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The Face in the Toilet Bowl 

Why Arnold could flush the feminists

Thursday, Oct 9 2003
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The evidence is copious and incontrovertible: When it comes to women, our new governor’s an asshole. It doesn’t matter what the Los Angeles Times knew, when it knew it or why it published its stories so late. It doesn’t matter what political motivations Code Pink co-founder and activist Jodie Evans had for providing the Times with sources, or whether the L.A. Weekly’s own Schwarzenegger groupie, Bill Bradley, thought she was put up to it by high-level Democrats. (But if the Democratic Party’s faithful were engaged in anything so invigorating as dropping pink banners from hotel-room windows, wouldn’t its rank and file have made it in greater numbers to the polls?) It wouldn’t even matter if Matt Drudge, that little prude, had been paid off by Bustamante himself to expose Schwarzenegger’s alleged racism in early September, or if Gray Davis had offered large sums of cash to every local news outlet to publish tales of Schwarzenegger’s notorious thuggery.

The governor-elect is still a sociopath, a bully and a creep — a man whose "playful" tricks are reminiscent of nothing so much as the scene in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, when the concentration-camp guards force female prisoners at gunpoint to dance with a little old man. Humiliation is a devastatingly subtle means of control, easily disguised as a little fun.

Sufficient testimony showing that Schwarzenegger was not fit for public office was already out in August, when Code Pink began organizing protests in front of Schwarzenegger’s campaign headquarters. Excerpts from John Connolly’s March 2001 Premiere magazine profile of Schwarzenegger, in which the action-flick star forcibly exposed a woman’s breasts were already in circulation. Quotations attributed to him in Esquire, Entertainment Weekly and the suddenly famous Oui established him as a lout not quite short of criminal. And if all that weren’t enough, the look on his own wife’s face should have alarmed most of us: Even on the victory stage Tuesday night, a stripe of brown blush etching a deeper ridge in her already sunken cheeks, Maria Shriver could barely grind her jaw into a smile.

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But even as the facts accumulated to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Schwarzenegger has a cruel streak he expresses most often by sexually manhandling women in his thrall, it also became clear that sufficient numbers of voters did not care. Worse, some of them even liked it. Sure, Code Pink drew a thousand demonstrators out on the street last Friday, but almost exactly the same number of L.A. Times readers canceled their subscriptions to punish the paper for besmirching their superhero’s already muddy name. According to a recent poll announced on CNN last night, 64 percent of the electorate acknowledged that Schwarzenegger "didn’t address the issues." But of the people who believed "personal qualities" were more important than addressing the issues, 56 percent declared Schwarzenegger the superior candidate. Those "personal qualities" include, presumably, what Wendy Leigh, author of The Unauthorized Biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger, called "the ability to carry on behaving badly while escaping censure."

Not even Oprah Winfrey deigned to grill the candidate — not on Hummer driving, nor on "black-girl" gangbanging, nor on tit-grabbing. Back in 1991, according to an article in Columbia Journalism Review, Schwarzenegger’s people found the accusations of racism and sexism in Leigh’s book scary enough that they offered her publisher, Contemporary Books, a reward if they’d stop the press. But when the same mud flew this time, Schwarzenegger scarcely flinched. He even had the audacity to hire sex-scandaled Rob Lowe to recruit celebrities to support the campaign.

What’s going on?

Eleven years ago, The New York Times Frank Rich lamented the death of the superhero in general and Superman in specific, a paradigm shift he said cost the elder Bush the 1992 presidential election. "His favorite celebrity surrogates on the stump were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis," Rich observed with a hint of ridicule. Back then, sexually harassed women were just a few years into the practice of filing official complaints with their human-resources departments, and white middle-class men had not quite begun to feel displaced in large numbers by affirmative action. The World Trade Center still stood, the country had soundly defeated Iraq, and the recalcitrant Thelma and Louise had just driven valiantly hand-in-hand off a cliff. Now we’re a more paranoid bunch: We’ve tasted what we interpret as an act of war on our own soil, watched our conquering heroes sink in the quagmire of their Pyrrhic victory, and run headlong into an era defined by aggrieved white men and the women who love them. Boys raised in the ’70s have grown into their 40s to find their natural rights — power in the workplace, a devoted and dependent wife, a retirement plan — turned into contested privileges; many of their female peers have found themselves single, childless and isolated, with only feminism to blame.

The California electorate, like much of America, has lost patience with the victimized women they equate with feminism. One only has to Google the phrase "the Feminists" to find how often feminists as a political bloc have been fingered for all that ails the world, from breast cancer to crime rates to the soggy economy. Never mind that women’s liberation also released men from the responsibility of marrying young and supporting unemployable wives. When you’re worried about biological warfare while your kids are learning from 25-year-old textbooks, freedom is not necessarily what you want. A strong leader is.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is that leader, the strongman, the feminist antidote. Unlike Bill Clinton, who, as Susan Faludi pointed out in her Los Angeles Times editorial last Sunday, wore the hair shirt of the pussy-whipped patsy, enslaved equally by his self-sufficient (and clearly non-anorexic) career wife and his demanding libido, Schwarzenegger almost never had sex with those women he bullied. This is important: His boorishness has always been a display of power, never of passionate desire. So much the worse, then, that the people calling attention to his shortcomings, from Arianna Huffington in the debates to Code Pink’s Karen Pomer, were perceived by the public and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews as the militant women clamoring for attention. You could almost hear the crowd cheering, Go get ’em, Arnold! What the crowd forgets, though, is that how a man treats the women in his life is frequently a sign and symptom of how he treats anyone he has power over — in other words, men who exploit women typically exploit everyone they rule. And for the next three years, a puerile misogynist named Schwarzenegger has power over us.

Reach the writer at judith.lewis@laweekly.com

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