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.”
Also Friday, the author of the Oui interview, Peter Manso, told Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! sShow he thinks that Schwarzenegger’s attitude toward women back then was “to put it bluntly, woman are hunks of meat, no more, no less.” That attitude also permeated a March 2001 Premiere magazine article which recounted more recent moviemaking allegations of groping and fondling. “Stories of his boorish behavior can no longer be routinely erased,” the article said. “Then again, he’d make a helluva politician.” Schwarzenegger denied the allegations but never sued.
Politicians and pundits, not just neoconservatives avowedly friendly to Schwarzenegger’s campaign but even conservative Republicans who would have been expected to voice indignation, were nearly uniform in their mild responses, with most expressing their belief that it would be a mistake to exploit this seeming bump in Schwarzenegger’s political path for “partisan” reasons.
But the Oui magazine interview wasn’t a she-accuses, he-denies allegation like Juanita Broderick vs. Bill Clinton. This was a he-bragged about what he-did situation. We may never know what really happened until we hear from the woman involved. But recently the Supreme Court seemed to confirm what most Democrats had been saying during the Clinton sex scandals: that people’s sex lives are their own personal business. As a result, sex as a political sniper appears disarmed.
But that’s the case as long as the sex is consensual and all parties are willing participants. Which brings us to this self-described gang bang: In the eye of the beholder, was Schwarzenegger a youthful sexual hijinxer or craven sexual predator?
At issue here is that, even in those sexually liberated days of the movies Animal House and Debbie Does Dallas, the term gang bang had then, still has and will always conjure up an image of an act of sexual aggression. Since details are few, whether that happened in this instance is impossible to discern. But let’s at least be honest: The description of several heavily muscled men at one time having a sexual encounter with a lone woman, where words like jump and took are used to describe it, suggests a certain roughness even if the woman may have found it a pleasurable experience.
There is no reason to believe from the context of the interview that foreign-born Schwarzenegger did not know what his words meant. But even in terms of contemporary morality when attitudes toward women careen from politically correct feminism to Howard Stern’s she’s-asking-to-be-treated-like-a-ho humor, it’s a rare set of circumstances to equate a gang bang to a “party” (to use Schwarzenegger’s 1977 language.)
At first, Schwarzenegger had only this to say about the article: It was not the type of interview he would give today. “I never lived my life to be a politician. I never lived my life to be the governor of California,” he told Sacramento station KFBK Wednesday night. “Obviously, I’ve made statements that were ludicrous and crazy and outrageous and all those things, because that’s the way I always was. I was always that way, because otherwise I wouldn’t have done the things that I did in my career, including the bodybuilding and the show business and all those things.”
However, by Friday, the candidate seemed to have developed amnesia overnight, claiming at a public appearance that he had no recollection of even giving the interview or what he said.
The Oui question-and-answer interview, which took place when Schwarzenegger was 29 years old and already a minor celebrity (having appeared in two movies, Stay Hungry and Pumping Iron, the documentary about the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest which Schwarzenegger won), first came to light on the Internet on Wednesday. By that evening, some of California’s TV newscasts made general references to Schwarzenegger’s “graphic” description of his “wild” past without fleshing out the lurid details.
By Thursday, there was an eerie silence about the revelations, especially among those blanket-covering the recall, including talk-radio and television gadflies not exactly known for being shy about shouting their opinions.
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On Thursday morning, conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly referred to the Schwarzenegger interview on his radio show only in passing to opine that “People’s personal lives have nothing to do with their political lives.” Yet O’Reilly had been among those many pundits and politicians who consistently maintained that the details of Bill Clinton’s sexual past were appropriate fodder for political attacks and press probes — a position vigorously opposed by both liberals and even moderates.
On MSNBC that evening, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura was openly guffawing when asked if Schwarzenegger’s sexual past mattered. “People need to understand that you’re not the same person at age 19 that you are, in my case, at 51.” Pointing out that in his autobiography he admitted visiting a legal Nevada brothel as a young man, Ventura stated, “It shouldn’t count. We learn. We grow. We mature. You cannot judge people by what you did 20 or 30 years ago.”
By Friday, shock had turned to show. Radio and television commentators and anchors began discussing the content and context of the interview as well as the controversy. Now it could become Topic A. Whether back then reality was simulating a scene out of American Pie or The Accused, voters in the end will have to decide.
Contact Nikki Finke at firstname.lastname@example.org.