Playing the “White Girl role”

Standard

Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick brilliantly deconstruct the testimony of Monica Goodling, a former attorney and assistant to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty in the Justice Department contretemps that has engulfed the Agency in the swirl of scandal over the political firing of 8 U.S. Attorneys.  They “go there” and call Goodling out and bust her chops for playing, what blackfolks term as the helpless, “white girl role.”

Women of color in particular, and black women especially, find this feminine B.S. infuriating.  White men, especially Republicans, fall for it every time.   Democratic Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Linda Sanchez cut to the quick with their questioning of Goodling last week as the above clip of Linda demonstrates. 

Bazelon and Lithwick elaborate in their Salon piece, “Monica Goodling and the “girl” card: Nobody seems to want to go there, so we will.”

“Let’s pretend for a moment that the world divides into two types of women: the soft, shy, girly kind who live to serve and the brash, aggressive feminists who live to emasculate. Not our paradigm, but one that’s more alive than dead.”

“When she was White House liaison in Alberto Gonzales’ Justice Department, Monica Goodling, 33, had the power to hire and fire seasoned government lawyers who had taken the bar when she was still carrying around a plastic Hello Kitty purse. Goodling, in fact, described herself as a “type-A woman” who blocked the promotion of another type-A woman basically because the office couldn’t tolerate infighting between two strong women. (“I’m not just partisan! I’m sexist, too!”) That move sounds pretty grown-up and steely. Yet in her testimony this weekbefore the House judiciary committee, Goodling turned herself back into a little girl, and it’s worth pointing out that the tactic worked brilliantly.”

“Look past Goodling’s long, silky blond hair, which may or may not have been a distraction. She’s entitled to have pretty hair. Look past her trembling hand as she swore her oath and the tremulous voice as she described her “family” at Justice. What really shot Goodling into the stratosphere of baby-doll girls were her own whispered words: “At heart,” she testified, “I am a fairly quiet girl, who tries to do the right thing and tries to treat people kindly along the way.” [Late-breaking discovery, courtesy of a sharp reader: Goodling used the word girl in the written rather than spoken version of her testimony.] The idea, of course, was to scrub away her past image as ruthless, power-mad, and zealously Christian. But—as professor Sandy Levinson noted almost immediately over at Balkinization—it was in calling herself a “girl” that the 33-year-old did herself a great favor. It was a signal to the committee that she was no Kyle Sampson. Or Anita Hill.”

“To be sure, plenty of twenty- and thirty- and eightysomethings refer to themselves and their friends as girls. Particularly when there are mojitos around. But they don’t often do so before the U.S. Congress. The same Goodling who once wanted to be powerful, so powerful that she refused to relinquish her power to hire and fire assistant U.S. attorneys even when she changed jobs at the Justice Department, painted herself as helpful and empathetic and out of the loop. She testified that the biggest and most important part of her job was hooking up employees with tickets for sporting events. The little matter of firing assistant U.S. attorneys was a minor extracurricular. She testified that she went to a Christian school because of her devotion to “service.” One half expected her to leap up out of the witness chair and start offering canapés to the assembled members of Congress.”

“And at the heart of Goodling’s ingénue performance? The astonishing claim that while she broke the law, she “didn’t mean to.” This is the stuff of preschoolers, not cum laude graduates of law school.”