The buzz started early and refused to die down. By noon, Elmy
Bermejo's phone and e-mail were loaded with women who wanted to talk about the
latest published report about Arnold Schwarzenegger. The reaction, said
Bermejo, president of the California Commission on the Status of Women, could
be summarized in one word: "outraged."
The article in Thursday's Los Angeles Times "has been e-mailed to every
woman from here to China," she said. "I've already gotten it three times....
Hopefully this will get more people to ask questions. I've heard from people
in Los Angeles, Sacramento and here in San Francisco."
With most polls showing that Schwarzenegger has made gains among female
voters in recent weeks, political pundits, pollsters and activists watched for
fallout from the allegations. News reports opened with the story, and callers
flooded radio talk shows.
Outside Arnold Schwarzenegger's Santa Monica offices, Karen Pomer (center) distributes flyers announcing a protest.
Leaders from the National Organization for Women and local advocacy groups
said reports that Schwarzenegger had groped and improperly touched women were
disturbing because, if true, they illustrate his overall attitude toward women.
If he felt free to harass women in Hollywood, they said, what will keep him
from discriminating against them as governor?
"It's disrespectful to all women," said Clemetine Clarke, president of San
Francisco's Human Services Commission, who emphasized that she was speaking as
an individual and not for the commission. "Some women will blow it off as just
Hollywood or politics, but if you're a woman, a mother or a wife, it's
outrageous. How would you like to have your son accused of groping?"
Schwarzenegger issued an apology Thursday, but most of those interviewed
said it was too little, too late. Some said that calling his actions "bad
behavior" minimized the traumatic impact that harassment can have on victims.
One group, the California Women's Law Center, said it will ask the Los
Angeles County district attorney's office to investigate the allegations made
by women that Schwarzenegger groped or inappropriately touched them. "Our
reaction is, despite the apology, that this is more than bad behavior," said
staff attorney Marci Fukuroda. "It's criminal behavior."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the charges "serious" and said
Schwarzenegger "needs to answer them.
"The people of California deserve a fuller explanation than what they have
gotten thus far," she said in a statement.
But some Schwarzenegger supporters said Thursday that the uproar was coming
mainly from his critics and that they don't think it will alienate women
"It's more political than anything right now," said Judi Partridge, chair
of Growing Republican Opportunities for Women. "I accept his apology. The
situation that has occurred is so long ago. These women never made a (formal)
complaint. Obviously, at the time there were avenues, if this was a situation
that they felt very strongly about."
But some advocates said the womens' allegations point to just how difficult
it is for women to come forward and make complaints.
"Women who work in the entertainment industry often are afraid to complain
the conditions they face about because they want to work," said Irma Herrera,
executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, based in San Francisco. "You
have a man who is strong and powerful. It is classic sexual harassment."
Powerful people often think they are immune from getting in trouble, said
Mollie Gregory, a writer and producer who is working on a book on sexual
harassment and discrimination in Hollywood. Gregory said she'd been fielding
calls all morning from women she knows or has interviewed for previous books.
"I've interviewed women in Hollywood, from studio heads to gaffers, and
every woman has a story like this," she said. "Most of them won't tell unless
they have some protection because they might lose their jobs. That's not a
silly thought on their part. . . . It happens so often, and women still don't
know how to deal with it."
Belle Taylor-McGhee, executive director of San Francisco's Department on
the Status of Women, said she hopes the allegations will shed more light on
the issue of sexual harassment. "It's disturbing to have someone in a position
of authority suggest that rowdy behavior is considered playful," she said. "I
don't think that women who were on the other end would see it that way."
Helen Grieco, executive director of California National Organization for
Women, which opposes the recall, said Schwarzenegger "has a sordid history of
speaking about women in a degrading fashion, and has been the frequent target
of sexual harassment allegations."
Aside from those allegations, she said, Schwarzenegger has dodged issues
important to women, including teen pregnancy and family planning. "Arnold
Schwarzenegger is not a safe candidate for women personally or politically,"
she said. "He is not pro-woman, and he is not qualified to be governor of
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle