‘Gaslit’ Retells the Story of Watergate from an Unfamiliar Perspective


‘Gaslit’ reveals us the playbook for ladies with out entry to key energy networks exerting political affect. However it additionally exposes the potential pitfalls of these paths.

(Courtesy of Starz)

Like most of historical past, the Watergate scandal is often a narrative instructed by males, about men. However the brand new Starz present “Gaslit” chooses to retell the story from an unfamiliar perspective — recasting the narrative from the point of view of Martha Mitchell (as performed by Julia Roberts) — the Watergate whistleblower. 

When Martha, the spouse of Nixon’s lawyer basic John Mitchell, is transplanted from New York to DC, she finds herself on the fringes of the Nixon administration — however on the heart of the Watergate scandal.

We gained’t give any spoilers, however let’s simply say Martha isn’t the one girl concerned in exposing the reality. Does this depiction of girls in “Gaslit” simply reinforce drained stereotypes about ladies? Or is there one thing to the truth that it’s ladies who in the end modified the tide within the Watergate investigation.

Are Ladies Much less Corrupt?

It’s tempting to see this as a case of a morally upstanding girl, making an attempt to do the suitable factor and expose corruption regardless of all odds. That wouldn’t essentially be an incorrect characterization. However to cease right here actually misses the purpose. 

Ladies are much less more likely to be suspected of corruption. They’re much less more likely to have interaction in corruption. They could even be tapped to clean up after scandals. However this isn’t for the explanations chances are you’ll be pondering.

There’s no proof to recommend ladies are extra reliable. Among the many public, women at least should not extra more likely to view ladies politicians as extra trustworthy than males. For her half, Martha — depicted as a spotlight-hoarding, pill-popping, lush — hardly conjures up trustworthiness.

As a substitute, ladies usually tend to shy away from dangers — significantly when the specter of being caught is high. And since ladies are usually excluded from the highly effective male networks that facilitate corruption, they could have fewer opportunities to engage in malfeasance. For Martha, these explanations ring true.

For one, she thought her husband was being arrange as the autumn man. By all accounts she liked her husband, and her wellbeing is totally wrapped up in his. Protecting her mouth shut definitely appeared riskier than whistle blowing along with her husband’s popularity and freedom on the road. 

Maybe extra vital, she was clearly an outsider. At first it is perhaps exhausting to see Martha as marginalized — she’s wealthy, and intensely common. She’s showing on speak reveals and wanted for interviews. However, within the portrayal of Martha we get an archetype of girls as political outsiders — exhibiting how throughout the world of politics, they’re marginalized and have their credibility undermined in very gendered methods.  

And, it’s clear from Roberts’ portrayal that Martha feels this exclusion acutely. She remarks to a reporter she has been banned from Air Pressure One. She is stung by Pat Nixon scheduling an occasion to battle along with her personal and relegating her to a seat within the nook.

As soon as the scandal begins to unfold, the Nixon administration actively retains her at arm’s size with excessive measures. They detain her in a lodge room. Minimize her off from the skin world. And attempt to stop her from piecing collectively the Nixon marketing campaign’s involvement within the Watergate break-in.  

She is additional marginalized as her struggles with psychological well being are revealed,  her voice is relegated to less-serious information retailers, and counter-stories meant to discredit her achieve traction within the press. These ways work to sideline Martha, and ladies extra usually, due to the stereotypes we maintain about ladies as emotional and unfit for politics. 

Nonetheless on the Exterior?

In fact, in a 1970’s political drama, it could not appear shocking that girls must affect politics from the skin. Lots has modified since Martha Mitchell stood on the sidelines over 50 years in the past. However, quite a bit has stayed the identical.

It could be one other 20 years after Martha made her mark because the AG’s spouse earlier than the primary girl — Janet Reno — was appointed Lawyer Basic. Even at present, prestigious cupboard posts are nonetheless largely reserved for men.

Though a record number of girls serve in Biden’s Cupboard, solely two ladies have ever been AG. Janet Yellen is the primary girl Secretary of Treasury. And, the U.S. has by no means had a lady Secretary of Defense. Ladies are likewise dramatically underrepresented in congress.

When ladies do come to energy, they don’t usually hail from the identical backgrounds and circles of power as men.

Affect from the Exterior

When  ladies are marginalized, they will attempt to entry these networks to achieve affect of some sort. The AG’s spouse attempting to intrude in politics might conjure photos of Ginni Thomas, spouse of Supreme Court docket Justice Clarence Thomas, texting Mark Meadows in an try and intrude in U.S. Presidential elections. However, this isn’t precisely what we bear in mind.

Martha is scornful of her husband’s loyalty to Nixon, she empathizes with a reporter whose brother is in Vietnam. So what does she do? She makes networks of her personal, with actors who can problem public officers and probably maintain them accountable—the media. She does it by cultivating snug connections, cocktails and gossip over late night time calls with reporters. 

In a lot the identical approach that Martha finds unconventional methods to exert her political affect, when ladies politicians are ignored of “good ol’ boy,” networks they pursue their very own methods. Ladies politicians collaborate more frequently, set up unique networks, and supply extra legislative oversight than males. Because of this ladies usually deliver residence more funding, provide extra public goods, sponsor more bills, and have more success advancing their laws. 

The Martha Mitchell Playbook 

Simply as ladies in politics at present discover a option to exert their energy, the argument may be made that Martha was in the end  profitable. To wit: Nixon’s a lot later admission to interviewer David Frost that with out Martha Mitchell there would by no means have been a Watergate Scandal.

Primarily, then, Martha reveals us the playbook for exerting political affect with out entry to key energy networks. However, she additionally exposes the potential pitfalls of exercising these options. Ladies who should cope with being sidelined should additionally navigate the potential to be undermined once they do assert themselves.


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