Gloria Allred, California’s most high-profile defender of women’s rights, is demanding that Arnold Schwarzenegger answer the “very serious questions” raised by his lurid 1977 boasting that he participated in a gang bang at Gold’s Gym in Venice. In an interview with the L.A. Weekly, the Los Angeles lawyer and feminist who is founder and president of the Women’s Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund added her outrage to what has yet to become a real controversy over the candidate’s sexual history and attitudes.
“I am disgusted, appalled, revolted, sickened, disturbed and troubled,” Allred said of Schwarzenegger’s description of one incident in particular: when, with a startling specificity of language, the Pumping Iron star told the magazine, “Bodybuilders party a lot, and once, in Gold’s — the gym in Venice, California, where all the top guys train — there was a black girl who came out naked. Everybody jumped on her and took her upstairs, where we all got together.”
Asked by the interviewer if this had been a “gang bang,” Schwarzenegger said, “Yes, but not everybody, just the guys who can fuck in front of other guys.”
Allred said, “There are a number of unanswered questions here that are very serious questions and shouldn’t be brushed off” by Schwarzenegger or the media. “It sounds as though it was a sexual assault or rape because he says everyone jumped on the woman involved and took her upstairs. It doesn’t sound consensual, though I don’t know for a certainty it wasn’t.
“I would call on Arnold to fully explain the details of what occurred,” Allred said, “including who else was involved, to fully take responsibility for his conduct and his words, to explain whether or not he has engaged in [similar activities with] other women and if so how many. I would also like to know what happened to these women, if there were more than one, because I am concerned about their well-being.”
That sex suddenly surfaced in the California gubernatorial recall election was not shocking, especially given Schwarzenegger’s past as a Hollywood actor who bared his butt and simulated coitus for the camera, as well as our fixation with the subject (witness today’s water-cooler talk about Britney tongue-kissing Madonna at the MTV Video Awards.) But what is remarkable right now is the way that media coverage has been so muffled despite the explosiveness of the Oui interview.
Nonetheless, this new call for Schwarzenegger to account for his behavior may turn the election into a national test that puts to rest once and for all in this post-Clinton era whether the sexual lives of political candidates should be a campaign issue.
By Friday, politicians including recall rival Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante and ex-Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, along with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, all had put themselves on the record as declaring that Schwarzenegger’s 25-year-old sexual past was not relevant to the recall race.
But Allred expressed dismay at not just what Schwarzenegger said and did back then but also what he said and did about it this week. “My point is he hasn’t retracted the statements or apologized for the statements. So you have to assume this is where he stands today. The fact that people grow or their attitudes change is not really relevant. This is what he said and he appears to stand behind it.”
As to whether all candidates’ sexual history is relevant in any election, Allred said, “The answer is absolutely. Who a person is, their character, their history, their treatment of women, matters because, although a person can change, we have a right to know what their behavior has been in the past. Arnold has not given any indication that he thinks there’s anything wrong with what he did. And if he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this, he thinks it would be acceptable to repeat this behavior.”
That sentiment was echoed by Toni Broaddus, program director for Equality California, the statewide gay-rights group, who told the San Francisco Chronicle she was disturbed by Schwarzenegger’s description of the gang bang. “That many men and one woman — it was very troubling, because it did seem close to rape,” she said. “It just didn’t sound like the kind of thing that you want the leader of the world’s sixth largest economy bragging about.”
Several gay-rights advocates criticized Schwarzenegger for his use of the word fag in the Oui magazine interview. Michael Andraychak, president of the Los Angeles Stonewall Democratic Club, which opposes the recall, demanded that the candidate apologize, telling the Chronicle that gays react to the word fag the same way that African-Americans react to “the nigger word.”
Bustamante used the N word much more recently and apologized profusely to the black community, saying he had misspoken. About Schwarzenegger’s statements to Oui magazine, Bustamante declared, “People don’t care about these things. They care about the issues. This is not the time to look back.”