Good Girls Revolt: Story of ’60s rebellion echoes today

Editor on October 27, 2016

If you think the conversation around gender politics is electric now, you should’ve heard it in the 1960s. Thanks to Lynn Povich, you can. A leader in the fight to end institutionalized sexism at Newsweek, Povich wrote an acclaimed memoir that has inspired the Amazon series Good Girls Revolt. Picking up where shows like Mad Men left off, The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace tells the story of women fighting to cover the biggest political and cultural news of the day, from Richard Nixon to the Rolling Stones. Povich assesses how far she and her fellow revolutionaries have traveled.

We were the polite “good girls,” raised in the postwar 1950s to believe a woman’s place was at home and by her husband’s side. But we came of age in the cauldron of the 1960s, questioning — and often rejecting — many of the values we had been taught.

When we realized that the system at our employer, Newsweek, was not only unjust but also illegal, we turned into revolutionaries. Newsweek, like its rival Time, segregated jobs by gender: Only men were hired as writers; women were hired as researchers — and they were rarely promoted. So on March 16, 1970, 46 of us filed a sex discrimination complaint against Newsweek, the first women in the media to do so.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do, nor was it an easy transition for us. With great trepidation, we sued our bosses while we were still working for them. And once they agreed to hire and promote women, we had to hold their feet to the fire. The struggle was personally painful and professionally scary. But it was the radicalizing act that gave us the courage to realize our ambitions. For me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Five years after we filed the complaint, I became Newsweek’s first female senior editor.


Author Lynn Povich in the Paris bureau of Newsweek, ca. 1965
Photo courtesy of Lynn Povich

We loved working at Newsweek. We simply wanted to make it better for women. Little did we know that we would inspire a fundamental transformation of our profession. After our action at Newsweek, women at Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, The Associated Press, NBC and The New York Times all followed suit. The impact was huge: Between 1975 and 1985, women in journalism — and in many other industries — moved into jobs we could have only dreamed about.

But we were naïve in thinking the world had really changed. Yes, there has been enormous progress for women in every sector of society. Women today have more opportunities and more laws supporting us. We are solidly in middle management and increasingly in senior management. Younger women are more confident, more career-oriented and more aggressive in getting what they want than most of us were.

But many of the injustices women face today are the same ones we fought against more than 40 years ago. Feminism still has work to do: Cultural transformation is much harder to achieve than legal reform.

Just look at the numbers: While women make up 43 percent of the nation’s full-time workforce, fewer than 5 percent of big-company CEOs are female. Congress is just 19 percent female, a figure that has inched up since a decade ago, when it was 15 percent. And we’re still not getting our fair share: Women working full-time today are paid about 78 cents for every dollar made by men.

Even worse is that many of the rights women fought for and won are now being rolled back, particularly reproductive and pregnancy rights. And cases of overt sexual harassment and assault — in sports, the military, the media and even in the current presidential campaign — are in the news every day.

When I wrote my book — the inspiration for the Amazon series — I considered our revolution an important footnote in the history of the feminist movement. I’m appalled that the issues are as relevant today as they were 46 years ago.

Still, there are lessons to learn from our experience. One is that we are all in this together. Women must see one another as compatriots who, together, can change the system and the culture. In our movement, sisterhood was powerful. It can be again.

And men must be part of the change. Most of our mentors at Newsweek were men, and even after we filed charges, many of our male colleagues helped us succeed. Today, when most families need two paychecks, men also have a big stake in changing the system. Younger men want to be far more involved in raising their children than my father’s generation was, and yet they, too, are penalized if they take family leave, go part-time or work flexible hours. In short, these are not just “women’s issues,” they are societal issues.

But while we haven’t come as far as we need to, progress is undeniable, and the conversations we’re having about everything from consent to corporate representation are more nuanced and fruitful than ever. But it helps, every now and then, to take stock of where we were. Good Girls Revolt may be a period piece, but trust me, the past isn't as past as we like to think.


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