Friday, November 11, 2016

Good Girls Revolt, A Book that Raises a Question

Product DetailsAs people around the world pondered and attempted to analyze what just happened in the United States on Tuesday, November 8th, I was beginning a new book by journalist Lynn Povich ( that drove home to me, once again, what I see as a serious problem in our country. Women are still too reluctant to support other women.

"The Good Girls Revolt, How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace," is a true story about a class action lawsuit that was brought by the fiery and formidable Eleanor Holmes Norton, then assistant legal director at the ACLU, on behalf of the female employees at Newsweek Magazine, the first of its kind. I was just graduating from college in 1970 when this all began and I admit to being totally oblivious. But I'll excuse myself by saying that I didn't have access to the constant barrage of 24/7 news feeds or women's studies programs that are prevalent now. Two generations of young women have reached adulthood since the women's movement began and I worry that too many of them either take all the work that's gone before for granted, or don't realize how close they may come to losing it all.

The ladies at Newsweek, graduates of the finest colleges in the country, were hired as fact-checkers, entry level positions that many of them assumed would get them in the door. Then they would be able to showcase their true talents, writing and reporting on the news of the world. Instead they were bypassed by young men with equal or lesser skills who steamrolled their way to important positions in the company. Newsweek was owned by the Washington Post company which, in turn, was led by Katherine Graham, the first female executive of a major news organization, a woman who was sadly unaware of the discriminatory treatment of her own female employees.

These women were in the vanguard of the movement. It took courage to secretly plan the suit, carefully choose whom to trust, realizing that they could possibly lose their jobs, and would certainly be retaliated against. Ms. Povich was a signatory to the lawsuit but she gives a clear-eyed account of all that happened, giving credit to the men who stood behind their co-workers, and calling out those who stonewalled. Though Norton won the case for the women, two years later very little had changed.

Well regarded writers like Nora Ephron, Jane Bryant Quinn, and Ellen Goodman had moved on to other venues where they found better options for advancement. Those who stayed continued to push for writing opportunities, eventually having to bring another suit in 1973 to force the Newsweek administration to prove that they were actively soliciting female editors. At the same time, the Post organization was under an edict to hire more minority professionals. I've always thought it a shame that the Black Power Movement and the Women's Movement couldn't have joined forces to advance their outcomes. It seems that a lack of trust and an every man (sorry) for himself mentality prevailed.

Which brings me back to the election of 2016. The latest statistics tell us that 53% of women in the United States pulled the lever for Donald Trump. How can that be? Of course I'm not saying that we should vote with our vaginas as Susan Sarandon quipped, but come on. It is doubtful that, in my lifetime, we will have another candidate as qualified to lead our country as Hillary Clinton. Many of Bernie's younger supporters said, "she comes with too much baggage." Well, hell yes, she comes with baggage. You can't become a leader without putting yourself on the line, again and again. She had some spectacular successes and some flaming failures. In other words, she was tested.
"The Good Girls Revolt" should be added to college reading lists in journalism and gender studies. It reminds us that only forty years ago women were relegated to getting the coffee, expected to endure outrageous sexual harassment, released from their jobs for getting married or pregnant, and were not allowed to even hold credit cards in their own names. We may have come a long way baby but believe me, we're not there yet.

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