The "Good Girls Revolt" of Newsweek
On March 16, 1970 Newsweek magazine published “Women in Revolt” an issue dedicated to sharing views on the women’s liberation movement. That same day, 46 women at Newsweek filed the first gender discrimination case against their bosses in a press conference. These women were not allowed to be reporters or editors, despite having the writing and editorial talents and passion to do so. This was the groundbreaking suit that helped launch women into the craft.
During the late 1960’s to early 70’s, Lynn Povich worked for Newsweek. In her book The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, Povich discusses how she and other female coworkers fact checked for the reporters assigned to them. Women were either researchers, clippers, or office assistants. When Nora Ephron confronted Newsweek about a piece she wrote for the magazine, she was told “women don’t write at Newsweek.” She quit and later became a successful writer and filmmaker. “Women were praised for their intelligence and commended for their capabilities, but certainly not encouraged to have careers,” Povich said.
After Ephron’s departure, Judy Gingold, a researcher at Newsweek, discovered the magazine violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII states “employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.” She and a few other women gathered as much information as they could to file a lawsuit against their bosses. They hired Eleanor Holmes Norton, a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), now a Washington D.C. Congresswoman. She recommended they file the lawsuit through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC).
Not all the women of Newsweek wanted to participate in the lawsuit. Some feared losing their jobs, while others considered the lawsuit a societal risk. African American women did not want to join due to dealing with racism. It wasn’t until the editors of Newsweek hired a woman from another highly respected publication to work on the “Women in Revolt” issue that Povich’s coworkers finally decided to take a stand. The editors believed none of the women at Newsweek could handle writing about the women’s liberation movement. By the end of the week, 46 women had signed on to sue their workplace.
They chose to hold a press conference the day Newsweek released the “Women in Revolt” issue to the newsstands. The conference made national headlines. Soon, other women from various news publications filed gender discrimination cases, empowering the women’s liberation movement further. The movement encouraged women to fight for their rights when it came to sexuality, employment, and family reproductive health. After a few months of negotiating with the Newsweek editors, the women won their case. It took several months for specifics of contracts and salaries to be determined, but women were finally able to become writers.
Even in 2009, Newsweek was still struggling to establish gender equality. Jessica Bennet, Jesse Ellison, and Sarah Bell currently work as writers and editors for Newsweek. They told Povich that “since 1970, 25% of Newsweek’s editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39%.” Povich was also told that overall, 49% of the entire company, the business and editorial side, is female. They noticed this number stayed the same due to the hiring committee still being all male. These women feel that gender discrimination continues to be a problem within Newsweek. Even with women being hired as writers, Povich details how Bell informed her of the continuing misogynistic comments from male colleagues. With Povich’s assistance, these reporters found the gender discrimination case from the 1970’s along with the “Women in Revolt” in the Newsweek archives. They published an article on the 40th anniversary of the case titled “Young Women, Newsweek, and Sexism” in 2010. This lead to an important discussion with Newsweek editors about gender discrimination in the workplace and possible solutions about the discrimination within their work environment.
When the good girls of Newsweek revolted in 1970, they knew they would change history. Thanks to them, women have higher positions in journalism, publishing, filmmaking, and beyond. Their story even inspired the Amazon Prime series Good Girls Revolt, which premiered on October 28th of last year. In a time where women’s rights are still being challenged by the men running our current administration, we must remember the ladies of Newsweek, and let our voices be heard.