Arnolds Sexual Recall
Gloria Allred, Californias most high-profile defender of womens 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 Golds Gym in Venice. In an interview with the L.A. Weekly the Los Angeles lawyer and feminist, who is founder and president of the Womens Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, added her outrage to what has yet to become a real controversy over the candidates sexual history and attitudes.
"I am disgusted, appalled, revolted, sickened, disturbed and troubled," Allred said of Schwarzeneggers 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 Golds -- 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 shouldnt 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 doesnt sound consensual, though I dont know for a certainty it wasnt.
"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 Schwarzeneggers past as a Hollywood actor who bared his butt and simulated coitus for the camera, as well as our fixation with the subject (witness todays 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 Channels Bill OReilly and MSNBCs Chris Matthews, all had put themselves on the record as declaring that Schwarzeneggers 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 hasnt 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 theres anything wrong with what he did. And if he doesnt think theres 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 Schwarzeneggers 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 didnt sound like the kind of thing that you want the leader of the worlds 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 Schwarzeneggers statements to Oui magazine, Bustamante declared, "People dont 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 Radios Democracy Now! show he thinks that Schwarzeneggers 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, hed make a helluva politician." Schwarzenegger denied the allegations but never sued.
Politicians and pundits, not just neoconservatives avowedly friendly to Schwarzeneggers 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 Schwarzeneggers political path for "partisan" reasons.
But the Oui magazine interview wasnt 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 peoples sex lives are their own personal business. As a result, sex as a political sniper appears disarmed.
But thats 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 lets 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 Sterns shes-asking-to-be-treated-like-a-ho humor, its a rare set of circumstances to equate a gang bang to a "party" (to use Schwarzeneggers 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, Ive made statements that were ludicrous and crazy and outrageous and all those things, because thats the way I always was. I was always that way, because otherwise I wouldnt 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 Californias TV newscasts made general references to Schwarzeneggers "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 blanketly covering the recall, including talk-radio and television gadflies not exactly known for being shy about shouting their opinions.
On Thursday morning, conservative commentator Bill OReilly referred to the Schwarzenegger interview on his radio show only in passing to opine that "Peoples personal lives have nothing to do with their political lives." Yet OReilly had been among those many pundits and politicians who consistently maintained that the details of Bill Clintons 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 Schwarzeneggers sexual past mattered. "People need to understand that youre 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 shouldnt 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.
Nikki Finke is a columnist at the L.A. Weekly. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.