Monday, September 17, 2012

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich
Published by PublicAffairs ISBN 978-1-61039-713-3
Hardcover $25.99

My sons like to tease me and call me a feminist (yeah, they don't get it), a badge I proudly wear, so I was surprised that I knew nothing about the revolt by the women working at Newsweek magazine, who in 1970 brought a complaint to the EEOC against the magazine charging discrimination against them in hiring and promotion practices.

Lynn Povich, a writer who worked at Newsweek and was part of the suit, brings the story to life in The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women at Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace. The women were employed at the magazine as researchers, but were never promoted to writer or editor, even though they had similar education and experience as the men hired as researchers and quickly promoted to writer and editor.

Nora Ephron, who worked at the magazine, described the "caste system"
"For every man there was an inferior woman, for every writer there was a checker", said Nora Ephron. "They were the artists and we were the drones. But what is interesting is how institutionally sexist it was without necessarily being personally sexist. To me, it wasn't oppressive. They were going to try to sleep with you- and if you wanted to, you could. But no one was going to fire you for not sleeping with them."
Mad Men's Madison Avenue offices weren't the only places where sex and booze ruled the workplace.

Povich is an excellent writer, and parts of this book, especially where the women were secretly meeting and trying to recruit other women to join the suit, read like a tense spy novel. Will they get caught?

They hired a young and pregnant Eleanor Holmes Norton to represent them. "The editors, who had supported the struggle for civil rights, were completely baffled by this pregnant black woman who questioned their commitment to equality."

The male editors, some of whom seemed like great guys, just didn't get it. What was worse in many of the women's eyes, was that Katherine Graham, who owned The Washington Post and Newsweek, didn't get it either. There is a powerful scene where Graham meets with the women and appears baffled by their action.

Along with the historical context of this story, I enjoyed reading about the inner workings of the magazine. We had a subscription for many years, and I always turned to read Anna Quindlen's back page column first. I had no idea that the struggle for equality there was so recent.

I recognized so many names in this book- Qunidlen, Ephron, Eleanor Clift, Jane Bryant Quinn and Maureen Orth among them. But it is the names that I didn't know, they are the important names, the ones who laid it all on the line so that the above mentioned women would be well known. Women like Povich, Pat Lynden and Lucy Howard paved the way for the other women with this lawsuit.

This book is essential reading for all young women starting out in the workplace. They must know who fought the battles for them so that they have the opportunities now available to them. The women of Newsweek are heroes, and I think that this book would be perfect for a high school or college journalism curriculum. I was also lucky enough to meet Ms. Povich at this year's Book Expo America, a true honor.

rating 4 of 5

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