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.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] doesn’t want to believe it’s so, because that would mean that he had to believe that Plame had a career of her own independent of anything her husband did, and also of course because accepting the facts would mean he’d have to accept that in 2003, […]

    Pingback by How To Believe What You’re Told « Jesurgislac’s Journal — July 13, 2008 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

  2. […] – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by jazzmasterson on 2008-07-20 Feminism, the Patriarchy, and Parallel Paradigms https://jesurgislac.wordpress.com/2008/05/30/feminism-the-patriarchy-and-parallel-paradigms/ – […]

    Pingback by Bookmarks about Patriarchy — August 13, 2008 @ 6:45 pm | Reply


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