Jesurgislac’s Journal

May 30, 2008

Feminism, the Patriarchy, and Parallel Paradigms

This post was originally published on Greatestjournal, on 4th July 2007.

Scooter Libby has been given an amnesty for perjury and obstruction of justice in the federal investigation into the leaking of a covert CIA agent’s identity to the media.

Paul Wolfowitz has lost his job as President of the World Bank because he broke the rules about not getting involved with subordinates and not doing financial/job-related favours based on personal involvement.

I’m no supporter of the World Bank, nor do I have any fondness for the CIA. I’d never work for either institution (and neither institution would be likely to hire me!), and I don’t much care for the kind of people who do.

The feminist revolution is changing the patriarchy: eventually, we hope, there will be no more patriarchy. This is a long-term goal, and we’re doing it one manageable nibble at a time, but we are doing it. But nevertheless: there are people who perceive the world from the patriarchal paradigm, and people who perceive the world from the feminist paradigm, and you know which paradigm owns more of the media, and which paradigm most politicians live in.

It’s a meme among defenders of Scooter Libby that his being sentenced to jail was unjust because, though he did commit perjury in the course of an investigation, there was no underlying crime. That is, leaking Valerie Plame’s identity to the media was not a crime, because Plame wasn’t a covert CIA agent as defined by the relevant legislation. We could have guessed that this was not so just looking at how seriously the CIA, the US Department of Justice, and the White House, reacted: President Bush actually said (and later, retracted) that anyone involved with the leak would no longer work for his administration. But, since Libby was convicted, it has been officially and publicly stated: Plame was covert, and because she had worked overseas between 1998 and 2003, she was covered by the statute that made knowingly leaking her identity an act of treason. (In an aside, though, it’s apparently a difficult statute to prosecute, because the prosecutor has to show that not only was the agent covered by statute, the person who leaked the agent’s identity knew the agent was covert when they leaked: and it seems likely Libby didn’t know, though Cheney, whom Libby was shielding, probably did.)

So why are people as high-profile as Milt Romney and Fred Thompson publicly saying that Plame wasn’t covert so there was no crime?

It’s not even a good defense: it’s false, it’s publicly known to be false, and it’s publicly known that they know it’s false.

But they can tell themselves it’s true and believe it, and assume others will believe it too, because they live inside the patriarchal paradigm.

Valerie Plame had been married for several years to Joseph Wilson. They had two children, and Plame moved in social circles in Washington and elsewhere as Ambassador Wilson’s wife. When her identity was leaked in summer 2003, the first assumption was that the leakers at the White House were punishing her husband – a kind of Washingtonian honour killing – because he had recently written an op-ed for the New York Times explicitly saying that Bush had made claims Wilson knew to be false in his State of the Union speech in January 2003. Any discussion of the White House’s leak has always turned, soon or late, to traduce Joseph Wilson. (As it turned out, the White House might have had good reason to want to silence Plame on her own account: she was investigating WMD in the Middle East at the time the White House leak ended her career.)

Inside the patriarchal paradigm, Plame could not be a covert CIA agent doing important work, because she’s a married woman with children, whose husband is an important man in his own right: his wife cannot have an identity and a career separate from his. She has, in the patriarchal paradigm, tied her fortune and her honour to her husband, and if her husband does something as politically radical as telling the world the President lied in the State of the Union speech, and she suffers for it, well, the only question that need be asked is: Did her husband deserve it? And, the notion that it would matter if a wife’s career is ended, if she is still married to her husband and the father of her children: that’s just outside the paradigm. Therefore, leaking her identity was not a crime.

The other instance, much less well known and much less clear-cut, is what happened to Shaha Riza.

She joined the World Bank in 1997. Sometime after she moved to Washington, she got involved with Paul Wolfowitz, who was then Deputy Secretary of Defense. She had been acting manager for external affairs and outreach for the World Bank’s MENA region for nearly three years, and was shortlisted to become the permanent manager for external affairs and outreach for that region in 2005.

Then Bush offered Wolfowitz the Presidency of the World Bank, and he accepted. (Traditionally, that appointment is always in the US’s gift. The World Bank is a mechanism for ensuring that undeveloped countries stay poor and undeveloped in order to keep developed countries wealthy: most of the countries whose economies are managed by the World Bank have no say at all in how the World Bank is run.) Wolfowitz claims he believed that there would be no problem wih the World Bank regulations with regard to his involvement with a regional manager for external affairs and outreach (a position about five layers below President), because he would recuse himself from any personnel decisions involving her.

The World Bank didn’t agree. Shaha Riza didn’t get the promotion: someone else did, so she was no longer even acting manager for external affairs and outreach. In a situation like that, it’s impossible to say that Riza would have been promoted if only Wolfowitz had not been President of the World Bank: but it is certain that, with Wolfowitz as President, Riza would not get promoted. Nor was this all: the Ethics Committee of the World Bank kept pointing out that the personal relationship between Shaha Riza and Paul Wolfowitz was explicitly against regulations. Either the relationship had to end, or one of them had to leave the World Bank. Shaha Riza was sent – very much against her will, apparently – to a make-work job in the State Department, where she was paid the same salary she would have been paid had she got the promotion she wanted.

When this came out, earlier this year, much was made of the issue of corruption, of Wolfowitz presuming that the rules of the World Bank couldn’t apply to him, of the large and tax-fee salary Shaha Riza had been given for doing no work. In all of these articles, Shaha Riza was rarely mentioned by name (she was “Wolfowitz’s girlfriend”), nor was her position in the World Bank named, nor was it made clear that she had had a career in the World Bank and had been justly in line for a promotion before Wolfowitz was appointed President. When Wolfowitz accepted the job of President of the World Bank, he ended her career there.

(There are reasons why this is less clear-cut than Plame case: it’s possible, though no one has said so, that Wolfowitz asked Shaha Riza if it was OK for him to accept the job before he said yes to Bush, and she said yes because, like Wolfowitz, she assumed the rules didn’t apply to her. Possible. It’s even possible that she thought Wolfowitz ought to be President of the World Bank and encouraged him to ask Bush to give him the job. There are a whole range of tangled possibilities here. I’m inclined to think that what happened was that Wolfowitz was offered the job and he said yes without thinking twice about what this would mean for Riza, but I don’t think anyone has said how Bush came to think of Wolfowitz for the job.)

There was a simple way to avoid all this. It would have been for Wolfowitz, with or without consultation with Shaha Riza, to say no, he couldn’t take the Presidency of the World Bank, because his girlfriend already worked there and doing so would destroy her career.

But that would have put Wolfowitz outside the patriarchal paradigm. He would have been saying that “his girlfriend” had a career exactly as important as his own.

There are various ways to criticise what Wolfowitz and Riza did inside the patriarchal paradigm: he should have asked Shaha Riza to resign: she herself should have resigned rather than accept the State Department job: all of which accept, implicitly, that Paul Wolfowitz’s career is more important than Shaha Riza’s, that the World Bank owed less loyalty and respect to an employee who had worked for them for 8 years than they did to a political appointee who had been put in charge that year.

On the edge of the patriarchal paradigm, because it still puts responsibility on Shaha Riza: she could have broken up with Wolfowitz as soon as she knew he had accepted the World Bank Presidency. On the edge, because it means she would have put her career above her relationship with Wolfowitz: it would have had (I would think) to be a real breakup, in which she neither saw him nor spoke to him except on World Bank business. At that, she still probably wouldn’t have got the promotion she wanted, but she could probably have gone on working for the World Bank, if Wolfowitz had respected the break-up.

I don’t know why Riza didn’t do that. Again, there are a whole tangle of obscure possibilities, ranging from her loving Wolfowitz and feeling so committed to him that she could not bring herself to break up with him, to her believing Wolfowitz when he said that his being her boss wouldn’t matter: he could fix it and the regulations wouldn’t affect them. I imagine, though, that it was really a whole tangle of most or all of the following: love, fondness, respect for Wolfowitz’s career and a desire to see him succeed, not believing in herself the same way she believed in him, not quite looking at the situation clearly because a clear look said that either she left the World Bank or she left Wolfowitz and she didn’t want to do either; and finally, when she was moved over to the State Department, hanging on because she couldn’t believe it could get worse: because if she sat tight and didn’t complain she might just get her old job at the World Bank back when Wolfowitz was no longer President or when he managed to “fix” the regulations that said she couldn’t work there if he did. In those circumstances, sitting over at the State Department in what must have become clear was a purely makework job, I suppose, it might have become unthinkable to break with Wolfowitz: she had already lost her job because of him, and he may have seemed a reassurance and comfort, as well as the only route back to the work she’d enjoyed at the World Bank. It’s easy to look at an abusive relationship from the outside and say “No, wait, at this point you should have known he had no respect for you and left”: but very hard to see it that way from the inside.

Especially when the lack of respect that Wolfowitz was so conspicuously showing was respect that he wasn’t expected, inside the patriarchal paradign, to have to give. In the patriarchal paradigm, Shaha Riza was Wolfowitz’s mistress: he was a wealthy and influential man who had provided a woman with whom he was having sex outside marriage with a job that gave her no real responsibilities but lots of money. In this paradigm, Wolfowitz is corrupt, because the money wasn’t his – and because there’s a strong implication of sex for money. In this paradigm what matters most is that Wolfowitz has used the World Bank’s money inappropriately, corruptly, to give his mistress a cushy well-paid job: that Wolfowitz has made the World Bank look bad.

If Paul Wolfowitz had also been a career World Bank employee who had been promoted to a position over Shaha Riza, it would have been a straightforward example of “my career or yours?”. But it wasn’t even that: Wolfowitz’s real career is being a Republican insider. Accepting the job at the World Bank was a useful step in that career, but he could have refused it with no more than a hiccup. (I guess. I find it hard to believe someone as well-connected as Paul Wolfowitz would have suffered very much from turning down a job he was offered, even if he was very strongly offered it and even if his reasons for refusing were so far outside the patriarchal paradigm.) But from within the patriarchal paradigm, a man refusing a plum job because it would damage his mistress’s career is just… unthinkable.

When feminists talk about the patriarchy, individual men often react as if they’re being personally attacked. They say things like “Not all men are like this!” or “Men do bad things to other men, too!” But “the patriarchy” isn’t “all men”: it isn’t “non-feminists”. The patriarchy is a paradigm. Feminism is a parallel paradigm. Part of the reaction against defining and referring to the patriarchy is a simple misunderstanding about what a paradigm is: partly because changing paradigms is a hard thing to do, and it’s easier to pretend that when feminists say “This is because of the patriarchy” they are really saying “This is because all men are evil”, because the claim that “all men are evil” can be refuted, and further, feminists can then be attacked viciously for being man-haters who think all men are evil. This is much easier, and much more fun, than considering the possibility that the paradigm that you take for granted, the patriarchy, is fundamentally wrong: that this paradigm twists and distorts your perceptions, makes it impossible for a person to see that it’s absurd to claim Valerie Plame wasn’t covert in the teeth of all the evidence, that it was fundamentally wrong of Paul Wolfowitz to have accepted the job of President of the World Bank. This isn’t just about party politics, though of course it plays a role: this is about the idea, radical and revolutionary in the patriarchal paradigm, central to the feminist paradigm, that women, as well as men, are human beings.

May 25, 2008

Breastfeeding is not obscene

Filed under: Uncategorized — jesurgislac @ 3:52 pm

A Chinese police officer is being hailed as a hero after taking it upon herself to breast-feed several infants who were separated from their mothers or orphaned by China’s devastating earthquake.

Officer Jiang Xiaojuan, 29, the mother of a 6-month-old boy, responded to the call of duty and the instincts of motherhood when the magnitude-7.9 quake struck on May 12.

“I am breast-feeding, so I can feed babies. I didn’t think of it much,” she said. “It is a mother’s reaction and a basic duty as a police officer to help.” (CNN – read the rest below the cut)


May 23, 2008

Vim and vinegar

Filed under: Internet — jesurgislac @ 9:22 am
Tags: , , ,

I knew it!

May 22, 2008

Torture doth never prosper

Torture doth never prosper, what’s the reason?
For when it prospers, people call it “harsh interrogation”.

Yeah, it doesn’t rhyme. (I looked up “torture” and found exactly two rhymes for it, neither of them easy to work into a verse: porcher, scorcher.)

This is the reason why I will not join Slacktivist’s campaign Torture is wrong – but when torture advocates can with bland voice say “of course torture is wrong – we only want to hurt our prisoners a little bit, no scars! and deliberately humiliating them to make them confess doesn’t count as torture, you liberal hippy!” what good does it do?

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

When you hold someone prisoner, even if they are imprisoned legally and justly (which of course is not true of the extrajudicial prisoners who are being tortured by Americans), it is wrong to inflict on them severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental. Trying to define “severe” is pointless: but given that the Geneva Conventions repeatedly argue that the standard should be to treat soldiers and civilians of enemy nations as well as you treat your own soldiers and civilians, “severe” should be held to the same standard: if you would object to having this pain and suffering inflicted on one of your own*, don’t do it to a prisoner. Because it’s torture. Even if, gestapo-like, you prefer to call it “harsh interrogation”, or demand to know how else “the terrorists” can be fought.

*However you define “one of your own”.

May 21, 2008

Running very fast to stay in place

Sometimes, good stuff happens.

After a strong political effort by the forced-pregnancy movement, the attempts to reduce access to abortion in the UK were roundly defeated last night: the closest vote, a proposal to reduce the upper limit for abortions to 22 weeks (which would in practice have meant 18 weeks) was rejected by 304 to 233.

(In the same debate, a succession of homophobic/misogynistic attempts to stop the children of same-sex couples having the same basic rights as the children of mixed-sex couples, was also defeated: a child born to a lesbian couple via fertility treatment will now have two legal parents, just like a child born to a mixed-sex couple. This is also cause for cheering.)

When the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, though it set legal limits on abortion that appear quite restrictive (a woman must get the consent of two doctors, etc) the women’s liberation movement focussed on widening real access rather than changing the law, and in practice, providing a woman has the nous, when she wants an abortion, to react to her GP telling her “wait a few weeks” (a standard strategy for anti-choice doctors) with “Thanks, I’ll go somewhere else right now”, women who need abortions can have them – though in some parts of the UK it is problematic getting an abortion via the NHS, and in Northern Ireland a woman who needs an abortion usually needs to go to mainland UK to get one. (This has worked primarily because travel from Northern Ireland to the mainland has always been fast and cheap: but it’s certainly an added cost and trouble.) Forced-pregnancy terrorism has never taken off in this country, unlike in the US: the “pro-lifers” have stayed, in general, within the law.

But we shouldn’t have to run so fast to stay in place. This is a victory for common sense and women’s rights: but it’s a victory in a campaign we shouldn’t have to have. Cardinal O’Connor claimed to be terribly concerned about the number of abortions taking place in the UK: but his claims were bogus, since he was not attempting to encourage the widespread availability or use of contraception, nor was he advocating better sex education in Catholic schools and free availability of contraception for boys and girls via the school nurse at Catholic schools. (In fact, Cardinal O’Connor has done his little best to encourage more abortions and more late-term abortions via the hospital of which he is patron, by forbidding even the provision of advice on contraception or abortion at that hospital. His very own little gag rule!)

What we need is decriminalisation of abortion. We need to end completely the notion that a woman making medical decisions in consultation with her doctor is subject to state regulation of her uterus.

Join the Pro-Choice Majority.

(You can read all debates and see who voted which way here: TheyWorkForYou: debates 20th May 2008. I’m pleased to say my MP voted the right way every time and I’m thinking of sending him 20 Fairtrade roses.)

May 20, 2008

A human marriage and a card marriage and a loving marriage

George Takei on human marriage:

The California Supreme Court has ruled that all Californians have a fundamental right to marry the person he or she loves. Brad and I have shared our lives together for over 21 years. We’ve worked in partnership; he manages the business side of my career and I do the performing. We’ve traveled the world together from Europe to Asia to Australia. We’ve shared the good times as well as struggled through the bad. He helped me care for my ailing mother who lived with us for the last years of her life. He is my love and I can’t imagine life without him. Now, we can have the dignity, as well as all the responsibilities, of marriage. We embrace it all heartily. (updated from Takei’s blog)

Orson Scott Card on card marriage:

In the first place, no law in any state in the United States now or ever has forbidden homosexuals to marry. The law has never asked that a man prove his heterosexuality in order to marry a woman, or a woman hers in order to marry a man.

Any homosexual man who can persuade a woman to take him as her husband can avail himself of all the rights of husbandhood under the law. And, in fact, many homosexual men have done precisely that, without any legal prejudice at all.

Ditto with lesbian women. Many have married men and borne children. And while a fair number of such marriages in recent years have ended in divorce, there are many that have not.

So it is a flat lie to say that homosexuals are deprived of any civil right pertaining to marriage. To get those civil rights, all homosexuals have to do is find someone of the opposite sex willing to join them in marriage.

In order to claim that they are deprived, you have to change the meaning of “marriage” to include a relationship that it has never included before this generation, anywhere on earth.

Mildred Loving on loving marriage:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people civil rights.

May 3, 2008

Turn again, Boris, Dickhead of London

Nearly three years ago, when I was posting on Liberal Street Fighter, I did three posts in one day about the events of 7th July 2007, and a followup post the next day. (Hint: the post that refers to “my wife Hope” – is not me. I do not have a wife.)

It probably is time Ken Livingstone quit being Mayor of London, splendid though his record’s been: eight years is long enough.

Brian Paddick would have been a better choice, though. Anyone would have been a better choice than Boris Johnson. There’s a PDF here – a report from Compass – that shows the real Boris Johnson, not the clown who is quite funny on Have I Got News For You, not the floppy-haired buffoon, but the hard right-winger.

There’s a thumbnail sketch of his politics after the LJ-cut, but more to the point: Boris Johnson won the election as a George W. Bush clone – as a good bloke who means well and is a bit thick, does it matter? A lot of people also probably voted for him because they would have voted for any Tory: some may have voted for him because they’re homophobic (Brian Paddick is gay: Ken Livingstone is strongly supportive of equality for LGBT people).

Boris Johnson’s qualifications for being Mayor of London are his past experience being an MP and running a weekly magazine. Oh, and he does well on talk shows.

Ken Livingstone was a great Mayor. The best anyone can hope for Boris Johnson is that no disaster happens while he’s in office, and that he is not able to put his political goals into practice while running London.


May 1, 2008

Using Up My Five Minutes of Blogging Time To Complain About Other Blogs

Once upon a time, the reason for reading American political blogs was that they were substantially different from American mainstream media.

This has not been true of many right-wing blogs for some time, which more and more simply seemed to chorus together whatever party line was coming out of the White House.

But it was still true of many blogs, some on the right, many on the left, lots which were neither typed as “right” or “left.

Sadly, it no longer seems to be the case. What the mainstream media is paying attention to is apparently what is deemed to be important, so what <I>is</I> the point of reading blogs rather than reading mainstream media?

This primary would have been a great opportunity to examine the real differences between Clinton and Obama: substantive reasons, rather than trivial ones, why someone might decide they preferred one over the other.

Instead, as one would expect, the mainstream media and the Republican campaigners had a long, happy time circulating nasty nonsense about either or both, and as I certainly didn’t expect, the left-wing blogosphere happily took up the lead the mainstream media and the Republican campaigners had given them and ran with it.

For large chunks of time, I won’t be able to be online in May. Once upon a time, political blogs would have been an excellent way to pick up in summary the recent and most important news. Now? Might as well switch on CNN 24.

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