California has sent a message to America.
It certainly has, and I know what the message is: It is okay to abuse and demean women.
The complicity of journalists, pundits, politicians, and voters with the alleged behavior of Arnold Schwarzenegger marks the end of even the pretense that the American culture cares about the safety and dignity of girls and women. Some of us have known this for a while, but it should now be clear to even the most unobservant citizen.
One of the news networks referred to the allegations against Schwarzenegger as a "bombshell," and that statement alone is very revealing. Why is a report of alleged sexual assault and battery a surprise, when the accused has been openly demeaning women--and bragging about it--for three decades? How difficult is it to connect the dots between gang bangs and T&A remarks (these made just a few months ago) and sex abuse?
The allegations, most of which were made to the Los Angeles Times, were not pretty:
- Sticking his hand up a woman's skirt and grabbing her buttocks
- Making crude remarks to various women
- Reaching into a woman's bra, grabbing her breasts and exposing them
- Attacking a woman and thrusting himself between her legs
- Attempting to pull a woman's swimsuit off of her in an elevator
- Statutory rape of a sixteen-year-old girl
Assuming that at even one of the sixteen women is telling the truth--and again, decades of crude behavior by Schwarzenegger toward women supports the probability that the allegations are true--a number of things should have occurred: Women should have been outraged, men should have been outraged, church leaders should have called for an investigation, the news media should have asked very tough questions, and the Republican Party should have been quite dismayed.
Lucky Arnold--none of those things happened. Instead, attacks were made on the Times and Governor Davis for playing dirty tricks at the last minute. Schwarzenegger, anxious to appear unClinton-like, immediately said that he didn't do most of the things he was accused of, but he did some of them and he was sorry if he offended anyone. Movie sets are rowdy places, and, well, he was just being "playful." "I want to be a champion for the women," Schwarzenegger told a crowd of supporters. And instead of being pelted with rotten vegetables, he was cheered and applauded.
The leading network news anchors and commentators spoke repeatedly about Schwarzenegger's alleged "sexual harassment" or "unwelcome advances." Sexual harassment is a terrible thing, but on the scale of terrible things, it doesn't rate as high as sexual assault and battery, and those are words we didn't hear from the media. The behaviors of which Schwarzenegger was accused are crimes, so the talking heads were careful not to mention them.
Soledad O'Brien of CNN took it a step farther. When one of her guests mentioned that the gubernatorial candidate should be investigated for potential criminal activity, O'Brien raised her eyebrows, and in her very best oh, please manner, said "Criminal?!" One cannot help but wonder what O'Brien would have done if, after the broadcast, someone on the CNN set had grabbed her, stuck her hand inside her bra and pulled her breasts out.
And this brings up another question: Why didn't the alleged victims call the police when they were assaulted by Schwarzenegger? The reason they gave is the reason I believe--they were too afraid of losing their jobs and any future work in Hollywood. One woman said that when Schwarzenegger attacked and humiliated her, the other men in the room all laughed and cheered. But, as far as I know, none of the women who reported the attacks said she was unaware that the behaviors were criminal in nature.
So many women in America have been the victims of sexual harassment, assault, and battery, however, that a case can be made that a substantial portion of the population, like Schwarzenegger, doesn't consider these actions to be criminal. Despite all the police sensitivity training and the date rape seminars, Americans don't get it. Despite the minor revolution that took place when John Danforth and his thugs tried to destroy Anita Hill, our culture--caught in the throes of a tremendous backlash against feminism--believes women need to get over it, develop a sense of humor, or quit "asking for it."
One of the most creative arguments in defense of Schwarzenegger came from a conservative radio talk show host in New Orleans, who declared that it was unfair to hold Schwarzenegger to "today's standards." This statement ignores the fact that one of the alleged events took place in 2000, and that Schwarzenegger was making crude remarks about women only a few months ago in an interview he gave to Esquire.
More important, it causes us to ask some hypothetical questions: Let's pretend it is 1980, and this radio personality's mother or wife or sister or daughter is sexually assaulted at her workplace by an important man. Do the standards of 1980 dictate that the man has done nothing wrong? That the woman should feel okay about the assault? That the radio host should feel okay about the attack on his loved one?
Putting aside Schwarzenegger's other blatant weaknesses as a candidate to lead the state of California--how could so many men and women, knowing what they know about his attitudes toward and treatment of women, cheer him on enthusiastically and elect him by a landslide? Because he is a movie star? Because they are so angry with Gray Davis that nothing else matters? Because they were stirred into a frenzy by the empty histrionics of Bush rhetoric?
All of those things, yes, but also something else: They are Americans, and in the 21st Century, Americans do not care about women's rights.