The XX Factor

Limits to Shriver Sympathy

Emily , I agree with you that what Maria Shriver must have gone through when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s duplicity was revealed must have been awful, especially since he seems to have put off revealing the truth until Shriver’s usefulness to him as a political wife ended. He exploited her and cheated on her, and it’s hard not to feel empathy toward her.  Still, I’m finding that I have limits to my sympathy for Shriver, and want to talk about her culpability.  Not in the cheating, which is 100 percent not her fault.  No, I’m still mad at her for the role she played in getting her husband elected governor of California. 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.

It’s not just because Schwarzenegger is a Republican and Shriver is a solid Democrat with a solid liberal activist career, though honestly that’s enough. I still have enough of the old-fashioned small-d democratic idealist in me to think it’s wrong to campaign for someone you wouldn’t vote for.  It’s that she used her feminist image to shield him from the electoral impact of his decades of piggish, harassing behavior toward women.  During the campaign, Schwarzenegger basically admitted to harassing the half-dozen women who stepped forward (and more came out later), but the presence of Shriver on the trail helped reassure voters that he couldn’t be that bad if he managed to snag a wife like that. I don’t know that he would have lost if she’d thrown in the towel and said, “I love my husband as a husband, but can’t recommend him as a leader,” but she certainly didn’t need to help him win.

Of course, the reason so few people batted an eyelash when Shriver abandoned her Democratic and feminist beliefs in order to get an unqualified ass-grabber into office is that our culture treats supporting your spouse as a sacred marital duty, especially if the spouse needing support is male and the supporting spouse is female.  Not that I’m against supporting your partner, but there should be a difference between supporting your partner as he starts a chicken farm in the backyard and supporting your partner as he greedily grabs for power over others that he’s proven, repeatedly, that he doesn’t deserve.  Lending feminist cover to a man who gropes and harasses women so he can have power over millions goes far beyond the call of marital duty.