Why women are banding together to #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt
Screengrab from “Good Girls Revolt.” Credit: Amazon.
Spoiler: At the end of episode 10 in “Good Girls Revolt,” the women staffers at “News of the Week” file a sex discrimination complaint against their employer.
Actually, that’s not a spoiler. It’s history, fictionalized.
“Good Girls Revolt” is a drama based on the true story of 46 women who sued Newsweek for sex discrimination. In 1970, women were only allowed to work as “researchers” for the male reporters at the magazine. Their lawsuit inspired several similar actions at outlets like The New York Times and catalyzed industry-wide changes.
The first season of “Good Girls Revolt” is currently streaming on Amazon Video. In November, I attended an NPR-hosted screening of the pilot episode at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. A panel discussion afterward featured four cast members, as well as Lynn Povich, who was one of the Newsweek women in the and who also wrote a book about the experience, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the ACLU lawyer who represented the women in the lawsuit.
During the panel, these six women talked about historical biases in journalism, contemporary sexism in Hollywood, and the lessons to take from “Good Girls Revolt.” Coming just days after our country failed to shatter its highest glass ceiling in politics, the conversation felt both poignant and necessary.
Here are a few of the key takeaways from the night:
Sex discrimination cuts across media industries
In my undergraduate journalism classes, the topic of gender came up exactly once. A classmate asked our professor — a woman with a long career at a national newspaper — how sexism affects women journalists today.
“That’s not an issue anymore. We already dealt with that when we were the first women in newsrooms,” our professor replied.
That was in 2007. To a degree, I see where she’s coming from. The women of Newsweek and other outlets fought for real and systemic changes, from which my generation benefits. Many of my older female colleagues have stories from two decades ago that I can’t imagine happening today.
Yet, in a year that included Fox News CEO Roger Ailes resigning amid accusations of rampant and long-term sexual harrassment of at least 20 women, I wonder if my professor would respond to the question differently.
Gender bias, whether overt or subtle, is certainly not dead — at news outlets or in other media industries. At the Newseum, the “Good Girls Revolt” actresses connected the show’s themes to their own experiences in Hollywood.
Anna Camp spoke about the way her character, Jane, declines repeated, unwanted advances from male coworkers with a smile. Camp frequently must do the same with male costars.
Erin Darke described the demoralizing recent experience of auditioning for a character whose sole description was “the hottest physical therapist on the planet.”
For each dilemma one actress raised, the others had their own stories to share. In that regard, the panel mirrored the consciousness-raising meetings shown in “Good Girls Revolt,” during which the characters discuss their mistreatment and decide to band together for change.
There’s strength in numbers
The need for women to band together is perhaps the most important message of the show and the history it represents. According to Norton, the women of Newsweek in 1970 were cream-of-the-crop college graduates who were supposed to be happy just to get in the door at a major magazine.
“It took courage for the Newsweek women to talk among themselves,” she said. What made their risk possible was “the notion of strength in numbers.”
Norton underscored her point by addressing Angelson, who had spoken earlier about being groped on an airplane that week: “What are you supposed to do, just jump up and (take him on) by yourself?”
“I did. I confronted the man,” replied Angelson.
“Good for you,” said Norton as the crowd cheered. “But the problem with that approach is that’s exactly how you’re going to leave it in place. … I have no advice for how to make something of this as a group, but I can tell you, if you want to deal with it one by one, prepare to deal with it until you’re too old so they won’t grope you anymore.”
Povich said she and the other women of Newsweek benefitted from witnessing the successful organizing that happened during the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s movements in the 1960s. After her book came out in 2012, young women reporters told Povich they were envious of the sense of sisterhood that her generation held but they felt had since disappeared.
“When you’ve been raised and told that you can do anything, you can be anything, it means that you alone are responsible for your success or failure,” Povich said.
Darke noted that she is working to rid herself of a feeling of competition with other women. “The sense of community amongst women is something that our generation needs to recapture. We have such a bigger fight,” she said.
When the event ended, my two friends and I headed to a bar. None of us were drinking that night, but our conversation was permeated by the sense of sisterhood that Povich and Darke spoke to. The topics ranged from frustrating workplace experiences to joy over our favorite female-centered comic books. As various types of media makers, we contemplated what contribution we want our work to make in society.
That’s a conversation I want to keep having, but I know this: stories about a group of women fighting for change are rare in media, and especially on TV. Unfortunately, “Good Girls Revolt” might not be a counterexample for much longer. Amazon recently cancelled the series, despite its popularity with audiences and critics. Fans are mounting a campaign to get the show picked up by another network or streaming service, using the hashtag #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt.
Perhaps, through strength in numbers, they will keep the revolt alive.
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