Sex, Power, Irony, and Why Maria Shriver Will Be Back

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has put all his movie projects on hold, including one called “Cry Macho.”

Oh the irony of that title. Let me get him a hanky so Mr. Macho himself doesn’t douse those phallic cigars he puffs on with his tears.

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There’s also a yummy irony in the fact that the woman who brought down this powerful man is near the bottom rung of social power, a household worker.  Sexual hubris and belief in their own entitlement to whatever they want whenever they want it, including women’s bodies, is a common thread between men like Schwarzenegger and the recently deposed International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also brought low by a domestic worker whom he apparently thought would be thrilled to be jumped on by a man twice her age leaping naked out of the bathroom.

Are these men like babies who think people can’t see them when they have blankets over their heads? And why don’t they understand that they can’t get away with the same bad acting they did a generation ago, thank goodness, because the women’s movement has changed both the culture and the laws?

There is certainly a qualitative difference between what seems to have been rape in the Strauss-Kahn case and what appears to have been consensual sex between Schwarzenegger and Mildred Patricia Baena who worked for 20 years in the home he shared with wife Maria Shriver. But who knows? The power differential between Baena and Schwarzenegger was inherently huge.

What strikes me as more puzzling, though, is that the power differential between Arnold and Maria was miniscule to nonexistent. She certainly didn’t need to be on the arm of any man in order to have money, prestige, or political power. As a member of the wealthy Kennedy political dynasty and a prominent journalist, she already had it all on her own.

And after the work she has done with her California Women’s Conferences to promote the idea that women are powerful, this betrayal is a terrible irony for her. Right now, the humiliation must be horribly painful. My heart goes out to her and to their children whose world has been turned upside down.

Still, I can’t get that video clip out of my mind—the one in which she so resolutely and convincingly defended her husband from a credible drumbeat of women’s claims that he had groped them [youtube] . [/youtube]

Given the timing of the split, one can’t help but wonder what did Maria know and when did she know it, and if she knew any of it at all, why did she stay in the marriage.

To the positive, though, unlike Silda Spitzer and even Hillary Clinton, Maria Shriver isn’t standing by her man.  That alone is a step forward for womankind.

As the seasoned negotiators of SheNegotiates wrote in their blog,

If we do not retaliate for acts of aggression, we enter into a cycle of victimization. This is what happens to women who are cheated on over and over and over and over again if they forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive without ever taking proportionally retaliatory action when told one bright summer morning that their husband has been supporting the child he fathered with the household help for ten years.

Maria did the right thing. She packed her bags and left, leaving Arnold to his own devices and, one assumes, to contemplate what the poorly timed release of this information might do to any man’s future political career in any state other than California.

Shriver is likely to go through a great deal more public humiliation and pain before this is over. Who knows what Baena will do or say? And look, that child is her children’s half-brother. Who knows what that will mean to her family?

One thing is quite clear however. The outdated dominance model of power exemplified by Schwarzenegger’s behavior–the power over others—is passe. Maria has in her hands the more positive model, her power TO–the ability to accomplish great things for herself, her family, her country, the women of the world—as she makes the transition into whatever is next for her.  It’s the very transformational model of power she herself lauded in her recent blog post, Is the Model of Masculinity Changing in America?

My advice to Maria Shriver, were she to ask, is to use what she’s got (No Excuses power tool #3): the sympathy and support of her friends and family, the platform she has built for herself as a champion for women, her celebrity and media credentials, and the financial capability that will enable her to do whatever she chooses with the rest of her life.

In the end, Maria Shriver will have a brilliant future.  She will be back.

Hasta la vista, Arnold.


  1. Katha Pollitt on May 20, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Hi Gloria, I really like your blog! I have trouble seeing Maria Shriver as a champion of women, though, since the only time it really mattered what she said or did, she used her power to protect her husband against multiple credible claims of sexual harrassment, Basically she said all those women were liars. Conferences and TV shows are all very well, but thanks in part to her, a harrasser sat in the California governor’s mansion for eight long years, women who claim harassment lost credibility, and the whole concept of sexual harassment was trivialized as bad-boy pranks.. perhaps she was blinded by love, which I can certainly understand, and I’m glad she finally had had enough of being humiliated by her husband — but a champion of women? Not in my book.

  2. Gloria Feldt on May 20, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Point very well taken, Katha, about the consequences of failure to act on what I agree she must have knows at some level for a long time. My point in this post though is about what Maria can do to champion women going forward since she has the platform, support, and money to do so.

    I think you’d have to agree that her stepping away from her man now is at least one step forward for women, as compared to other political wives we have known.

  3. Renee Guillory on May 20, 2011 at 10:06 am

    I hope that Ms Shriver does feel a sense of responsibility to women (once the dust settles and the stinging subsides). She is in a very privileged position and has the status to use her own kind of megaphone – I won’t say ‘bully pulpit’ – to promote women’s causes and sisterhood. I like your optimism, Gloria, and your unflinching belief in women’s capacity to see the reason of promoting sisterhood to begin with! As always, interesting blog.

  4. Nico on May 21, 2011 at 7:01 am

    Hi Gloria. Congrats on your book and your tour!

    Though it’s not inaccurate to say that Hillary Clinton “stood by her man” while Maria Shriver didn’t, I’m not sure it’s quite accurate enough.

    I’m not familiar enough with the situation chez Spitzer to comment, but I’ve always seen the Bill/Hillary and Arnold/Maria pairings more as partnerships, collaborations, I might even say alliances, and not simply marriages (though there’s nothing simple about the latter.)

    Pre-White House, Hillary said that she wasn’t just “some little woman standing by my man.” Later she appeared (arguably) to have done exactly that. But it’s true, Hillary WAS never just “some little woman,” and she stood not just by her man, but by her investment in the ongoing high-power professional enterprise that was her marriage.

    That doesn’t sound very romantic. It maybe plays to the caricature of Hillary as a cold calculating powerhungry bitch. But as they say, bitches get stuff done, and HRC’s determined intelligence is what I’ve always most admired about her individually, and about “Billary” as a pair. I think they’ve been a fabulous couple & team! I wonder if it will last once HRC is no longer SoS. I admit, I’ll be disappointed if they D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

    Maria has apparently now left Arnold, but she did indeed stand by her man until practically yesterday, even though, as you say and I agree, she must have long known, at some level, that SOMETHING was up in Arnoldville.

    The Shriver article you linked to is most interesting, btw, if for the title alone: Is the Model of Masculinity Changing in America? It being so recent, I can’t help wondering what else, in addition to the ‘Situation Room Photo’, was informing Maria’s thoughts as she contemplated models and images of masculinity. She’s sure been in a unique position to study it.

    Cry, macho. Indeed.

    • Gloria Feldt on May 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      Nico, the issue of complicity in these relationships is fascinating and it is never possible for anyone outside of them to know: was this a transaction in which both partners got what they wanted, was the woman simply oblivious, was she aware but feeling powerless to change things, or was she unwilling to give up the power she had amassed as a result of the relationship? At this point, the Clintin’s relationship appears more transactional, as they both feel like they are getting something they want from it in fairly equal proportions. I hope so, anyway. I’m trying to think of another country and western song to conclude with, but am drawing a blank.

    • Gloria Feldt on May 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      Nico, the issue of complicity in these relationships is fascinating and it is never possible for anyone outside of them to know: was this a transaction in which both partners got what they wanted, was the woman simply oblivious, was she aware but feeling powerless to change things, or was she unwilling to give up the power she had amassed as a result of the relationship? At this point, the Clintons’ relationship appears more transactional, as they both feel like they are getting something they want from it in fairly equal proportions. I hope so, anyway. I’m trying to think of another country and western song to conclude with, but am drawing a blank.

  5. Gloria Feldt via Facebook on May 21, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Mary Schnack Its too bad we even have to discuss Marian being “humiliated” as she has NOTHING to be humiliated about–but he DOES.
    Gloria Feldt True enough, Mary. I’m just imagining how she feels if in fact she did not know.
    Heidi Stine Gloria, This is brilliant. Thank you.
    Alida Brill Strong and powerful posting, Gloria. Points are well taken on many of these issues, and as give us the wake-up call. I’ve had quite enough of the Crotch Report this last week from these critters.

  6. Joe Marconi via Best Thinking on May 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Joe Marconi posted the following comment on Sex, Power, Irony, and Why Maria Shriver Will Be Back:

    An interesting read. While we don’t know yet when the inevitable series of interviews will begin or what she will say or what the inevitable book will be called (“Oh no, Arnold — You Only THINK You’ll Be Back!”), Ms. Shriver has been a woman of strength and dignity throughout her public life, which has been almost since her birth. She is Eunice and Sarge’s daughter who built a reputation on her own and underscores the word class in social class. That she got through the first week without being drawn into a public spitting match in the driveway is a good start. And every idiot like the “doctor” on Fox News who says she’s wrong to leave, she only looks that much better.

    A breakup of a couple and family is a personal matter, but for people who have chosen a public life, it’s tough to duck the cameras indefinitely. She’s at a place now where, I believe, most of the public — and very likely most of her friends — want her children and her to get through the breakup with minimal damage. I hope “feeling the love” will help.

  7. gmbdaly on May 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Let this be a lesson learned for us all, the more one enables someone — regardless of social or economic status, and whatever the addiction, be it sex, drug, food, etc. — the worse the situation will get. Maria does not deserve this. Although, for Arnold to dare get away with those past gropes is shocking — all thanks to the power and good intentions of Maria. Then Arnold fathers a child with the live-in maid. Couldn’t he at least use a condom for the sake of his 4 children and wife? That maid was a married woman, and I do not buy the “poor little servant,” syndrome. This filthy pig of a maid knew exactly what she was doing and deserves to be disgraced and shamed. She befriends and betrays Maria, she sees lots of dollars and realizes she wants to be Maria. Then she gets pregnant and destroy a family. I’m wondering the legalities of the live-in maid since she was married at the time and had a child with Arnold. Wouldn’t her legal husband be the legal father of the child and not Arnold?

    • Gloria Feldt on May 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm

      gmbdaly, I was with you till you got to name-calling the housekeeper. Unless you have first hand information, which you should reveal, how do you know about her character? And even if you are right about that, what does it have to do with my piece about Arnold and Maria?

      • gmbdaly on May 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm

        Sorry, I totally understand, I see your point. In regards to Maria coming back, I agree, she will indeed move on, but will never be the same. And her image as a power-woman-icon will be difficult to re-establish. I am also sorry for getting off track and naming the housekeeper. Yet, I truly cannot comprehend why we are always so sympathetic to women who back-stab, cheat and profit, simply because of “underdog status!” I mean, really, what kind of character would a married woman, housekeeper to Maria and Arnold, who befriends, betrays, has Arnold’s child, AND PROFITS, all while being married to someone else? We do not need to know her character to understand something about her needs cleaning (is dirty), and I wouldn’t want her being around family, especialy children.

        • Gloria Feldt on May 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm

          I get the frustration. As Jimmy Carter famously said, life isn’t fair. Thanks for the response to my concern.

          • gmbdaly on June 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

            You are welcome. I tend to rush and speak without thinking it out — working on this.

  8. Vickie Pynchon on May 22, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Nice take-down of Arnold, Ms. Feldt – love your bold voice! And thanks for the shout out! Shriver’s post on the transformation of masculine models is one of the best insights to ever arise from a tragedy like this. I’m looking forward to seeing her write more. And to see you call more people cry babies when that’s what they deserve!

  9. Ruth Nemzoff on May 31, 2011 at 9:44 am

    How about a new slogan? Those who play and want others to pay cannot vote on abortion rights.

  10. Karen on June 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I agree with Katha Pollitt. I want to add that Shriver might have the money and the platform to champion women, but she lacks the judgment to do what is right. She took her political capital and elected a man whose policies were extremely detrimental to women and children. As her husband’s budget cuts began to erode women’s access to affordable education, healthcare, and decent wages–the tools that move women out of poverty–Shriver offered women faux power in the form of the CA Women’s Conference, the true purpose of which was to make Arnold’s administration seem pro-woman. The nurse’s union protested Arnold’s policies at one of these conferences, and he replied that they hated him because he had “kicked their butts.” He was on stage with Maria, Eunice Shriver and Oprah when he said that. So much for empowerment…

    Shriver should be taking advice from the average woman, not giving it.

  11. Gloria Feldt on June 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Welcome to Heartfeldt, Karen. Yours is a stunning and sophisticated indictment of complicity with corrupt power. Do you think that Maria, born into political power, understood the consequences of giving Arnold the political cover you describe? Or were the women’s conferences her consolation prize for putting up with him? In other words, was her motivation for the conferences to build his political power or to use the power of her first lady position to do something she thought was helping women?

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