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.

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 Preview Image

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.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.