by Laura Sillerman | bio

It’s a country and western song with an international audience — and were it not for the guy with the morning radio show and the girls with the basketball and plenty of poise, it might have dominated the news like no banking story since 1929. "I did her right and now they’re doing me wrong," is how the lyric goes. 

The saga of Paul Wolfowitz and his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, has everything the media loves: a mighty man perched precariously close to his fall; a smart dame (Oxford educated, no less) who played dumb; and a connection to the current administration (he was nominated by the president, she works in the State Department and makes more money than Condoleezza Rice).

Much of the story has yet to play out. Why did he demand the right to maintain "professional contact" with Riza as a condition of his employment, for instance? Yet, much of it has been playing out for centuries.

This is the same-old, same-old of a woman relegating decisions about her future to a powerful man. Now she’s calling herself a victim after the results come home to roost.

In a memo to the investigating committee, Riza wrote: "I have now been victimized for agreeing to an arrangement that I have objected to and that I did not believe from the outset was in my best interest."

Interesting take on something you did anyway and have been doing for nearly two years. 

What it seems she did is step out of a job she liked and was good at in order to make way for her boyfriend’s ascent to a powerful and important position. Not so bad, though we wonder if a man would have done the same. She also seems to have agreed to a more than $60,000 raise for moving to another plum job. A temptation, probably, but a something she was forced to do? Not really. 

Office affairs go back to the time before typewriters, and as office affairs go, this wasn’t one. They are two single people who weren’t working together when it began. What remains the same is the gender issue. How many of us know women who left jobs they loved because the man with whom they were having an affair supposedly had the right to stay? How many of us would have felt it necessary to leave our jobs at the World Bank if our boyfriend were nominated to be its head and the rules forbade office romances?

There’s nothing wrong with sacrificing for the person you love. The head of the World Bank has the potential to right the wrongs of political and corporate expediency, easing hunger, creating economic independence for the poor, supporting health care around the world. Who among us wouldn’t want our beloved to have that chance?

Yet, I wonder: If she were the nominee and he were the high-level Bank employee, how would it have played out? Would he have agreed to move for her? Would she have made the contract demand? Would a deal be negotiated for an exorbitant pay increase? Would he, in these circumstances, write a memo calling himself a victim? 

To be a victim means having no say. Riza had a say and lost her voice. As women get older they tend to find their voices and shed their attachment to situations where they have little control. Let’s hope Riza moves on to where she understands she has a say in her future — and uses it.

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  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger April 17, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you, Laura, for clarifying this situation for your readers — and maybe for the players, too.