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Governor Groper?
Published in the October 6, 2003 issue of The Nation
Governor Groper?
by Katha Pollitt
 

What was the lowest point in Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver's appearance on Oprah? Was it when the three of them chortled and beamed about how exciting it was for Arnold to learn about "all those issues" he'll have to deal with as governor ("Like are they at your house to--teaching you stuff every night?" Ms. Winfrey asked)--and the audience applauded? Or was it when Schwarzenegger compared his refusal to participate in more than one debate to the way he had skipped over the Mr. Venice Beach contest and gone straight for the Mr. Olympia title--and the audience applauded? Hurray for the candidate with no experience, no information and no knowledge! Bravo for the candidate who won't stoop to defending his platform--or even explain what it is!

The purpose of this hourlong infomercial--but why, Oprah, why?--was to give Schwarzenegger a chance to debunk his image as a male chauvinist boor with Oprah's huge, mostly female audience, and who knows, maybe it worked. First there was Maria, glamorous, lean as a whippet, her diamond cross sparkling against her black long-sleeved sweater, enthusiastically proclaiming how much she loved him, how ardently he supported her career (he was "one of the most gracious, supportive women--I mean man--man I've ever met") and how peeved she was by suggestions that as a Kennedy female she had been "bred to look the other way" while her husband pawed, cavorted and harassed his way through life. Those stories were all lies. Then Arnold bounded out looking tanned and relaxed, and the three sat around like the old showbiz troupers and friends they are and laughed about the cup of coffee Arnold makes Maria every morning, and the children, who do their own laundry and are being brought up to be, says Maria, "kind, polite, you know, grateful" (grateful? Achtung!), and the crazy things people did back in the 1970s, when Arnold told Oui magazine that he took part in a gangbang of a "black girl" at Gold's Gym. Except maybe he didn't: "The idea was always to say things, as I said, over the top so you get the headlines because bodybuilding, like I said, had no reputation yet." He was just pretending to be a macho jerk for the good of the sport. See?

As of this writing the California recall has been postponed, which is supposed to hurt Schwarzenegger, because it allows people more time to find out how conservative and obnoxious and ignorant he is. (I know, I know, I say that like it's a bad thing.) But it also allows him more time to win over women, who favor his Democratic rival Cruz Bustamante. The media seem determined to defuse the sexism issue. On CNN, Howie Kurtz pooh-poohed the Oui interview as "celebrity gossip," and his guest William Bastone of TheSmokingGun.com barely demurred, even though Bastone broke the story. The day after the Oprah appearance, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article pointing out how often in his career Schwarzenegger has noted that a woman is "smart" or mentioned brains as a good thing for a woman to have. As he says in the July Esquire, "When you see a blonde with great tits and a great ass, you say to yourself, hey, she must be stupid or must have nothing else to offer.... But then again there is the one that is as smart as her breasts look, great as her face looks, beautiful as her whole body looks gorgeous, you know, so people are shocked."

Now just imagine for a moment that a Democratic politician had told a soft-core men's magazine in 1977 about gangbanging a "black girl"--and when asked about it in 2003 said he didn't remember a thing about the interview or the incident itself, but also said he made the whole thing up to get attention. Would that story have been relegated to the bin of youthful escapades by Fox, CNN, the New York Post, Peggy Noonan, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and the rest? Or would we be hearing a lot about "character" and the "I was lying" defense? Suppose that same Democrat told Playboy in 1988 he didn't allow his wife or mother (?!) to wear pants in public. And suppose that in 2000, two British television journalists accused that Democrat, now 53, well past the youthful-escapade phase, of groping them, and publicly declared themselves disgusted and offended? Let's say that he told Entertainment Weekly this past July how fun it was to push Kristanna Loken's head into a toilet in Terminator 3 ("I wanted to have something floating in there"). Let's say papers in Britain were reporting all this and more--from feeling up women in the presence of his wife to heavy use of illegal steroids to rumors of an extramarital affair with a 16-year-old actress--wouldn't we be hearing about it night and day?

And if that Democrat was a woman? Forget it! A rich, egocentric, freaky Hollywood diva whose naked photos were plastered all over cyberspace, who waves away questions about her program ("details, details!") would have no credibility in the first place. Angelina Jolie for governor of the fifth-largest economy in the world? Are you out of your mind? But even if she were a Rhodes scholar, a four-star general and a churchgoing mother of six, that woman would be finished the minute the media turned up so much as the femur or tibia of a sexual skeleton among the power suits in her closet. Wherever that "black girl" is today, you can bet it's not politics. What's good for the groper is not good for the groupie.

The explanation for the political and gender double standard can't be something as simple as the media being mostly owned by conservatives and mostly written, edited, produced and spoken by men--can it? (Fun fact: There are actually fewer female newspaper executives or top editors today than five years ago.) After all, there is Oprah--the queen of go-girl empowerment, the anti-Howard Stern, the woman who brought Toni Morrison to the masses--and Oprah thinks Arnold Schwarzenegger is a prince among men. Celebrity is thicker than sisterhood. Now that she has jumped into the California recall, the New York Times rightly called on Oprah to invite all the major candidates onto her show. The people who really need a platform, though, are the women like the activists of Code Pink who follow Schwarzenegger around with their Arnold,You're Terminated banner--the women who think humiliating, insulting and harassing women is something worth talking about.

Copyright © 2003 The Nation

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