Schwarzenegger Remarks on Women Anger Many
Tue Feb 22, 1:39 PM ET U.S. National - AP
By BETH FOUHY, Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO - Could Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (news - web sites) have another "woman problem" on his hands? Schwarzenegger made headlines in recent months by deriding political opponents as "girlie men" and ridiculing a group of nurses at a women's conference. Now, an effort to paint the state's teachers as little more than a balky special interest group has angered many critics, who have begun to question why constituencies dominated by women have been subjected to such tough talk.
"He behaves like an arrogant patriarch with respect to women's occupations," said Rose Ann De Moro, executive director of the California Nurses Association. "Nurses, teachers, home health workers — it's vulgar how he's run roughshod over them. He's arrogant, and he's a bully."
As a candidate, Schwarzenegger was dogged by allegations that he had groped and humiliated women on movie sets. Since then, he has won over many skeptics by appointing women to key staff positions and relying on his wife, journalist and Democrat Maria Shriver, as his closest adviser.
But recently, as he has pressed for budget cuts and a broad package of government reform proposals, some of his turbocharged rhetoric has opened him to charges that his views on women are demeaning and macho.
In December, a small group of nurses gathered at a state women's conference to protest Schwarzenegger's decision to side with hospitals and delay changes to the state's nurse-to-patient ratio. With Shriver in the audience, Schwarzenegger responded to the protesters by saying, "The special interests don't like me in Sacramento because I am always kicking their butts."
The nurses union denounced his comment, and the attacks on the governor have only escalated since.
"The arrogance of taking on teachers, nurses and other professions where women are underpaid, overworked and vital to society is beyond the pale," said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and a frequent Schwarzenegger critic. "But Arnold is someone who treats women as objects, so it's natural for him to have a tendency to disregard and devalue professions that are made up of women."
The California Teachers Association and the California Nurses Association recently showed a willingness to take on the governor, staging protests and buying ads critical of his policies and proposals.
Schwarzenegger has denounced teachers for blocking improvements to education and has made merit-based pay for teachers a centerpiece of his government reform plan.
The teachers union is running radio commercials statewide criticizing the governor's proposals. Top officials of the organization, as well as some school administrators, also have accused Schwarzenegger of reneging on a promise to deliver $2 billion in revenue to schools.
The nurses uinon has taken out full-page newspaper ads suggesting Schwarzenegger's corporate campaign donors are the real special interests.
Last week, some 300 nurses and their supporters disrupted a movie premiere in Sacramento, booing Schwarzenegger as he posed with actors Vince Vaughn and The Rock.
"A mass movement is developing, and it's fascinating to see women coming together," DeMoro of the nurses union said.
Schwarzenegger supporters dismiss the notion that either his rhetoric or his reform efforts are overly harsh toward women or women's professions. Instead, they accuse unions of using the controversies to generate publicity.
"To say that women voters perceive Arnold Schwarzenegger as a bully because he's taking on a reform agenda belittles women," said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the California Republican Party.
"This is not about any individual profession. It's about exposing organized labor unions who have used their influence and set policies that have created multibillion-dollar deficits both statewide and nationally."
Political analyst Tony Quinn said the danger for Schwarzenegger lies in the widespread public fondness for teachers and nurses.
"Their strength lies in the fact that people genuinely like their teachers and like nurses, even if they don't necessarily like their union," Quinn said.
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