Newsweek published a cover story on the feminist movement entitled “Women in Revolt” in March of 1970. The day the issue was released, women employees at Newsweek filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC against the magazine. The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace (by Lynn Povich, PublicAffairs Books, September 2012) tells the story not only of the lawsuit but also its aftermath and shows how the Newsweek women’s actions and their complaint are still relevant today.
Povich describes the late 1960s and early 1970s at Newsweek, and credits the magazine with evenhanded reporting even as it began to express an opinion and take sides on issues such as civil rights and the war in Vietnam. While those in senior positions, such as Oz Elliott, worked to promote equality between races, equality of women was not part of the equation. So distinct was the divide between women’s rights and the civil rights movement, that no black women at Newsweek joined the forty-six white women who signed the lawsuit. Povich describes how, at the time, the black women identified more with race than with their gender. This divide is interesting given that it was Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act under which the complaint was made. Povich points out that this divide “was one of the chilling contradictions of the culture: advocating civil rights for all while tolerating—or overlooking—the subjugation of women.” Not all women at Newsweek supported the lawsuit. Not even all women at the magazine were privy to the details of the lawsuit before it was filed, either. Helen Dudar at first couldn’t understand her colleagues’ actions, as she did not consider herself a feminist.
Helen Dudar, who worked for the New York Post and was hired by Newsweek as a consultant to write the original article, couldn’t understand her colleagues’ actions, as she did not consider herself a feminist. Povich quotes Dudar, “I have spent years rejecting feminists without bothering to look too closely at their charges…It has always been easy to dismiss substance out of dislike for style.” This comment deserves further analysis, as later in the book, Povich describes how when the fortieth anniversary of the lawsuit approached, and an article about it was published at Newsweek, with writers commenting on what was accomplished and what remained to be accomplished, the feminist blog Jezebel reacted harshly to what was written. The writers felt attacked “from within” the current feminist tribe.
While Dudar may have rejected substance because she was put off by style, I believe this is true with what are considered “extreme” feminist publications today. Rather than attack one another for not being “feminist enough,” we need to rally around causes and issues. We may work to expand the issue or awareness without attacking the messenger or the style of the message. I don’t advocate herein for sugarcoating or taking the “good girl” approach to a brasher one. I am merely against infighting.
In light of the past several weeks of articles here at inContext that I’ve written, there is one quote I think is extremely relevant as we look at women in positions of power and how that changes things. Povich describes being approached by one of her writers when she was promoted to an editorial position. The writer, Ken Woodward, told Povich how he, at first, did not want to work with her and questioned her credentials. As he came to realize her talent and abilities, Woodward felt Povich’s presence actually humanized the work environment. He admitted to Povich that he previously claimed a doctor’s appointment if he wished to leave early to see his son’s baseball games. However, with a woman boss, he no longer felt the need to lie. Considering that this comment was made back in the 1970s, it is astounding to consider the implications of this today. The Good Girls Revolt is am important reminder of what has happened in the past forty years, even as it serves as a lesson about what work lies ahead of our society. As part of changing the rhetoric from things being “women’s issues” to being issues affecting everyone, I purposefully chose “society” versus claiming that changes in the workplace are needed specifically for women. Woodward’s desire to be an active father makes him an unwitting precursor to the current movement toward changes needed for families in how childrearing and work combine (or don’t).
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich will be available September 10, 2012 from PublicAffairs Books.
Kate Robinson, M.A. adult learning and development, is a Master’s in Social Work candidate at Bridgewater State University. She lives south of Boston with her family.
Kate enjoys writing, reading, collage and felting. She also works in medical education and as a counselor at a women’s health clinic.