Feminism in 'The Post'
Warning: This article may contain spoilers for the film 'The Post'.
The Post is a wonderful historical film that depicts the events leading up to and the case of New York Times Co. v. United States. The film discusses the authority of the government, freedom of the press, and the reasoning behind the Vietnam War and I would argue a lot can be learned from this film on this specific case in American history, the era's atmosphere, and its secrets. The audience is also granted legitimate Nixon audio, providing his paranoia and lust for authority. But there is one other aspect which people have not noticed, and this could be due to the fact it is not spelled out completely or not marketed. The Post is feminist.
The first big reason The Post is inherently feminist is the casting and top billing of Meryl Streep. Today you see her more in the news for her political comments and statements, rather than her Hollywood career. Streep plays Katharine Graham, the owner and publisher of The Washington Post. The film follows Katharine in trying to take the paper public as print began its slow demise in the seventies. The problem is that the investors Graham has to sell to is a boys club.
Graham has a speech ready for the investors when the day comes, but cannot deliver it and instead her second hand, a male, delivers it. Prior to this scene, there is an interested shot of women waiting outside the room, and one can assume it is the daughters, wives, or girlfriends of the men—the investors and chairs of The Washington Post. Women all wait in the other room while the men go off to discuss business, yet Katharine is the only woman to enter the room. When the discussion is over, she is not the first to leave the room, which is an important point later on.
In the film, there are talks about the notion of a woman leading the company, which Arthur Parsons mentions a few times. Parsons even makes note in how the company was owned by Katharine’s father, and was then passed on to her husband. Yet when her husband died, she inherited the company from him due to his will, and Parsons notes the “kind of man” Mr. Graham was for doing this. He says nothing more than this, but we know what he means. Essentially, Parsons is commenting on how unorthodox it was for Graham to allow his wife to run a company.
Katharine notes how everyone refers to her husband’s death as an “accident", when she clearly knows it was not so and she feels as if people cannot come to terms that the man willingly killed himself. I disagree, however; it’s a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that Katharine only got control of the company purely by accident. Yes, a woman is the owner and publisher now, but she did not choose this job—she only obtained it via an accident. Hence, her role is hardly legitimate to them and in the men's corporate world of the seventies, a female boss was too emasculating for them.
As the movie progresses, Katharine has to deal with the choice of publishing The Pentagon Papers or not. She has her team of men all pushing against publication and in addition to this her friend, and former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNarama (played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood) is also asking not to publish them. However her editor, Ben Bradlee, strongly argues for publication and in the end, she decides to publish them. Katharine identifies as a mother whose son was sent off to a pointless war, though luckily returned home. But she knows plenty of other sons who left and didn't return, resulting in grieving mothers. She publishes the papers in defiance as both a mother and a patriot.
After the Supreme Court comes to its decision, she leaves the court with all of the men in tow—a sharp contrast to the earlier scene. She is even greeted by many young women on the steps and this time, they are not the glamourous women of older, wealthy husbands. This time, they are middle class women, students, and activists. Katharine took a stand in a room dominated by men, and there are women outside looking to raise their voice against the corrupt patriarchy of the Nixon Administration. They are not the silent voices of domesticated women, and when asked if she wants to give a few words to the press, she states she said everything that needs to be said. The New York Times gives some comments, fulfilling the ever-going male ego in front of the camera.
By the end of the film we come to realize it was a woman who took her family’s local newspaper public. It was a woman who defied Nixon’s Attorney General and published The Pentagon Papers. And it was a woman who was willing to bet it all on a greater cause.