By Sandra Kobrin
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Maria Shriver asked for privacy this week in the matter of her breakup with Schwarzenegger over his "love child." Sandra Kobrin says sorry, but when a woman stays married to a powerful womanizer, the personal turns deeply public and political.
LOS ANGELES (WOMENSENEWS)--Malcolm Gladwell is the author of a best-selling book based on social science that defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point."
Tipper Gore is the woman now divorced from her husband, former Vice President Al Gore, a prominent social activist, after 40 years. In June 2010, she gave notice just three weeks before allegations of sexual abuse by her husband against a massage therapist in 2006, hit the national news.
With a tip of the hat to Gladwell and Gore I define the "Tipper point" as the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point where a wife can no longer stand for the sexual philandering, sexual abuse or gross misconduct of her rich and powerful husband.
I just wish more women reached this point more quickly. It would do a lot of other women a lot of good and might have altered this week's double feature of sex scandals.
First came Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel worker in New York. The woman involved didn't follow the code of silence that is widely reported to protect French male elites. Instead she reported her story to police and Strauss-Kahn was forced to trade in his Frette sheets at the Sofitel for a cot at Rikers.
Then--in a "can you top this move"--Arnold Schwarzenegger, our former governor out here in California, announced that he fathered a child with a family employee 10 years ago. Apparently he'd provided his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, with that information a few months ago.
Having a baby with a woman who worked for the family for over 20 years shoved Shriver over the Tipper point, past what had long seemed like a "stand by your man" form of martyrdom. She left him.
Too little; too late.
"This is a painful and heartbreaking time," Shriver said in a statement this week. "As a mother, my concern is for the children. I ask for compassion, respect and privacy as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal."
The problem is that being a wife of a man with immense power--including over numerous women--is actually a role of much public consequence. As we used to say in the 1970s, the person is political. Especially for women intimately involved with influential men.
Eight years ago, during Schwarzenegger's 2003 campaign for governor, women came forward to say he had groped and sexually abused them on the set. Shriver stood behind his staunch denials and went further. She applauded his character and went on the attack against his accusers.
Imagine how these women felt. First they went through the degradation of being groped and sexually abused by Schwarzenegger and then, with help from Shriver's deflections, they suffered the humiliation of being pegged a liar.
What Shriver did seven years ago in standing up for her husband was wrong. Her behavior perpetuates a social code that protects predators and undermines women who try and do stand up against abuse.
What if Shriver had stepped up and confronted her husband? There could have been severe consequences. He could have lost the election. She could have been excoriated by her husband's backers.
By this time, however, her family's healing could be much further along. And Californians might have had a different governor.
Strauss-Kahn's wife, the New York-born Anne Sinclair, appears to be following Shriver's misguided footsteps.
In 2007 when allegations surfaced that Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a young French writer, Tristane Banon, Sinclair said nothing. In 2008, when her husband admitted to an affair with a subordinate, she wrote on her blog: "We love each other as much as on the very first day."
Now Sinclair is standing by her husband and protesting his innocence, offering to put up the million dollar bail, which the judge rejected, seeing Strauss-Kahn as a flight risk.
Since the United States has no extradition treaty with France, New York courts are apparently avoiding another Roman Polanski-like situation. In 1977 filmmaker Polanski was charged in California with having sex with a 13-year-old and fled to France to avoid sentencing. He refused to return to face the consequences here and now lives free in Paris.