Balkinization  

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ms. Goodling defnes herself

Sandy Levinson

A New York Times editorial on Ms. Goodling quotes from her testimony: “At heart, I am a fairly quiet girl, who tries to do the right thing and tries to treat people kindly along the way." It would, of course, be interesting to know if those who have had contact with her at the DOJ, including the fired US Attorneys, have found her all that "kindly," and it seems obvious that she strayed from her presumptive desire "to do the right thing." But what I find most interesting is this extremely ambitious 33-year-old's description of herself as a "girl." In my previous post, I took note of the various stereotypes, invidious and otherwise, invoked by Ms. Goodling's appearnce and career. Are we supposed to be more generously disposed to her than, say, to Kyle Sampson, her partner in presumptive illegality (whether or not, technically, "criminal misconduct"), because she's just a "girl," whereas he's a "man"? (Can anyone imagine him, or any other male witness, for that matter, describing himself as "a fairly quiet boy"?) We also know that she apparently broke down crying in one of her superiors' offices. No doubt this happened, but is this supposed to establish that she's "suffered enough" and that adults in the House and Senate, whether male or female, should simply pull their punches with regard to this "girl"?

Perhaps it's unfair to castigate Ms. Goodling for her use of this one word, but I do fine it passing strange. Frankly, I don't know any 30-something females who refer to themselves as "girls" instead of "women." (And I'm positive that law professors would be castigated if they were heard referring to their female students as "girls," especially since it's unthinkable that the same law professors would refer to their male students as "boys.") However, I do note that the New York Times, among other venues, has recently referred to Paul Wolfowitz's "girlfriend." (Other stories have referred to his "companion," which, frankly, seems both more dignified and more accurate.)

Comments:

Why when someone talks about their behavior as benevolent do we accept it?

The phrase "along the way" is a dead giveaway, she means "along my way", as in I'm passing you by, I'll smile a little at you without too much openly expressed contempt. Hopefully those along my way will feel that they have received something by watching me pass by.

Regardless of what they get, I'm passing them by, they are along my way, not important enough to be in my way.

It is a deeply corrosive thought: passing though the wastelands of ancient ways of doing stuff, how quaint.

Those were the days...
 

Nitpick

I'd say in modern language "girl" is used appropriately for females to a later age than males, probably due to the lack of an informal noun for 20s/30s females - males have "guys", and you'll hear people referring to "guys and girls"

Note - yes, there's "gals", but it has too much southern twang to it to have the same popularity in usage

That said, I'd probably agee that a 33-year old highly-professional female wouldn't tend to refer to herself as a girl
 

I agree with the second comment, but I'd add that the interesting question is then why girl has taken on this broader meaning while boy has not. Perhaps it's because of underlying assumptions regarding gender (girls remain "girls" for longer, whereas boys move on to "guys" and then "men"), but I'm not sure.
 

What is it with these weeping Republicans - first we had John Roberts' wife, then we had Scooter's wife and then in walks Monica. She was so manicured yesterday to replicate Alice in Wonderland it was startling, I expected her to put a white rabbit on the table at any minute. She exuded a perfectly contrived purity and innocence where she even delicately dipped her toe into the water to test being victimized a couple of times. Her 'not meaning to cross the line' responses MIGHT have worked as student body president but for her to even utter those words to reflect her actions while under the roof of the DoJ were hideous. I came away thinking it was a ruse to make the Dems look like Big Bad Wolves terrorizing the Rep sweetheart.
 

Although not a fan of overanalyzing inherently imprecise human speech, I see support for Prof. Levinson's inference of ulterior motive in Ms. Goodling's non-use of the seemingly more natural "person". It may be the influence of PC or reluctance to appear as faux-macho, but I can't imagine self-describing myself as a "man" except in some biological context, and "boy" unfortunately became inapplicable half a century ago.

Re "girlfriend", I'd give the Times a pass since there seems to be no totally satisfactory alternative: "partner" is IMO simply misusage of a word with well-established meaning; companion sounds like an escort; "posslq" was awkward, too narrowly applicable, and for whatever reasons didn't fly. My preference is for "friend" in casual social interactions where the degree of intimacy is irrelevant (and no one's business), which leads naturally to "X-friend" in those situations in which one wants to convey some degree of intimacy. X="man" or "woman" is impossibly awkward, which leaves "boy" or "girl". I refer to my sis-in-law's nearing-60 live-in as her "boyfriend" and it's quite natural for me.

It appears that there really is no preferred alternative; if there were, the issue wouldn't arise because by now it should be the common usage.

-Charles
 

I think it's fairly common for mature (and by that I mean people > 30) individuals to refer to others as "boys" or "girls," as in: "I'm going out with the girls tonight," but not themselves.

I view Goodling's use of the word as an attempt to deny responsibility for her actions by seeing herself in puerile terms.
 

"girl" seems infantile, I agree. But "girlfriend" is used because we don't have a better term for "female that he or she is having sex with but who is not his or her wife". So it applies to all ages.
 

Yes, we use "girlfriend" (and "boyfriend") regardless of age because there is no adequate substitute for them. The alternatives like "partner" and "companion" do not necessarily indicate a romantic relationship.

Ms. Goodling's use of "girl" was no doubt calculated to draw sympathy. Referring to herself as "a fairly quiet woman" just would not elicit the same reaction. Perhaps she used "girl" on advice of counsel.

We've all heard men, sometimes of a fairly advanced age, refer to themselves as "just a good old country boy," usually in an effort to draw warmth, sympathy or understanding. Sometimes they even get it. And women sometimes say they are "a country girl."
 

I think the use of "girl" was a calculated effort to duck responsibility.

And look at the subsequent "I didn't MEAN to" violate the law, even though I well knew I was doing that at the time. Another instance of "I'm too yound to understand the complicated consequences of my actions."

Women could better evaluate that element of her performance, as they have direct insight into those sorts of games. Have we yet seen any of the "fairer sex" (sarcasm) weigh in on this?
 

While playing the testimony on c-span, I noticed that Goodling does not actually say "I am a fairly quiet girl...". She says, "I am a fairly quiet person," despite the fact that her submitted written testimony did use the word "girl". So I think its a bit unfair to highlight a phrase that while written, was not actually spoken - maybe it says something about the card her lawyer was trying play rather than herself.
 

There's another way to view her performance, that it's a genuine reflection of her professional behavior. If she was ill-qualified for the responsibilites of her position, as many in the press have alleged, maybe she knew it. It's conceivable that she was the exact same kind of shrinking violet on the job as she was before Congress. If your intention as a high-level administrator was to install people at DoJ who would meekly follow the politically-motivated dictates of bosses on high, isn't this exactly the kind of person you'd seek out precisely because of her meekness and malleability? Maybe we saw the real Monica Goodling as she carries herself every day.
 

"(Can anyone imagine him, or any other male witness, for that matter, describing himself as "a fairly quiet boy"?)"

I can quite easily imagine Alberto Gonzalez describing himself as "a fairly quiet boy." Then giggling.
 

There's another way to view her performance, that it's a genuine reflection of her professional behavior. If she was ill-qualified for the responsibilites of her position, as many in the press have alleged, maybe she knew it. It's conceivable that she was the exact same kind of shrinking violet on the job as she was before Congress. If your intention as a high-level administrator was to install people at DoJ who would meekly follow the politically-motivated dictates of bosses on high, isn't this exactly the kind of person you'd seek out precisely because of her meekness and malleability? Maybe we saw the real Monica Goodling as she carries herself every day.

# posted by Charles H. Schmidt : 6:50 PM

There have been comments from her co-workers that she was abrasive and arrogant. So her perforamnce before Congress might be something of an act.
 

Actually, and regrettably, these days it is common for 30-something females to refer to themselves and to their friends as "girls--maybe not while performing their professional roles, but socially---yes. Part of the rejection of the image of 1970's (their mothers')feminism--while holding onto the workplace benefits of that feminism.
Judi Lempert Green
 

Shannon Jensen offers something valuable, which is actual evidence. The Times, from which I drew my original posting, clearly relied on her written statement. I find it interesting that Ms. Goodling didn't stick to the script in her oral testimony. Although I don't suggest a separate congressional investigation :), I do wonder after the drafting of the written statement and if her canny lawyer persuaded her to use "girl," while her sense of professional decorum led her to use the far more appropriate "person."
 

""(Can anyone imagine him, or any other male witness, for that matter, describing himself as "a fairly quiet boy"?)""

"I can quite easily imagine Alberto Gonzalez describing himself as "a fairly quiet boy." Then giggling."

"# posted by rickhavoc : 7:24 PM"

I could describe myself as such, and quite sincerely, consistent with an actual "area" of feeling. Then again, when writing outside law, my endeavors are not restricted to the intellectual.

Perhaps that is in part because I am a "Feminist" who refuses to deny equality of "emotional rights" to myself.
 

I think the distinction is made most clearly when you think that men can have sex with girls, and refer to them as such, but gay men can only have sex with men. A woman can't have sex with a boy, either. But a man can get a girl to have sex with him. "How to get girls" ads aren't advertising pedophilia services.
 

I think Professor Levinson is being rather harsh.
 

And here's your update: "Goodling regularly asked candidates for career jobs: 'What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?'" according to an IG report released today.

She said what? Seriously? Regularly?

We just might just have a clue here how exactly Goodling defines herself. Perhaps as, oh, I don't know, George's slave?

It'd be funny except for the rest of it: "Monica M. Goodling and D. Kyle Sampson routinely broke the law" at Justice. I'm not laughing there.
 

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