The Role of Women in Watergate

In Watergate, A Novel Thomas Mellon uses unusual characters to tell his story of the scandal, which allows readers to see how the events following the break-in impact the people surrounding Richard Nixon. Even more unusual is Mallon’s development of his women characters, because generally historical accounts of Watergate, or really any other event, pay very little attention to the women involved, if any.

One of the interesting things Mallon does is dig deeper into the life of Pat Nixon beyond just her role as the First Lady. I think that for the most part, with some exceptions, First Ladies are forgotten to history and American citizens overlook the difficulty of being in their position. As we see with Pat, she is not happy with Richard, which leads to her affair with Tom Garahan. However she only has a few minutes each day in which she can allow herself to be with him and release her inner desire while the rest of the time she has a duty to be at her husband’s side. The view into her life reveals just how straining it is to live in the White House as President and First Lady, especially in times of controversy. Away from the spotlight they are both human, and therefore risk falling prey to human weakness, especially in tough times. Even though the affair is fictional, it causes readers to look at Pat Nixon as more than just Richard’s wife, but as an individual with her own responsibilities and secrets.

In addition to Pat we also meet Rose Mary Woods, the deeply devoted personal secretary to President Nixon. History remembers her as the woman who accidently erased 18 and-a-half minutes of tape, which looked highly suspicious to the media and Nixon’s opposition. She is highly protective of the President, so it is generally assumed that she purposefully deleted a particularly exposing part of the tape in order to destroy the evidence. However, in Watergate, she deletes the tape because Nixon fails to defend her when talking to Haldeman, who claimed “I never wanted to solder myself to you like Rose.” (Mallon 283). Again, the novel’s version of what the tapes contained is not factual, but rather introduced to push the plot forward. However, I think it is important that Mallon chose to give Rose a personal motivation to delete the conversation because it introduces the importance of personality into the scandal. This book overall works to show its readers how not all actions are politically motivated, but rather that people of power are subject to emotions just as the rest of us are.

Overall I found that Mallon put effort into highlighting the importance of women such as Pat, Rose, and Alice, which I found to be very interesting. For the most part, the players who come to mind when remembering Watergate are Richard Nixon, his advisors, and the burglars themselves, all men. But as we see in the novel there are many moving parts that contribute to the scandal and the cover-ups, and the women play just as important a role as the men.

– Cole Robert

5 thoughts on “The Role of Women in Watergate”

  1. You are right to suggest that Mallon seems to purposefully choose to tell the story from an unusual perspective. We might fairly wonder why he does this. We would expect a novel on Watergate to focus on Nixon. It seems to me that the purpose in choosing more peripheral characters (though that probably doesn’t apply to Pat) to tell the story is to show how wide ranging the effect of Watergate were. It didn’t just bring down a president. The scandal would effect Pat, Rose and the other members of the administration as much if not more in the case of those who went to prison then it did Nixon

  2. Mallon definitely used the characters on the periphery to add a different dimension to the scandal. Often when events like this occur, people only focus on the atrocity and not really on the individual elements of it. By focusing on different people and the effects it had on them, it humanizes the scandal and puts it in a different perspective. The other people involved become a lot more endearing where they would have otherwise just been considered at fault.

  3. I agree with both of your main statements. More often than not women have been overlooked in the spectrum of the Watergate scandal. However, the inclusion of important women characters is sort of telling about Mallon’s book on the whole: He writes about the innumerable intricacies that went on behind the scenes to allow for the scandal to happen. A very interesting take I thought.

  4. I loved how Mallon wrote about the depth of each of his novel’s characters. Pat Nixon’s backstory especially was a great one because it really showed what it was like to be in the White House environment everyday at such an important and controversial time in our country’s history. It definitely seemed to take a toll on her, and Mallon did an excellent job of illustrating with this. I’m not sure Mallon really promotes the importance of woman in the Watergate scandal, but I liked that their roles in the debacle weren’t seemingly ignored or diminished.

  5. I think this novel is one of the few where we see what role women play in the society behind the scene.

    It seems like men rule and make decisions, but actually their decisions are very affected by the women they love.
    We saw that in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” too.

    Women have power, we just don’t realize how much it affects our decisions sometimes. In this novel women’s motivation is love to their husbands.

    It is not always love is a motivation, but fortunately for Nixon and other protagonists in this novel their women love them so much that could do anything to help them. And a great example of such dedication is Rosemary.

    Alex Gaysenok

Comments are closed.