Would you let your sister vote for this man?

From groping the breasts of TV hosts to making crudely sexist comments, Arnold Schwarzenegger has given machismo a bad name.

Published August 30, 2003 11:20PM (EDT)

For Arnold Schwarzenegger -- bodybuilder, movie star, family man and gubernatorial candidate -- the world of women has always been full of wonderful surprises.

One day when you're a young man pumping iron at Gold's Gym in Venice, Calif., a "black girl" shows up naked, and all the guys get to take her upstairs for a gang bang. Out in public in the free-wheeling '70s, stewardesses, waitresses and teachers -- "a great many teachers," actually -- walk right up and say, "I really dig your body and want to fuck the shit out of you." Now and again, "a blonde with great tits and a great ass" turns out to be as "smart as her breasts look." And in your mid-50s, a role in a Hollywood movie gives you the once-in-a-lifetime chance to "take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl."

"How many times do you get away with this?" Schwarzenegger asked Entertainment Weekly in a story published earlier this summer. He may be about to find out.

Since he announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" nearly a month ago, Schwarzenegger has enjoyed a mainstream-media free ride the likes of which is usually accorded only to men whose initials are George W. Bush. Despite the media largesse and Schwarzenegger's efforts to position himself as a pro-choice moderate, the actor's place in the polls has been less than dominant -- depending on which poll you trust, he's either even with anonymous Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante or just behind him. And now, new attention to his ways with women is calling into question the viability of the actor's run for governor in California.

The problem for Schwarzenegger isn't just a 1977 interview with Oui magazine that surfaced this week -- although, with references to oral sex and group sex and admissions of drug use, the interview is clearly a problem. The real risk for Schwarzenegger is that women, the religious right and the Bush White House itself will be turned off by a pattern of raunchy talk -- and allegations of raunchy behavior -- that began in the 1970s and apparently continues into the present.

In anecdote after anecdote, article after article, from the 1977 Oui article to a July interview in Esquire, Schwarzenegger comes across a man who speaks in the rudest and crudest fashion possible about women, men and the things they sometimes do together. And if allegations made about Schwarzenegger in a 2001 piece in Premiere are true, his over-the-top and up-the-skirt attitudes about women translate to actions as well.

San Francisco-based journalist Connie Matthiessen got a hot blast of Schwarzenegger raunch when she happened across the actor in the mid-1980s. In an interview Friday with Salon, she recalled that she didn't know who Schwarzenegger was and had never seen him before. When a friend pointed him out to her in a Santa Monica, Calif., cafe, Matthiessen couldn't help but stare at his massive, muscle-bound physique. Schwarzenegger shot a look back her, and snarled: "The dildo convention is next door."

"He said it in such a mean way," Matthiessen says. "I was across the room, and it was such a brutal conversation. It felt like he had just slapped me, it was so contemptuous and dismissive and nasty."

It wasn't the first time that Schwarzenegger talked that way to -- or about -- women, and it certainly wasn't the last.

If California voters somehow get a closer look at this X-rated, seemingly misogynist side of Arnold Schwarzenegger -- that is, if their local newspapers and TV stations stop talking of Schwarzenegger's attitudes in G-rated sound bites and begin to delve into the brutal crudeness of it all -- they may soon begin to decide that there is a lot to not like about the man who would be governor.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger's sexual stereotypes are beyond the pale," said Katherine Pillar, the Los Angeles-based executive vice president of Feminist Majority, a national women's organization working for women's rights and empowerment. "It's so appalling. He has shown a very disrespectful attitude about women, a lot of sexual stereotypes, and he clearly hasn't outgrown it. I think the women of California have to ask themselves: Would they want this man to be governor, and, frankly, can they trust him?"

The Oui interview, now 26 years past, seems to capture the essence of the Austrian bodybuilder -- a young man on the cusp of fame, living the L.A. high life with little sign of self-consciousness or self-criticism.

Oui: Can you push yourself too far?

Schwarzenegger: ... Injuries happen when your mind is beyond your body, largely when you think you're King Kong and lift weights heavier than the body can handle. At the same time, though, we generally manage to have a good time. Bodybuilders party a lot, and once, at Gold's -- the gym in Venice, Calif., 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.

Oui: A gang bang?

Schwarzenegger: Yes, but not everybody, just the guys who can fuck in front of other guys. Not everybody can do that. Some think that they don't have a big-enough cock, so they can't get a hard-on. Having chicks around is the kind of thing that breaks up the intense training. It gives you relief, and then you go back to the serious stuff.

Freelance writer Peter Manso interviewed Schwarzenegger for the porn magazine Oui in 1977. He spent several days with the 29-year-old bodybuilder as he traveled through the Northeast promoting the low-budget documentary "Pumping Iron." Manso was struck, he told Salon this week, by two things from his travels with Arnold: how Schwarzenegger effortlessly charmed his way out of getting busted when a security guard caught the two of them smoking a joint in a museum stairwell, and how Schwarzenegger inserted a sexual undercurrent into every encounter with every woman he met.

"You could not walk down the street with Arnold Schwarzenegger without sensing the flirtation," Manso said. "He seemed to be chemically incapable of having an exchange with any female without there being sexual innuendo or sexual byplay."

Schwarzenegger all but admitted as much in the '77 interview. Manso quoted Schwarzenegger as saying that he had been "approached by waitresses, stewardesses, teachers -- come to think of it, there have been a great many teachers, women who are smart. Their trip is such a mental one that they are often attracted to men who are big and muscular." Manso asked Schwarzenegger if he felt "exploited" by such women. Arnold said no. "I'd feel used only if I didn't get something out of it," he said. "If a girl comes on strong and says, 'I dig your body and want to fuck the shit out of you,' I just decide whether or not I like her. If I do take her home, I try to make sure I get just as much out of it as she does. The word 'exploited' therefore wouldn't apply."

Manso's five-page interview with Schwarzenegger was buried under the dust in a thousand guys' closets until somebody named kozmo23 put a copy of it up for bid on eBay last week. He billed it as the interview Schwarzenegger would "prefer to bury" in a "deep hole," and he urged bidders to snap up a copy before Gov. Davis beat them to it. By Wednesday night, thesmokinggun.com had "leased" a copy of the interview and posted it on the Web; by Thursday morning, Matt Drudge was hyping the piece as "shock interview" in which Schwarzenegger "pumps up orgies and dope." By the end of the day Thursday, the bidding on kozmo23's magazine had topped $700, and additional copies of the issue were beginning to sprout up on eBay.

The Bush White House was silent about Oui -- things with French names are never popular there -- but some of its allies on the religious right were plainly mortified. The Rev. Lou Sheldon's ultra-right Traditional Values Coalition launched a stop-Arnold campaign at about the time a photo of a youthful Schwarzenegger between the legs of a topless woman popped up on the Web, and Sheldon seemed more determined than ever this week to terminate Schwarzenegger's candidacy. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Sheldon said it is incumbent on Schwarzenegger to "repudiate and repent."

Schwarzengger's campaign staff did not return a call from Salon for this article. But the Terminator had predicted on Leno's show that he would face allegations of womanizing as part of a dirty campaign against him, and during a radio talk show in California Wednesday he brushed the interview aside as ancient history. "I haven't lived my life to be a politician," he said.

That "old news" approach has worked for Bush's days as a drunk and the three DUIs shared by the Bush-Cheney ticket. But it's a harder sell for Schwarzenegger because his trash talk about sex -- and the allegations that he has engaged in inappropriate behavior with women -- didn't stop back in 1977.

"The tabloid press got a nice Christmas present late last year when Arnold Schwarzenegger tore through a day of publicity work in London ... In less than 24 hours, the star was said to have attempted to, as high school boys used to say, 'cop a little feel' from three different female talk-show hosts.

"The level of consternation expressed by those who received this hands-on treatment ... ranged from none whatsoever (Denise Van Outen of 'The Big Breakfast' invites her guests to lie on a bed with her and, hence, probably has a rather elastic definition of what constitutes inappropriate behavior) to irked (on tape, Celebrity interviewer Melanie Sykes looks a little thrown off after Arnold gives her a very definite squeeze on the rib cage, directly under her right breast) to, finally, righteously indignant.

"Anna Richardson of Big Screen claims that after the cameras stopped rolling for her interview segment, Schwarzenegger, apparently attempting to ascertain whether Richardson's breasts were real, tweaked her nipple and then laughed at her objections. 'I left the room quite shaken,' she says. 'What was more upsetting was that his people rushed to protect him and scapegoated me, and not one person came to apologize afterward.'"

-- "Arnold the Barbarian," Premiere, March 2001.

Schwarzenegger surprised everyone, including his own political advisors, when he told Jay Leno that he had decided to enter the race to replace Gray Davis. But the recall campaign isn't the first time Schwarzenegger has thought about running against Davis. Schwarzenegger has long had political aspirations -- Manso said he was discussing them even back in 1977 -- and he has, over the years, repeatedly talked of wanting to be the governor of California. In 2001, he was said to be thinking seriously about challenging Davis, an unpopular governor who was struggling through the state's energy crisis.

But then came John Connolly's Arnold exposé in Premiere. The article catalogued allegations of all sorts of boorish behavior, almost all of it directed at women, beginning in the early 1990s and continuing into the new century. During the filming of 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Connolly alleged, Schwarzenegger fondled costar Linda Hamilton in a limousine and stuck his hands into the blouse of a female crew member, pulling out her breasts for the amusement of himself and a few of his friends. During the filming of 1996's "Eraser," Connolly alleged, a guest on the set happened upon Schwarzenegger performing oral sex on a woman in his trailer. As Salon reported last month, Schwarzenegger allegedly looked up from his work and uttered a line that has now become an inadvertent trademark of the Schwarzenegger campaign. "Eating," he reportedly said, "is not cheating."

Gray Davis' campaign staff jumped on the Premiere article, faxing copies to political reporters with a note about the "touching story" contained therein. Shortly thereafter, Schwarzenegger decided not to run against Davis after all. While the mainstream press will likely prove too squeamish to run explicit tales of Arnold's antics, and while Davis has been warned by at least one fellow Democrat not to run a "puke" campaign this year, it is hard to believe that Davis -- or one of the candidates seeking to replace him -- won't find a way to revive the Premiere piece in the context of the recall race. And if somebody gets the vulgar side of Schwarzenegger out in front of voters, it's likely that the actor's support among all sorts of people -- women, the politically correct, the religious right -- will begin to plummet.

In a Field Poll taken two weeks ago, Schwarzenegger and Bustamante were tied among likely voters who are men, but Bustamante led Schwarzenegger by 5 percentage points among likely voters who are women. It is likely that stories about Schwarzenegger play into that difference, and the Field Poll's Mark DiCamillo says it's likely that candidates will find a way to exploit those stories as the race rumbles toward the Oct. 7 election.

"The real unknowns in this race are the negative ads to come," DiCamillo said. "A lot of the stuff about Schwarzenegger and women will stick if the negative ads start hounding him on it. I'm sure he'll basically say that was his past life and not really a part of his adult life or whatever. But I honestly am not great at speculating how that will cut. It depends on how he handles it."

If the recent past is any indication, Schwarzenegger won't handle it all that well. The Premiere piece, for example, seemed to strike a nerve with him. In an interview with the Weekly Standard last year, he described Premiere as "that magazine that wrote that shitty article about me," and he claimed that the Premiere allegations were, at best, exaggerated. Yet he did so in a way that was every bit as crude as the allegations in the article itself.

"Half of it in there, right off the top, my wife [NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver] didn't believe, so I didn't have to explain it to her," Schwarzenegger told the Weekly Standard. "When someone said [they] walked into my trailer, and I was eating a chick in the living room, she [Maria] knows I'm not that stupid, number one. Number two, I have two guards standing out at all times in front of my trailer so no one could walk in. That already makes the story not credible."

Schwarzenegger admitted that he's guilty of having a ribald sense of humor, but insisted that he had "toned it down because it has become a different world now, because of the sexual harassment. You do things that someone today may take as going too far."

But the notion of evolving standards hasn't seemed to bother Schwarzenegger much -- at least if a July 2003 article in Entertainment Weekly is any indication. As set forth there, Arnie's appetite for going over the top -- particularly where dissing women is concerned -- was even too much for the sensitive effetes who made Schwarzenegger's latest action-adventure blowout, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines":

... nothing in T3 bears Schwarzenegger's creative stamp more than his epic tussle with the Terminatrix, a battle that begins in a bathroom. The sequence was made longer and more elaborate thanks to the actor's largesse -- and his singular imagination.

"As we were rehearsing, I saw this toilet bowl," says Schwarzenegger, an impish smile crossing his face. "How many times do you get away with this -- to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl? I wanted to have something floating in there," he adds. Apparently, he was vetoed. "They thought it was my typical 'Schwarzenegger overboard,'" he says. "The thing is, you can do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman -- she's a machine! We could get away with it without being crucified by god-knows-what-group."

-- "The Running Man," Entertainment Weekly, July 11, 2003

The California chapter of the National Organization for Women opposes the recall, supports Gray Davis and hasn't taken a position on any of the replacement candidates. But if it were to do so, two things would matter: the candidate's record and the candidate's character. And in the eyes of NOW, the way a candidate talks about women can be an important element in judging the latter. "When somebody uses language that objectifies and sexualizes women, it's questionable how that person can effectively lead or seriously address the questions involved in promoting equality, justice and women's rights," says Rachel Allen, California NOW's public relations director.

In her bestselling book "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation," Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen argues that men and women have different ways of talking. Women use conversation as "negotiations for closeness in which people try to seek and give confirmation and support and to reach consensus." Men use conversation to obtain and maintain social status, to get the upper hand and keep it.

There's some of that in Schwarzenegger's rough talk about women, Tannen says, especially when he's talking to male reporters. "It's pretty clear that his intended audience in all these remarks is men," she said. "He's talking like a guy might talk in a locker room or in an all-male backstage setting."

There's also probably an attempt -- common among politicians and business leaders -- to portray himself as "just folks." Tannen says that Schwarzenegger's wife, Georgetown alumna and Kennedy cousin Maria Shriver, once made a similar attempt to down-class herself during a speech to graduating seniors at Georgetown. During the speech, Tannen said, Shriver made several references to "boob jobs." Tannen remembers thinking that the comments were inappropriate and insensitive to the formality of the occasion. But they were nothing compared to Schwarzenegger's apparent glee in ramming the Terminatrix -- actress Kristanna Loken -- into a toilet bowl. "He's talking about how much fun he got out of humiliating a woman," Tannen says. "I don't know anything about what goes on in his head about his respect for women. But what his statement communicates to me is, at the very least, a public demeanor that is not appropriate for a public official."

At best, Tannen said, Schwarzenegger's rough talk shows that he lacks the "demeanor of a public official, even though some people might find that refreshing in some way." At worst, she said, it raises serious doubts about Schwarzenegger's real feelings. "When it comes to such crude language -- and not just crude language, but a crude perspective on half the human race -- it makes you wonder about his judgment in terms of changing his role from a thuggish movie icon to a public official."

But Schwarzenegger would surely say that people have underestimated him before. As he explained in a July 2003 interview in Esquire magazine, nobody thought a bodybuilder could speak in complete sentences or have the fine eye for art needed to help design a Humvee. Appearances, Schwarzenegger told Esquire, can be deceiving.

Esquire: [People] wouldn't expect such a tough guy to be an artsy guy, huh?

Schwarzenegger: Yeah, but I think that it's more probably unusual because of the physical development. I mean, the thing is, if you have a certain physical development and you come into the scene as Mr. Universe, as the guy that lifts 500 pounds and does all those things, with that comes a certain image, a baggage. As much as when you see a blond with great tits and a great ass, you say to yourself, 'Hey, she must be stupid or must have nothing else to offer,' which maybe is the case many times. But then again there is the one that is as smart as her breasts look, great as her face looks, beautiful as her whole body looks, gorgeous, you know, so people are shocked.

"The Amazing Ahhnold," Esquire, July 2003

Tannen is trying to be charitable now. She has just read Schwarzenegger's prognostications about the intelligence of attractive blonds, and she's trying to salvage something for him. "It definitely gives the impression that he's trying to be extreme [in order] to be amusing or to make an impression," she says. "But maybe the sentiment is that women can be as smart as men. This might be a way to say it to guys who wouldn't hear it coming from Betty Friedan but who might hear it clothed in this particular bikini."

Arianna Huffington doesn't see it so charitably. The only woman among the major candidates in the race, Huffington said she sees a connection between Schwarzenegger's comments about women and the dearth of women working in leadership positions in his campaign and the absence of women at the economic council meeting and photo op Schwarzenegger held with financier Warren Buffett and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. "In a state with two women senators and tens of thousands of successful women in business, academia, working as consumer advocates -- I just found that stunning," Huffington said.

And therein lies the puzzle about Schwarzenegger. As with the "compassionate conservative" in the White House, there are questions as to whether the Schwarzenegger who is running for office is the same Schwarzenegger who would serve in office. Is he the moderate Republican he claims to be in public, or is he the womanizing Neanderthal his comments to reporters make him seem to be? On a lot of levels, Schwarzenegger is a not-as-bad-as-he-could-be candidate for many women. He is generally pro-choice -- although he has announced his opposition to late-term abortions -- and he has middle-of-the-road views on other social issues. When compared to many of the candidates Republicans have run in California over the last decade, Schwarzenegger comes off as positively enlightened.

But for some, the divide between Schwarzenegger's moderate political views and his impolitic statements about women and sexuality only serves to sharpen those questions. "I guess Schwarzenegger can read the polls as well as anybody else, and he knows that in the state of California you've got to be pro-choice and you've got to be pro-civil rights to get elected," said the Feminist Majority's Katherine Spillar. "But these other comments betray his real attitudes about women. He's trying to play to women, going on 'Oprah' and saying he's pro-choice. But women have got to be skeptical."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger George W. Bush Jay Leno