In Another Woman’s Binder

It isn’t the point of this blog to comment on everything that happens, and I’m not touching the Petraeus side of this thing with anything shorter than the following hyperlink. While everyone is wringing their hands over the high-profile mistakes that have been made by men, let’s take a second to notice that the women here weren’t necessarily on the seducing side (isn’t that stuff usually mutual?) and might have stories of their own. Fascinating ones.

Fortunately for us, Paula Broadwell is in somebody else’s binder, where she talks about “having it all.” Just like General Petraus, she is an outstanding public servant who’s made a huge mistake that is costing her both personally and professionally. No doubt, thanks to the media, Petraus will come out relatively unscathed.

Not that I’m condoning what Broadwell did. I hate to see it happen, and it’s cases such as this one that cause nice people in traditional countries like Afghanistan to say, No way we’re letting our women go to work! Shoulder to shoulder with men? That can only end in dishonor. Our country’s still pretty traditional in that sense, too, and it’s a sad thing for all the talented women who want to serve it when a scandal breaks and all the closet misogynists can come out wringing their hands about the dangers of letting women hang around. It’s not quite as extreme as putting women in a burqa to protect them from men’s lustful eyes, but the thrust of the message is the same: Boys will be boys, oh, why can’t women see that and leave them alone! I’ve got an answer, and it’s an easy one: Because the women can’t have what the boys have unless they have the boys themselves. We won’t let them.

See, what I haven’t heard anyone talk about yet is that it’s probably less about sex than it is about power. Paula Broadwell, for all her service, her experience, and her obvious talent, was never going to get to be a general. She was navigating a culture that was as friendly to her as Sterling Cooper was to Joan Halloway, and she did pretty damn well for herself. Petraeus lived in a world where he always got his way. They probably would have been better off being with someone more like themselves in the first place. But you can’t get to be a general without a wife who stays at home to do the unrecognized labor of the military’s social and family life, and you can’t get to be a respected woman without a fancy home in the burbs and a couple of kids.

Two great citizens tried, and failed, to have it all. Once we’re done reproaching their otherwise phenomenal characters, we might step back and ask ourselves where it really all went wrong.

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