Women made up around 35 percent of the workforce in the 1960s. In the Newsweek magazine, there was one woman writer and 50 men. That writer was Lynn Povich, whose book on her fight for gender equality in the workplace inspired the release of the Amazon original series “Good Girls Revolt.” It’s a colorful and compelling retelling of the story, an exciting look into the lives of the women who worked at Newsweek and their journeys of realization. They come to see that they are facing discrimination but hold the power to take control of their lives.
Women were relegated to work as “researchers” at Newsweek and most other publications at the time. They would research and edit articles but could not write them despite having received the same, if not better, education as the men. Though women did as much work as their male counterparts, they received no credit and a much lower salary.
The show follows the lives of three researchers: Patti, Cindy, and Jane. Patti (the refreshingly spunky Genevieve Angelson) is an ambitious, savvy, badass hippie who toys with the rules and knows she’ll get away with breaking them. Cindy (Erin Darke) is a quiet and lonely aspiring writer stuck in a miserable marriage. Despite the downsides of her job, it’s the best thing Cindy has. Jane (“Pitch Perfect’s” Anna Camp) is head researcher and the perfect girl. She’s smart, self-possessed, always put together, and waiting for her boyfriend to propose.
These women love their jobs and they do not question the cards they’ve been dealt. It takes Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer), a recent addition to the magazine, to break the bubble they live in.
“It’s like you guys are fighting over the lower bunk bed in jail: who gets to make the guys who are writing the story look better,” said Nora to an arguing Patti and Jane over who gets to research an article.
Nora invites Patti and Cindy to a consciousness-raising meeting where they meet lawyer Eleanor Norton (Joy Bryant), who informs them that it’s illegal that News of the Week (the show’s version of Newsweek) doesn’t let girls write. She encourages them to file a lawsuit with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), which is both a terrifying and exciting prospect.
This knowledge is empowering, particularly for Patti, who aspires to be a reporter. But the lawsuit has an unpleasant reality––it would mean opposing the often genuinely good men that the researchers work (and sleep) with. For the lawsuit to work, Patti and Cindy need to recruit most of the other girls at News of the Week, which is a risky game that could lead to harsh consequences. The girls must figure out how to navigate the complicated new terrain of desire for equality that they have stumbled into and the effect it has on their work, relationships, personal lives, and perceptions of the world, which makes the show so interesting.
What I love about “Good Girls Revolt” is that it captures the essence and events of the ‘60s while keeping the spirit of the show contemporary and relatable. The glamour of the decade holds an undeniable appeal, personified in a scene where Cindy sits at her desk in an elegant skirt, clacking away at a typewriter, a cigarette held gracefully between her fingers. The Free Love themes of the ‘60s also come into play––there are a lot of sexy scenes, most of them in the office.
Powerful themes of the civil rights movement, feminism, and the Vietnam War surround the show. To see the painful impacts of events I’ve only read about, such as the difficulty of returning veterans to integrate back into society and the disconnection between them and everyone else, was an emotional and humbling dose of reality.
The sexism experienced by these women is often subtle but sometimes abrupt, utterly unexpected, and shocking.
This is felt most poignantly through Jane, who starts off the series grateful to be delivering the mail and getting coffee for the reporters. She begins to be bothered by the sexism and yet must maintain her image of a perfect woman: one who never complains. Jane keeps a charming smile plastered on while her father hands over the family business to her clearly incapable younger brother, her boss makes wildly inappropriate gestures and advances at her, and her mother informs the waiter that Jane is done eating when a clearly full plate sits in front of her.
And yet, Jane is a wealthy, privileged, white woman. If things are bad enough for her to protest, how much worse is it for everyone else?
Despite the heaviness of the subjects addressed, at the heart of the show are young women trying to figure out who they are and making their way in the world. They come together to root and cheer for each other and to give themselves an equal chance. They’re not unyielding and untouchable textbook heroes we learn about. They’re regular people––a little brave and a little scared with a lot of boy drama. In other words, these women are utterly real and it’s an empowering and comforting thought. If they can change the world, why can’t I?