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Schwarzenegger's Words About Women Are at Issue

As foes label him sexist, the candidate and his wife go on 'Oprah' to reach female voters.

September 16, 2003|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

Shriver said her husband "is the exact opposite" of a woman hater and called him the "most gracious, supportive man I've ever met."

When pressed, aides also have suggested that his statements reflected the freewheeling culture of bodybuilding and celebrity marketing.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger has served as an entertainer and promoter of his sports and his films for decades," said his spokesman, Sean Walsh. "He has often stretched the envelope to grab attention ... to shock and grab the reader and the viewer and further the cause of the particular issue he was engaged in.

"But with regards to women," Walsh added, "Arnold has been and continues to be a strong promoter of women as equals in all endeavors. He has a strong relationship with an extremely bright, extremely successful wife who has succeeded in all of her personal and professional endeavors, just as her husband, Arnold, has succeeded in his."

The extent to which Schwarzenegger may be hurt politically by his past statements is unclear. In dozens of interviews, women voters said they were aware of some of Schwarzenegger's statements, but that they were just one factor in deciding how to vote.

"I've heard that stuff, but I tend to believe he's mellowed," said Rose Ortega, 44, an independent, who works as an academic advisor at Cal State Long Beach. "It's much more important to me to hear him debate."

The Times Poll, released last week, showed that 58% of likely male voters viewed Schwarzenegger favorably; only 45% of women said the same.

Asked if Schwarzenegger had the character and integrity to be governor, men said yes by 56% to 37%; women were far more closely divided, 47% to 43%.

Arnold Steinberg, a Republican political strategist, said Schwarzenegger has not been as hurt by his long history of racy interviews as candidates in other campaigns might be.

"One reason is that the recall is a short, compressed campaign," Steinberg said. "A second reason is that I think people take it less seriously, coming from someone from Hollywood. And finally, I think because of the fiscal crisis, people are sort of saying that the fiscal crisis trumps all of these other things."

In his interviews and writings, Schwarzenegger frequently has talked of admiring women for their intelligence. In October 1976, he told New Times: "The lady with me has to look good, too. And I definitely want to have one that's brighter than I. Then I can learn. I like an aggressive woman who can talk and is not always in the background. I can pinpoint her exactly: Candice Bergen."

In 1986, he told Rolling Stone magazine, "I love American women because they are independent. I like a woman to be smart."

Even when he has tried to express his admiration for smart women, however, Schwarzenegger often has used language that his opponents have seized on.

In an interview in Esquire magazine in 2003, for example, he discussed discrimination based on appearance this way: "when you see a blond with great [breasts] and a great [rear], 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.... "

Schwarzenegger often has portrayed himself as a defender of equal rights for women, but at times has done so in sexually graphic language.

In his 1979 fitness guide "Arnold's Bodyshaping for Women," Schwarzenegger described himself as a champion of equal rights, outraged that women have been denied access to the same weight training as men.

"Women are proving that they are indeed equal to men -- not only mentally, but also physically -- and are beginning to live up to their physical potential," he wrote. "The statement that women are the weaker sex is as unfair as it is ridiculous."

At one point in the "Bodyshaping" book, Schwarzenegger wrote of a woman he first found "too fragile" but later was attracted to when he discovered that she worked out.

"To me, femininity has always indicated strength, character and confidence," he wrote.

Schwarzenegger's mix of the obscene with the empowering has been a feature of his comments on women ever since. In 1986, he spoke publicly, in a People magazine interview, about his practice of "phone sex" in his occasionally long-distance relationship with his wife. On TV, he called Shriver "a sexy devil."

In a Playboy interview in 1988, Schwarzenegger declared that he hates when women wear pants. "I still feel that way, and neither my mother nor Maria is allowed to go out with me in pants," he said. "Maria would never wear pants, believe me."

Pressed on the subject, he added: "She knows she looks better in dresses. Maria has the kind of look -- the kind of face and hair and eyes and mouth and body -- that is very royal. Like a queen. And I don't like to see a queen in pants."

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