Playing the “White Girl role”

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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.”

11 thoughts on “Playing the “White Girl role”

  1. I am 15 and a white girl, but I’d rather be thought of as a teen or a blogger. In 5 years though, I will be a woman, and NOT a girl. And I won’t go in front of congress with my hair hanging in front of my shoulders like that either.

  2. rikyrah

    You are too funny, SB.

    I can always count on you.

    I watched a replay of her testimony because I had no choice; Mama had it on while I was preparing food for the holiday. Something was bugging me to no distraction about it, and you nailed it for me with this post.

    I don’t want to hear one more mumblin’ word about ‘unqualified minorities’.

    When would a Black person, from a 4th Tier Law School, EVER achieve a position like this, even if they worked until they were 70?

    Come on and be real.

  3. I’m glad someone else was disgusted with this chameleon behavior. Home sick from work, I decided to watch the whole thing on CSPAN. I got sicker. This BIMBO is supposed to be an educated lawyer who is on a political track and someday become a full partner in a prestigious law firm. Is this who the Justice Dept. hands the ax over to so they can distance themselves from the fall out? Oh My! Tsk Tsk. I’m justa girl …
    Great insight!

  4. It was truly sicking to see the white men (all republican of course) praise her over and over again. I think it was a shock to “miss thing”, that men of color didn’t fall for her act. They were all business. I guess blonde’s don’t always have more fun with all men.

  5. I can’t even blame white women for playing the white girl role at work, in love, at play because it works every single time.

    this kind of crap makes me so angry and how herders (this is what I call the men who fall for it) continue to embrace it is mindboggling.

    Needless to say
    when I don’t fall for it, I’m immediately deemed the enemy and/or difficult.
    (If only they knew how difficult I could truly be – smile.)

    At this point in my life I can’t be super objective about this type of game people play because I’ve been a victim of it too many times but I AM SO HAPPY THAT SALON RAN THAT ARTICLE.

    Because now I know I’m not crazy with a K!

    And you SB,
    you picked up on it right away…keep up the wonderful work.

  6. NMP

    SB, it’s called the Fawn Hall effect..it works every time. The other side of the coin is Anita Hill.

  7. L Yongo

    Let me tell you something this “powerless young white girl” had the right stuff for the political hacks. It is called gigantic ambition and the willingness to do anything to fulfill that ambition.

    I was given to understand the she was the last person to leave the DOJ offices and at age 33, she had no social life. She is a natural candidate for those with contempt for laws governing discriminatory practices in employment.

    The powerful people who gave this “girl” the hiring and firing powers at DOJ also offered her what they call plausible deniability, that is, away get out trouble should she be caught. This method works all the time and Miss Goodgling used it beautifully.

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