Here at BUST, we are all women in journalism. As an experienced intern with a journalism degree, I’m used to seeing both classrooms and newsrooms full of driven, talented women. It seems only natural that I–and my female classmates and co-workers–belong in this field: we’re ambitious, capable, and damn good at what we do.
It’s startling to realize that it would have been near-impossible for young women like us to break into journalism in the 60s or 70s. Until the 1970s, rampant discrimination kept women out of the newsroom.
The Good Girls Revolt: How The Women Of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses And Changed The Workplace tells the story of a landmark discrimination case against Newsweek that led the way in opening newsrooms to women.
"When Newsweek published a cover on the new women’s movement on March 16, 1970, forty-six staffers announced we were suing the magazine for sex discrimination." Cover photo credit: Richard Lev
It started at Newsweek. When author Lynn Povich joined the magazine in 1965 as a secretary, women – no matter how talented, experienced, or educated – could be fact-checkers or researchers but not writers or reporters. Female journalists were told, “If you want to be a writer, go somewhere else – women don’t write at Newsweek.” Of course, it wasn’t just Newsweek – aspiring female journalists found insurmountable barriers at almost every publication.
Eventually, the Newsweek women had had enough: it was time for things to change. Lynn Povich and forty-five of her female coworkers announced an EEOC complaint charging their employer with “systematic discrimination” against women – the very day Newsweek ran a cover story on the feminist movement called “Women In Revolt.”
"When Judy Gingold learned that the all-female research department was illegal, she enlisted her friends Margaret Montagno and Lucy Howard [pictured] to file a legal complaint." Credit: Newsweek—Bernard Gotfryd
It was the beginning of a long battle for equality, not just at Newsweek, but in journalism as a field. Povich writes of other sex-discrimination cases, most notably at The New York Times, and chronicles changing laws and attitudes over the years. She makes it clear that the battle still isn’t over.
As a female journalist, feminist, and former teacher’s aide for a journalism history course, I was astounded that I had never heard of the Newsweek case. I’m not alone: Povich’s prologue tells of three modern-day women reporters at Newsweek who, wondering why they weren’t getting promoted over less experienced male colleagues in late 2009, decided to research the Newsweek case. They found next to nothing online and had to go straight to the sources: the women who sued Newsweek in 1970, including Povich, who was already working on this book. (They published their story, “Are We There Yet?”, on the fortieth anniversary of the case in March 2010).
"We signed our agreement on August 26, 1970, the fiftieth anniversary of the suffrage amendment (seated clockwise from top left: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Oz Elliott, Kay Graham, Kermit Lansner, Roger Borgeson, Rod Gander, me, Mariana Gosnell, Lucy Howard, Madeleine Edmondson, Fay Willey, Judy Gingold, and Mel Wulf from the ACLU)." Credit: Newsweek—Robert R. McElroy
Povich’s testimony is important, her writing is both informative and entertaining, and her research is impeccable – she tracked down and interviewed dozens of her former colleagues, as well as important feminists and women writers of the 1960s and 70s, including Gloria Steinem and Nora Ephron.
However, Povich remains something of a “good girl” in the way she glosses over difficult subjects: she’s quick to excuse male bosses and colleagues who fought against equality in journalism, and reluctant to explore sensitive issues such as race relations (the black women who worked at Newsweek decided against joining the white women in the lawsuit) and tensions within the women’s movement.
"I was the only woman writer at the time of the suit (with designer Halston and Liza Minnelli in 1972)." Credit: Newsweek
With The Good Girls Revolt, Povich re-tells a piece of history that should never have been forgotten. In fact, “forgotten” may be too weak a word – “purposely neglected” may be better. As Povich reminds us, sexism in journalism still isn’t over; for example, women still write only 20% of opinion pieces and 11% of hard-news articles.
After the discrimination case, Povich became a respected journalist and Newsweek’s first female senior editor. “In telling our history,” she writes, “I hope our daughters come to understand that sisterhood is powerful, that good girls can revolt, and that change can – and must – happen.”
I agree. And let’s remember that the revolution is not just for “good girls,” but for “women in revolt” as well.