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USA Harsh Light On Two Men, But Glare Falls On Women

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
May 18, 2011



Harsh Light on Two Men, but Glare Falls on Women


A flotilla of TV news trucks was stationed outside a Bronx apartment building this week, as photographers scrambled to get a shot of the hotel cleaning woman who accused the managing director of the International Monetary Fund of sexually assaulting her. Inside, reporters fired questions at her neighbors: Was she good-looking? Did she pay her rent on time? What was her behavior like?

On the opposite coast, news trucks were idling outside the California home of Mildred Patricia Baena, who the world now knows to be the mother of the boy Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted to fathering while she was his family’s housekeeper.

The harsh scrutiny of Ms. Baena started as soon as her Myspace photos flooded the Internet. She “would never appear on the cover of Maxim magazine,” wrote a blogger on Forbes.com. Several news outlets repeated a report from the gossip Web site TMZ that Ms. Baena had begun to “pursue Arnold” in the late 1990s.

Though the circumstances of such cases are sharply different, they nevertheless raise questions and concerns about where attention should be focused. But there is less hesitation to try to reveal every detail of the lives of the women involved, as if those details could somehow explain the headlines about the powerful figures.

“It is part of a fascination with the man,” said Suzanne Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia. “What sort of woman could this powerful man have been attracted to? I think as a society, we care about the lives of powerful celebritylike figures.”

“That curiosity extends not only to their home decorating, but also to who is in their beds,” she added. “The women suffer the collateral damage of our interest.”

For all the differences of the two cases — one involves allegations of sexual assault, the other does not — they raise similar questions about imbalances of power that continue in some ways after the accusations become public.

The International Monetary Fund chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was being held in isolation at Rikers Island. But he had high-powered lawyers and, like Mr. Schwarzenegger, highly placed friends and family to defend him. Mr. Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, issued statements insisting on their family’s right to privacy.

The women suddenly thrust into the spotlight must rely instead, at least initially, on neighbors to protect their privacy. In the Bronx, a man who said he was the hotel worker’s brother confessed to a reporter the day after he was quoted in newspapers that in fact, he was not.

The silence from the women inevitably is answered with storylines hastily pieced together.

The housekeeper from the Sofitel in New York, where the assault was said to have occurred, was reported in The New York Post to live in a residence for people with H.I.V. or AIDS. Her lawyer denied that in an interview on “Today.”

Lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a politician who was viewed as a strong candidate to run against the French president next year, were expected to argue that any sex may have been consensual. At his arraignment this week, they said that the forensic evidence “will not be consistent with a forcible encounter.” Her lawyer disputed that as well.

Details about Ms. Baena’s life emerged through photographs found on social networking sites. Some Web sites took sides, based on anonymous quotations, saying that she had been the aggressor, that she had liens against her, and that she had, in the words of TMZ, “decked herself out as a sexy swashbuckler for Halloween” a year before she gave birth to the boy.

Meanwhile, Mr. Schwarzenegger, a two-term governor, was said (again, anonymously) to be “always generous” with Ms. Baena after the child was born.

Men involved in these kinds of scandals can sometimes have second acts (see: Spitzer, Eliot). Mr. Schwarzenegger has said he will return to making movies, and there has been no suggestion that this scandal will disrupt his plans.

Mr. Spitzer, for his part, said Wednesday on his prime-time show on CNN that “even if disproven, the reputational harm is never undone” from an accusation like the one leveled at Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Mr. Spitzer did not bring up the scandal that led to his downfall as New York governor.

For the women involved in the scandals, the likelihood of a second act is slight.

News organizations, including The New York Times, have a policy of not naming people who say they were sexually assaulted. (Policies vary in different countries, and some French news outlets did name the woman who has accused Mr. Strauss-Kahn.)

Ms. Baena’s name first surfaced Tuesday night on several gossip Web sites, but could not be independently confirmed with multiple sources until Wednesday morning.

The Los Angeles Times first revealed the existence of the son late Monday, but did not name him or the mother except to say that she had been employed in Mr. Schwarzenegger’s household.

She had worked for the family for about 20 years and retired sometime last year. According to real estate records, Ms. Baena bought her home in Bakersfield, Calif., about 100 miles from the Schwarzenegger home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, about a year ago, for $268,000.

On Wednesday, the quiet cul-de-sac was a maelstrom of television cameras, reporters and onlookers. Several of Ms. Baena’s neighbors complained about the crowd, and police officers were sent to the scene.

Her one-story home sits at the end of the street in a tidy and trim subdivision. On Wednesday morning, white blinds covered the windows of the tan house with a red-tile roof, and there was no sign of anyone inside.

The children, too, become — to use Ms. Goldberg’s phrase — “collateral damage.” TMZ blurred the face of Ms. Baena’s son in photographs (describing him as the “spitting image” of his father). But Web sites like OnTheRedCarpet.com linked to Ms. Baena’s Myspace profile, with pictures showing the boy. In the comments space on the profile, some people made cruel judgments.

One woman offered an unsolicited tip: “Patty ... make your pictures private ... you need to protect your child from the media” and all that goes with it. “Just some advice,” she said.

Reporting was contributed by Jennifer Medina from Bakersfield, Calif., and Ian Lovett, Ana Facio Contreras and Joel Epstein from Los Angeles.

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/us/19schwarzenegger.html?_r=1&ref=global-home
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