A pilot inspired by the landmark sex discrimination lawsuit successfully launched by a group of female employees against Newsweek in 1970 became one of Amazon’s newest original programs on November 5. The fictionalized pilot, derived from the eponymous book The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich ’65, will focus on a group of female researchers at a news magazine as well as several other researchers who went on to become prominent journalists, including Nora Ephron (played by Grace Gummer ’08).
How did the pilot come about?
Lynda Obst, a very successful Hollywood producer I know, optioned the book for Sony and hired a former journalist-turned-screenwriter, Dana Calvo (from the AP and the LA Times), to do a treatment and a script for a pilot, which Amazon and TriStar have produced. Lynda is the executive producer, Dana is the showrunner, Liza Johnson directed it, and both the costume designer and production designer are women. So, it’s an all-woman production!
What was the situation like for women at Newsweek prior to the discrimination suit?
When I got hired at Newsweek after my Vassar graduation in 1965, the editors, writers, and most of the reporters were men. Only women were hired as researchers, which was the basis of our class action suit. If you wanted to be a writer, you were told, “Go someplace else—women don’t write at Newsweek,” and very few women got promoted out of the research category.
Did the workplace environment change after you all won?
It took a few years, but we finally broke through the barriers. In the 1970s, women became reporters and writers, covered wars, Wall Street, and the President (not the First Lady). In 1975, I became the first female senior editor in Newsweek’s history.
The “good girls” in the title refers to a group of rather apolitical women raised during the 1940s and 1950s to be “polite.” What were the repercussions—either good or bad—of standing up to your bosses?
It was scary to organize in secret. We thought we might all be fired. And it took courage to challenge the roles of women in society. After we announced our legal complaint—on the day Newsweek published a cover story on the women’s movement called “Women in Revolt”—we were terrified to go into the office. Most of the male writers were good friends and supported what we had done. But many of the top editors and senior editors were furious that we hung out our dirty laundry in public. It made for some tense times working together. But the editor-in-chief, Oz Elliott, later told me that he knew that Monday in March 1970 that the women were right.
You gave a talk on the state of feminism—what’s changed and what’s left to be done—at the 2015 Vassar Reunion this summer. Are you surprised that people are still fighting for equality in the workplace after more than three decades?
I am surprised. I thought we would have been further along by now. Obviously, there has been a lot of progress for women, but the numbers tell the tale. Women comprise between 16 percent and 19 percent of Congress and of the corporate suite—and it’s been the same number for the last 10 years! Some of the rights we won in the 1970s are now being rolled back, and though there may be less overt discrimination, “unconscious bias” detrimentally affects women.
So, the pilot airs on November 5. What happens next? I guess you wait and see how the viewers respond?
Yes, the pilot will be posted on Amazon Prime on November 5 for a month. Prime members can watch it on their computers, phones, and smart TVs and then vote on it. If all goes well, Amazon will order a full series beginning next year.
—Interview by Elizabeth Randolph