“The Good Girls Revolt – How The Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Work Place,” by Lynn Povich, is a painstakingly researched story of one of the seminal events affecting the rights of women in the American work place in the early years of the women’s movement.
In March, 1970, 46 Newsweek women sued Newsweek Magazine for sexual discrimination in hiring and promotion. Charging that “there seems to be a gentlemen’s agreement at Newsweek that men are writers and women are researchers, and the exceptions are few and far between,” carefully and with resolve these women set out to do something that had never been done before – bring a class action civil rights suit against one of the publishing world’s juggernauts.
Katherine Graham, then the publisher of The Washington Post and President of the Washington Post Company (the parent company of Newsweek), when told of the lawsuit asked, “Which side am I supposed to be on?”
The 46 Newsweek women enlisted the legal counsel of the young firebrand attorney Eleanor Norton Holmes who successfully guided the suit to victory and opened not just the publishing business, but the workplace generally, to greater fairness and opportunities for women.
Lynn Povich was one of the ringleaders.
A disclaimer, Lynn is a friend. However, even if she were not, I would recommend this volume especially to young women who were born long after the struggles fought by their mothers and grandmothers. It is too easy to take for granted the opportunities available to women today even with the inequities without pausing to consider the scope of the suppression, humiliation and injustice suffered in the past (AMC’s “Mad Men” well describes the world in which Lynn and her colleagues struggled). For anyone 60 years and older, we remember those years pre-Feminine Mystique, pre-Newsweek women, pre-Roe v Wade. Much, thanks to Lynn, her colleagues and many others, has changed in the last 40 years, and this book enables us to take stock and be grateful to those women who stuck their necks out.
Lynn began as a secretary at Newsweek and within 5 years (after the lawsuit itself, revealing the good will of its top management) became the magazine’s first woman senior editor. In 1991 she left Newsweek to become editor-in-chief of Working Woman Magazine and managing editor/senior executive producer for MSNBC.com.
Lynn explains how these 46 women came to sue Newsweek and how they “conspired” in the Ladies Room out of fear of being fired.
Neither Lynn nor her colleagues were the stereotypical hard-edged, bra-burning, hard, man-hating women so often dismissed by Rush Limbaugh and company. To the contrary, Lynn and her colleagues were humble and self-effacing, often smarter and more talented than their male counterparts, who wanted Newsweek to be the progressive magazine it prided itself even then on being so they, based on hard work and talent, could progress.
Lynn told this story not only because the case the Newsweek women brought was historic (i.e. the first class action suit filed and won on behalf of women in the American workplace), but because still today there are inequities that need to be addressed, including equal pay for equal work and discrimination against women who choose to become mothers and work.
Lynn writes about the women’s lives (with their permission) who were at the center of this story and what happened to them since. She is candid about herself as well.
Lynn’s is a success story, but not all the 46 were successful despite their intelligence and talent. Plagued by prejudice and personal pressures, some became casualties after the struggle.
Lynn shows how changes in the law did not change everything, and she reflects on what needs still to be addressed if justice and fairness are to prevail.