Friday, December 9, 2016

The Good Girls Revolt - Lynn Povich

The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the WorkplaceOne of the newest Amazon series is Good Girls Revolt.  I started watching it recently, and immediately began to wonder what was the story behind it.  So I Googled, and it turned out that it was based off this book: The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich, which is about the women who worked at Newsweek in 1970 suing the magazine for discrimination based on their sex.  Though women worked at Newsweek, they were confined to low-paying and low-prestige roles, such as delivering mail, clipping articles from other publications, and checking facts in stories that (male) writers produced.  Unfortunately, this wasn't as riveting a story as I'd thought.

The thing is, the lawsuit wasn't really a lawsuit.  I mean, yes, a lawsuit was filed, several times, but the women kept dropping the suit and turning to arbitration with the management instead.  There isn't really anything interesting here, other than that it happened.  It's mostly just a bunch of negotiations, most of which didn't have any results and few of which had long-term results; in fact, the book starts off with a prologue featuring a few women who found themselves still facing discrimination in the 2000s!  Knowing that going into the story, it was a rather discouraging tale from the beginning.

There were two things I found interesting about this.  First, the exact form that it takes.  Lynn Povich was one of the women who worked at Newsweek and was part of the suit, and was actually the only female writer on the staff of the New York bureau when the conflict started.  Because of her personal involvement and her journalistic background, the book is half memoir, and half traditionally researched book.  While she relates her own experiences and memories of the events, she also makes sure to include plenty of quotes from interviews with the other parties involved, including the women, the management, and the lawyers.  The inclusion of all of these different perspectives helps to give a really cohesive feel to the book, even though it's quite short.  For example, she makes sure to include the women for whom the suit didn't work out, either because they ended up being punished for their daring, or because they didn't actually want to advance, and were happy in their pre-suit positions, but felt like they were being forced to advance so as not let down their fellow women.  The second part was that the first lawyer who took on the case was Eleanor Holmes Norton, who currently serves as the District of Columbia's representative to Congress!  (With limited powers because screw all of us in DC, right?  But still, pretty cool.)

The book finishes up with a rather cheesy "Where Are They Now" epilogue, which feels like it came off an entertainment news broadcast.  It definitely suited the 1970s Newsweek that Povich portrayed in her book.  Honestly, her portrayal of the magazine's atmosphere was probably the most vivid part of the book.  The descriptions of how people there interacted, how they behaved while waiting for the stories to come in--playing baseball in the hallways and having rampant affairs in the infirmary, for example--definitely gave a sense of time and place to the events in the book.  It's hard to imagine such an atmosphere anywhere and anywhen except at Newsweek in the 70s.  (In fact, a few people said that it wasn't like that, even at other magazines.)  But the story itself isn't interesting, even though the prologue hints that it's a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and essentially changed the workplace forever.  In fact, it wasn't like that at all, and I was left rather disappointed in the end.

Basically, if you're hoping for the drama of the Good Girls Revolt on Amazon, stick with the show.  The book is interesting if you're into feminist negotiations, but even for someone who's interested in law, it was rather a let down overall.

2.5 stars out of 5.

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