We no longer have Mad Men to address the rampant workplace discrimination of the 1960s, but don't despair — Amazon Studios' new series Good Girls Revolt tackles the issue head-on and makes the topic its central focus. The series, which begins streaming on Oct. 28, follows a group of women at the fictional magazine News of the Week, who file a lawsuit in order to have the same opportunities as their male colleagues. At the magazine, women are permanently relegated to to the role of "researcher," and it's made clear to them that they'll never become staff writers. Although the magazine's name was changed for the show, it's based on actual events — so what happened in the real Newsweek lawsuit that inspired Good Girls Revolt?
Although elements of the series have been fictionalized, it's based on Lynn Povich's nonfiction book (also titled Good Girls Revolt) about her experience at Newsweek and her participation in the class action lawsuit that will be depicted in Amazon's series. In the book's official synopsis, it claims that women were lucky if they became reporters, let alone writers — and the role of editor was allegedly absolutely out of the question. So, what changed? Well, the women in question revolted by filing a lawsuit charging Newsweek with discrimination — and, by doing so, they paved the way for future women writers to have a fair shot at the jobs they deserve. Bustle reached out to Newsweek for comment on the original lawsuit and the show portraying it now, but has not yet heard back.
When Povich was named a junior writer at Newsweek, she was an exception — her female colleagues were primarily researchers. A recent Newsweek piece penned by a writer named Stav Ziv, who noted that 50 years ago, a man would have written the article, details the lawsuit and its impact on the media landscape. According to the report, 46 women sued Newsweek for gender discrimination in 1970 and Povich lead the charge of female staffers who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The demand for change was sparked when a researcher, Judy Gingold, learned through an acquaintance that the magazine was allegedly violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They found an ally in Eleanor Holmes Norton, the assistant legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union who now serves as Congresswoman in Washington D.C.
As quoted by The Washington Post, Holmes pointed out that "feminism was only beginning to be understood as a civil rights issue,” at the time of the lawsuit. According to the outlet, the plaintiffs held their meetings in Holmes' Upper West Side apartment and officially filed their lawsuit on March 26, 1970 — the very same day Newsweek's “Women in Revolt” cover issue was released. Several weeks later, the women reached a settlement with the magazine. Newsweek promised “substantial rather than token changes,” which meant that certain changes would be implemented, such as women being invited to editorial lunches and considered viable candidates for senior editor positions. However, the changes were allegedly insufficient and, although women were given the opportunity to write, they claimed that their work was rarely published.
According to the same Washington Post report, the ladies revolted once again in late 1972 and filed a second lawsuit, with more promising results:
This time they got Newsweek to make firm commitments. The magazine promised that by the end of 1974, one-third of the magazine’s writers and domestic reporters would be women and that by the end of 1975, one-third of the journalists hired as foreign correspondents or transferred into those posts would be women.
These concrete commitments resulted in some positive changes, and Newsweek finally felt the pressure to treat women equally. However, years of discrimination had damaged many women's confidence in the magazine's promise to treat them fairly — some of them even turned in their writing under pseudonyms because they were concerned it wouldn't be taken seriously if it was submitted with a woman's byline.
Massive strides have been made at that outlet and others since the lawsuit decades ago, but the issue of gender discrimination in the workplace remains depressingly relevant — even in 2016.
Images: Amazon Studios (3)