Film & Television

Gender Equality Makes News in Amazon Series ‘Good Girls Revolt’

Several years ago, when I was raving about a new AMC series set in a 1960s ad agency, some of my older professional women friends declined to watch it. “No way,” one said. “I don’t need to see that; I lived through it.” What she was referring to was the way women were treated on Madison Avenue and in pretty much every other business environment of the day. Maybe the show Mad Men should have been called Mad Women, since it was the women at Sterling Cooper (Draper Price) who really had reason to be angry.

Fast forward a few years. The women working at so-called News of the Week (a thinly disguised late 60s Newsweek magazine) are wearing short skirts and getting even shorter shrift. These women are bright; many are top graduates from top colleges. They work hard; contribute enormously. Yet their stories run each week without their names. They are “researchers.” The men they work alongside are “reporters.” In theory they are teams. In reality, the women do all the work and the men get all the credit.

It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the new Amazon Prime series Good Girls Revolt and AMC’s prestigious award-winning Mad Men. The two series look and feel similar, with the same attention to historic detail. And, like the earlier show, Good Girls Revolt casts a light on what must feel to a younger audience like a very antiquated office culture. But, what may be most surprising is that any woman who actually lived through those days of journalism won’t be surprised by it at all.

The series Good Girls Revolt is inspired by a groundbreaking workplace equality lawsuit against real-life Newsweek. The ladder of success there was specific — and didn’t reach very high if you were a woman. You started as a mail girl (literally pushing mail carts through the office), then you were promoted to a clipper, and then to a researcher. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of sex, and for many bright young women, it was an exciting place to be until you met your husband and stopped working. But, if you were interested in becoming a respected writer yourself, it wasn’t going to be at Newsweek. For that reason, determined journalists like Nora Ephron, Susan Brownmiller, Jane Bryant Quinn and Ellen Goodman, chose to leave their early Newsweek jobs quickly. Years later, Ephron remembered her short stint there as a mail girl this way, “It was a lovely place to work — especially if you were a man.”

In 1970, Newsweek ran a cover story on the women’s movement entitled Women Revolt.  That same week, the magazine was sued for gender discrimination by 46 of its female employees. Lynn Povich, one of the plaintiffs and author of the 2012 book The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of ‘Newsweek’ Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, explains, “We planned to announce our suit when the cover came out so we would get a lot of publicity—and we did!” In another groundbreaking and newsworthy move, they chose an African American civil rights attorney, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to represent them. Although many of the men at the magazine were supportive, it took an additional two lawsuits to gain all that the women asked for: that one-third of the writers and editors would be women, that one-third of the researchers would be men, and finally that at least one woman senior editor would be appointed. In 1975, Povich assumed that role herself.

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  • Helen November 3, 2016 at 7:51 am

    I saw the pilot for this months ago and was hoping they would bring the series to Amazon. Such a great cast!

  • Sally Bahner November 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    What a great look back! I cut my journo teeth in that era, but was fortunate not to experience that level of sexism. I binge-watch the entire series last week. Can’t wait for season 2.

    • Sally Bahner November 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm


  • Andrea November 1, 2016 at 7:57 am

    Thanks for the review alex! I’ve been so pleased with the quality of shows Amazon has come out with this year- Transparent,Amazon in The Jungle and now Good Girls Revolt . The talented cast and important issues the show addresses keep me interested – yes it’s a similar genre to Mad Men- I grew up in the 60’s and going back to that time is somehow comforting and nostalgic .