Why I Don’t Feel Too Bad For Maria Shriver

Like many women before her, Maria Shriver is doing the rounds as the disgraced political spouse. She’s on the cover of People magazine — “Maria’s Broken Heart!” trills the cover line — and she’s a guest on one of Oprah’s very last shows. (In fact, on Tuesday night when the identity of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mistress and his love child were revealed, Shriver was spotted out on the town with Oprah at dinner.) I would bet money on it that Shriver eventually writes a memoir about this time of her life, like Elizabeth Edwards and Jenny Sanford before her.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean to make light of any heartbreak Maria Shriver and the Schwarzenegger children — they’ve got four, ages 13 to 21 — are most assuredly feeling or of the humiliation of their dirty laundry being aired in the public eye. No one deserves this and I hope they are all as tough as elephant hides as they deal with it.

And yet … I have a hard time feeling sorry for Maria Shriver. Rumors of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelity and sexual harassment have been going on for years. Arnold’s wandering penis (and hands) pre-dates his governorship of California, a role that staunch Democrat and Kennedy scion Maria Shriver helped him win. So, while this situation undeniably sucks, I’m not boo-hoo-hooing for her. I believe Maria Shriver was either willfully ignorant of or willing-to-put-up-with, Hillary Clinton-style, her husband’s cheating and sexual harassment. How could she not be aware of it, in some way? In 2003, The Los Angeles Times investigated multiple women’s claims that Schwarzenegger sexually harassed and groped them. Six women detailed their sexual harassment at the hands of Arnold, while others refused to talk. Recalling her reportage on the investigations for Slate.com, ex-LA Times reporter Tracy Weber wrote that she interviewed women who “describe[d] behavior that appeared to cross every imaginable line … demeaning [actions] — often public — groping, unwanted, invasive kisses, crude, belittling comments.” Some of the women felt they were powerless to defend themselves from this big box office movie star, Weber wrote, quoting one woman who described Schwarzenegger’s I-can-do-what-I-want behavior as “like an overindulged toddler.” She added, “Not a single woman felt anyone would have taken their side or chastised the star.” (You can read more of what the women allegedly endured at Slate and 10news.com.)

Now, isn’t that depressing — women victimized by a man in a position of power over them? One would think it would rattle the conscience of Maria Shriver — who hosts an annual bipartisan gathering called The Women’s Conference, in which she grants Minerva Awards to successful women like Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and publishes self-help/advice books for women and girls such as And One More Thing Before You Go.

Alas, in October 2003, shortly before he was elected governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted he “behaved badly” around women. “Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful but now I recognize that I offended people,” he said in a statement. “Those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that and I apologize because that’s not what I’m trying to do.” He then promised to be a “champion for women” and asked people to stop focusing on “dirty politics.” Rowdy? Playful? I offended people? Dirty politics? Talk about a non-apology apology straight from the Oh, Boys Will Be Boys! Playbook. And Maria Shriver knew all about this “rowdy” and “playful” behavior because they were married — and campaigning for his gubernatorial run — when all this came to light.

I expect better from my smart, feminist political ladies (and yes, that includes you, Hillary Clinton, as much as I love you). But addressing the cheating/sexual harassment/abuse publicly was apparently not on the table for Shriver, which strikes me as hypocritical. “She used her feminist image to shield him from the electoral impact of his decades of piggish, harassing behavior toward women,” writes blogger Amanda Marcotte at XX Factor. “You’re allowed to screw up your own life for love but helping your sleazy husband gain power over millions of people against better judgment we know you have? Inexcusable.”

I’m not trying to pummel Maria Shriver, whom I genuinely admire, or label her a “bad feminist” — no, this situation is very nuanced and nothing is ever black or white. But I am saying that Shriver couldn’t — couldn’t — have been shocked at her husband’s sexist behavior. She was probably only shocked he got caught. And that’s why I don’t feel too bad for her.

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[Slate: The Troubling Conduct Of Sexually Powerful Men]
[XX Factor: Limits To Shriver Sympathy]
[The Women’s Conference]