When Freud asked "What does woman want?" he was justifiably stumped.
Let me take a stab: Women want what women want when they want it. Exactly their way, to sum up. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
As evidence we submit Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, Schwarzenegger the muscle-man movie star who may or may not have had group sex in the '70s, who may or may not have groped women, who may or may not have had an extramarital affair. (And who, as a candidate for California governor, when and if the recall election is held, has a woman problem.)
Among the better-known stories, by now familiar, Schwarzenegger told Oui magazine in 1977 that he had group sex with a woman and several other body builders in a Gold's gym. When the story was recirculated recently, Schwarzenegger claimed he made it up.
"Did I say crazy things? You are absolutely correct. It was the '70s, and we promoted bodybuilding," he told The New York Times. "We tried to get attention and headlines and I would say things that many times were exaggerated and untrue, just to get the headlines. But the fact of the matter is, you've got to forget about the '70s. I was a different person then."
So were we all. Point accepted. There ought to be a statute of limitations on the crime of acting stupid while young. For the sake of discussion, let's stipulate that what anyone did in the '70s short of a capital crime is now forgiven.
That still doesn't solve Schwarzenegger's woman problem, as he made some of his less-attractive remarks about women as recently as this summer. In a July interview with Entertainment Weekly about his new movie, "Terminator 3," Schwarzenegger said the movie was fun: "How many times do you get away with taking a woman and burying her face in a toilet bowl?"
Mmmm, not very often, I'd guess, especially when you're running for governor.
Indeed, a recent Field Poll found that Schwarzenegger is trailing Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, a Democrat, by 13 points among women voters. Meanwhile, some women's groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, have launched campaigns to thwart Schwarzenegger.
On Sunday, a women's peace group that calls itself CodePink, a pink-painted pinkie poke at the Bush administration's color-coded terror alert system, protested outside the California Republican Party's Fall Convention where Schwarzenegger was meeting. They brought signs and banners reading "Groper for Governor" and "Sexual Misconduct is not a Family Value."
Who said that? Groper? Sexual misconduct? These terms have a vaguely familiar ring to them. But these aren't Republican women clamoring to condemn an aggressive intern-handler. These are feminists, those same staunch defenders of women's delicate sensibilities who averted their eyes when Bill Clinton was groping and sexually misconduct-ing in the little room off the Oval Office.
Republican women, meanwhile, are mimicking the feminist sisterhood in the face of Schwarzenegger's alleged transgressions, winking at rumors and changing the subject. Sunday, the Republican Women's Caucus endorsed Schwarzenegger.
"He supports family, he supports schools, and I think that's the most important thing," Sherry Johanson, public-relations chair of the California Federation of Republican Women, was quoted as saying in The Washington Post. Unlike, say, all those other candidates out there who do not support family and schools.
The important thing is that, when it comes to politics, women's principles apparently are fungible. Either male hostility (enjoying dunking a woman's head in the toilet, for instance) is unacceptable or it isn't. Either sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable or it isn't.
Bill Clinton did have sex with that woman while holding the highest office in the land. He clearly was enjoying one of the perks of power while helping to advance policies that punished lesser mortals for inferior infractions. As a matter of principle, the feminists might have condemned the behavior. (They were mum.)
As for Schwarzenegger, he does have a reputation at least as titillating as Bill Clinton once had, based not on made-up media reports but on the claims of real women from his past. Yet the same crowd that rallied for Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick and others can't find anything believable among the women who claim that Schwarzenegger groped them.
The phenomenon of principles selectively applied is nothing new, but women's groups both left and right have surrendered any moral high ground they might have once claimed. They're just one of the boys now. What woman wants, she may alas deserve.