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Electorate ignored harassment

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Arnold Schwarzenegger, now California’s governor-elect, said a lot during his campaign without actually giving much information or any specific plans other than to say “Hasta la vista” to the car tax.

More than 15 women who have come in contact with Schwarzenegger in the last 30 years have also been speaking out over the past few weeks. Their words reveal far more about the actor-turned-politician and the society that voted him in than anything Schwarzenegger has memorized from a script.

And that is possibly more terrifying than the allegations that Schwarzenegger may have run for governor in a Bush administration plan to get Enron and others out of paying nearly $9 billion taken from California during the energy crisis.

The accounts of groping which Schwarzenegger acknowledged and apologized for, with the excuse of having “behaved badly sometimes” and alleged sexual harassment, increased over the past few weeks almost as fast as Schwarzenegger’s support grew.

It was enough to influence Independent candidate Arianna Huffington, the only serious female candidate on ballot, to pull out of the race in order to back a “no” on the recall and for the election itself to become a typical two-party election.

Just dirty politics?

Schwarzenegger’s behavior toward women is not new.

Two years ago Premiere magazine told the public of his offensive behavior toward women and the infamous Oui interview that has been in print since 1977.

So what does Schwarzenegger’s election say of Californians’ moral standards when the many accusations made by women did not sway voters from rethinking a vote for Schwarzenegger?

“The fact that the sexual harassment charges did not really matter to voters may speak to the way harassment has become so normalized, or unalarming, or even overused in our society that it has lost its moral appeal,” said Zandra Wagoner, the University of La Verne’s General Education Director, who is spearheading efforts to start a women’s studies program here. “It simply may not have the same political meaning or political power it once had.

“Regardless, it does not remove the social reality that individuals, particularly women, are sexually objectified and disempowered through the mechanism of harassment,” Wagoner said.

Schwarzenegger remained mum about the allegations against him saying he would address the topic after the election. The ballots have been counted and now that he is off to Sacramento, the governor has some questions to answer.

Californians do not seem to care about Schwarzenegger’s reputation as a sexual harasser, but groups like the California Women’s Law Center will not let him off that easy; it has called for a criminal investigation.

Schwarzenegger may have been the first governor in California history to be elected following a recall, but he could also be California’s first governor to be prosecuted.

These alleged cases of sexual harassment could hold up as felony charges against the governor.

The notion of sexual harassment in the workplace has only been in existence for the past decade or so, since the landmark case that heard Anita Hill’s charges of sexual harassment against her employer, Clarence Thomas.

Thomas had been nominated by the senior President George Bush to fill Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the Supreme Court.

Now this phrase, which has become part of our country’s understanding of acceptable interactions ­  and which has gone a long way toward transforming workplace policy and politics, not to mention those on college campuses ­ is in danger of being taken several steps backward.

What does this mean to women who have been sexually harassed in their place of work or on a public street and are struggling with the choice to speak against it?

Will they now feel even more unheard?

Will they fear being treated less seriously?

Are young girls to now expect that when they grow up this is the way that men can speak to or touch them and they will have to put up with it because: a) they are women, and b) the men are just being “playful,” or “rowdy?”

Will Schwarzenegger’s ascension to the state’s highest office serve as an indication of what is possibly ahead, not just in the political realm and not just in California?

There is after all, the well-known saying: “As goes California, so goes the nation.”

Not surprisingly, a recent proposal by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) would amend the U.S. Constitution by changing the law requiring U.S. presidents to be natural born citizens. Under the Hatch proposal, one would have to be a citizen for only 20 years before running for president. Hatch has made statements backing Schwarzenegger as the perfect tough guy for California ­ and a candidate for the presidency, if the amendment goes through.

Are Californian’s really that comfortable with a man who’s most recent contribution to Californians was a blockbuster movie and whose alleged past actions toward women could diminish the dignity women like Anita Hill and countless others have fought so hard for?

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