Good Girls Never Stop Revolting

Lynn Povich speaking at Montclair State University. Photo Credit: Lise Raven

On Wednesday October 16th, dozens of Media students huddled around 2 clipboards, each of them searching through the pages to find their names, sign and get colloquium credit. In the middle of the waves of students, stood Lynn Povich, who had just spoken. With mini water bottle in hand, the silver-haired award-winning journalist has a bright smile and brighter eyes as she answers students’ questions. When a female student thanks her for her contribution to women’s rights, Povich smiles and looks close to tears.

Lynn Povich made history when, she and 45 other women at Newsweek, became the first women in media to file sexual discrimination against their employer in 1970. These 46 women became the first female class action lawsuit.

In 2012, Povich wrote a book about her journey, and called it Good Girls Revolt. Only 4 years later, Amazon Prime released a 10-part original series under the same name. The series is a fictional retelling of the women who changed journalism in America. When asked her inspiration for writing the book Good Girls Revolt, Povich said she just wanted people to know what happened. She did what every journalist wants to do, she wanted to tell people a good story.

Pre-case, women in media were not writers, nor were they reporters, they were researchers. While there’s nothing wrong with being a researcher, the fact was, regardless of education, qualifications, or anything really, women were researchers and only researchers with no opportunities or options.

Each of these 46 women made the decision to sue for different reasons. Some were ready to fight from the get-go, while others minds were changed only after certain circumstances. For Povich, the deal breaker was when their lawyer, Eleanor Holmes Norton pointed out that sexual discrimination was illegal.

Photo Credit: The Economist/Getty Images

Even though the Women’s Rights movement was in full swing, Povich points out that sometimes we become oblivious to the obvious.

“We all thought that was the way it was, the men bought it, but the women bought it too… (We) were (just) happy to have a good job in an interesting place… We somehow didn’t realize it applied to us,” Povich said.

Once you file a class action suit against an employer, you’re not allowed to get fired, but, if the employer finds out about the suit before it’s filed, you can be fired. Since our girls were confident if their plan was found out, they would be fired, they held their meetings in the ladies’ room. Povich recounts meeting each other at the sinks to discuss technicalities, this gives a whole new meaning to the perception of girls going to the bathroom in groups.

Because Newsweek was already known as a liberal paper, one supportive of the Civil Rights movement and against the Vietnam War, the women of Newsweek knew that any publicity would garner much more attention than just that of the EEOC.

In August of 1970, the case was settled. Osborne Elliot was the editor at the time, but after he was promoted the new editors refused to cooperate, so the women sued again in May of 1972. This time, they had bigger support, Katherine Graham, CEO of Newsweek and half of the female publishers at the time supported this suit after her friendship with Gloria Steinem, ‘introduced’ her to feminism.

Their requests were simple, 1/3 of the reporters were going to be women, 1/3 of the researchers were going to be men and there would be a female senior editor. At first, Newsweek balked at the idea of a female editor, but they eventually agreed, and in 1975, Lynn Povich was the first female to be assigned Senior Editor in Newsweek’s history.

Looking towards the future, Povich is realistic. While women are covering more diverse topics as journalists, be it wars, Wall Street or even the White House her concern is that we aren’t in charge. With the percentages of women running either Congress of C-suite jobs staying at around 20% there is still a glass ceiling women in journalism and media need to overcome.

After hearing Povich’s lecture, Rebekah Velazquez, a media arts and communication student at MSU said it was Povich’s call to unity that resonated with her the most. “I liked (her) emphasis of sticking together, and calling out what’s wrong. You need to say something you can’t stay silent,” Velazquez said.

Povich’s advice to our generation in fighting sexism and other forms of prejudices are; Recognize it, Document it, and Call it out. She reminded students that these kinds of things weren’t only happening to them, and that many times it only takes one person’s voice to bring others out of the woodwork.