Monday, January 21, 2013

"The Good Girls Revolt" by Lynn Povich

Good Girls Revolt tells a story of the women's rights movement that I was unfamiliar with: the suing of Newsweek by many of its female employees in response to the newsmagazine's persistent discrimination. In particular, Newsweek hired almost no female writers and reporters, and women who were working in Newsweek were relegated to the research department and given almost no opportunity for advancement. Their lawsuit resulted in numerous meetings with management and slowly did result in increased opportunities and positions for women. In the book, Povich suggests that the Newsweek lawsuit helped instigate many others (at The New York Times, for example) and played a large role in the more equitable (though not fully so) journalism profession today.

At this point, anyone who reads my blog with any regularity must be bored of hearing me say that I'm bored with my reading. But, I am, and that extends to Good Girls Revolt, which is a well-research history (and the author, Povich, was one of the original plaintiffs) but also lacks much spark. Certainly I appreciated the look into sex discrimination in the journalism field and the way in which the women organized to bring their concerns to light. And I had no idea that Eleanor Holmes Norton, the D.C. congresswoman (whom I've met) was their first lawyer--I love the idea of the black and very pregnant Norton storming into the Newsweek editor's office. Povich also shows how, unlike some other cases, there didn't seem to be rampant retaliation for their lawsuit--instead, they found their attempts at change to be quietly stymied. The men weren't raving chauvinists, but neither were they willing to acknowledge their discriminatory attitudes and practices. Some interesting issues are raised but not discussed at length, including the black women Newsweek employees' decision not to join the lawsuit or the fact that some women were uncomfortable with the new opportunities once they were given them (showing that women's advancement needs to be legally and socially accepted in order for real progress).

In reading the "where are they now" bios at the end of the book about the original plaintiffs, I was struck by how many of the women who advanced hadn't married or had children. Without widely available childcare and without changes in the way we view mother and fatherhood, it's still significantly more difficult for women to advance in high-profile careers.

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