Get to Know Author of "Good Girls Revolt," MAKER Lynn Povich
Amazon's latest series, "Good Girls Revolt" irises in on the experiences of women in the '60s at "News of the Week" — a name just slightly off of the well-known Newsweek where an important shift in feminist history took place.
The show may be fictional, but at its foundation is the 1970 landmark case that changed the face of women in journalism.
Read MAKERS' exclusive Q&A with journalist and author of the book, Lynn Povich, who expands on her role in the case, her thoughts on the new series, and of course, the inspiration behind the book, "Good Girls Revolt."
Q: What was your experience as a woman when you started at Newsweek?
A: In 1965, I was with one of the few female correspondents in Paris, so it wasn't really until I got back to New York, that I understood that this system where all the women were researchers and fact checkers and the men were writers and editors. It sort of occurred to me that this was the sort of discrimination that existed.
Q: How long into your position did you realize there were limits for you?
A: I came back to New York 1966 to become a researcher. I was lucky because I worked for a really good writer who mentored me and he helped me get promoted. But, I was the only woman who was managing to write stories at the time. It was clear that there were a lot of talented women at Newsweek, and they were not reporters or writers. It was a clear system of discrimination against women.
Q: When it came to the case, what was the most surprising things you learned about women at Newsweek, and in journalism in general at the time?
A: The first surprise that it was actually illegal to segregate jobs by gender. When we asked Eleanor [Holmes Norton] to represent us, she was pretty tough about getting us to realize this was not going to be easy, that we were going up against the establishment. We didn’t actually know what was going to happen after we announced that we were filing charges, they cannot fire you but they can certainly treat you badly. And so she really toughen us up and made us realize it was good to be all together. To this day, what was fascinating to me is that not one woman ratted us out. That just took a lot of guts.
Q: What prompted you to write the book, "Good Girls Revolt?"
A: A lot of people heard that the women at The New York Times had sued, because there was a book about that, but no body knew that we were the first to sue. So I thought it was an important footnote to feminist history. People should understand what it was like for women then, and how we were the first to open up the category for women journalists.
Q: How did it all come together for your book to be made into a television series?
A: In 2013, I got a call from Lynda Obst, the executive producer. She had read the book, she was my age, had been a journalist, and was a very successful producer in Hollywood. She really is a very powerful woman there. She hired Dana [Calvo], who also had been a journalist, and she optioned it on the condition that it be fictionalized because I figured if I can't do it absolutely accurately, than it’s better that it’s fictionalized. We were a bunch of 25-year-old girls. We weren't famous — that's the whole point. It's an ensemble story, its about a whole group, it doesn't matter that the names.
Q: Why do you think it is important to have a series about this case?
A: It’s a way to get the word out to a larger audience, especially younger people who really see video as their primary media. I am very interested in what young women think about it and it’s significance in history, and unfortunately, some of it is still happening.
Q: What in the series best captures your experience?
A: All of us would identify with the moment that Patti gets the interview for the story on Altamont, and she called into the office to them what she got, and then sort of runs down the street and says, 'Yay!' That moment when you have that exclusive interview or when you’ve broken a story — it's just thrilling. I think every woman who's a journalist can identify with the first time they did that.
Q: How is the show different from your book?
A: They took some of the archetypes that were there. You know, the 'hippie girl' the 'married girl' who begin to realize this isn't the life she wants, and then the 'queen bee' who believes in the system and wants to do everything the right way. There are pieces of that in, you know, 50-some women at Newsweek.
Q: When watching the show, there was a sense of competition between women in the newsroom. Was that common in your experience?
A: Yes I think so. This is what's so interesting about the system: you knew that there would be one woman who would be promoted to a reporter at some point. So everyone working was sort of competing for that one position. Once we realized that we shouldn't compete, we were able to form this amazing bond.
Q: The story involves some real-life figures, including the journalist Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant). What did you think about their roles in the show?
A: The Nora character is a fiction in the series, and she left years before this happened. But she did the accurate part where she came to Newsweek as a researcher, she knew she wanted to be a writer and she left when she realized she would never get promoted to writer. I think Eleanor is much more true to her role there.
Q: You became the senior editor of Newsweek in 1975, after all you went through, what was the biggest change for women in the newsroom you noticed at the time?
A: A lot more women became reporters. Women were moving into the newsroom. Being the only women in the room was interesting for me because I introduced a lot of story ideas about workplace issues and family and women, and supported women colleagues, there was a female voice at the table, and that was really important.
Q: As we know, journalism is very different now. In your opinion, what is a challenge about being a woman in the field today?
A: Women in journalism have really moved into all aspects of our profession, but there are not many women running news organizations. I think men feel more comfortable promoting men. I do think there are a lot of women in journalism who could have these jobs, but they can’t figure out how to be a good boss and a good parent at the same time. A lot of family responsibilities are still women's and this profession is so unpredictable and extremely demanding. Although, there are so many women who can do it.
Q: What advice can you give to young, aspiring female journalists today?
A: I think if they find they aren't getting great assignments, they should ask for them, and also point out they went to guys, or if they aren’t getting paid as much. Companies should be put on notice of patterns of discrimination. I think young women journalists are particularly strong women, and I hope they will stick up for themselves and not be afraid or doubt they have they have skills to do it.
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