hewn text for our times. Stormy could have been a full blown courtesan had she
not chosen to walk away from ‘the Donald’ after what had been a very brief encounter (and
about which she is candid, but not malicious). The drawn-out skirmish with him and his
entourage following Trump’s election as President would make a fine noir movie. Her
backstory (how to tell the truth about tough times without bleeding all over the carpet), and
account of life in one area of the American sex industry is also of real interest and
refreshingly entertaining.

Three Women – Lisa Taddeo – Bloomsbury ISBN: HB 978-1-5266-1163-5
Full Disclosure – Stormy Daniels – Pan Books ISBN – 13:978-1529013818

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