Review: ‘The Good Girls Revolt’ by Lynn Povich

by Kim on September 11, 2012 · 12 comments

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Title: The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace
Author: Lynn Povich
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2012
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Acquired: Book Expo American 2012
Rating: ★★★½☆

Review: If you were a woman hired at Newsweek magazine in the 1960s, you had a limited career path. Most women were hired as researchers, working to provide background and information to male writers who received all the bylines and credit for each of the magazine’s stories. Women had almost no chance to move up from researcher to writer, and an even smaller possibility of ever becoming an editor or among the top brass at the magazine.

On March 16, 1970, a group of women filed a sex discrimination lawsuit to try and change that. In The Good Girls Revolt, author Lynn Povich, who was a member of the lawsuit and one of the women to eventually benefit most from the changes it helped bring about, profiles the people involved with the suit and puts the challenge at Newsweek in the context of the 1970s feminist movement and what this time period can offer for young women today.

It’s probably not hard to guess why I was so excited to pick up a copy of this book at Book Expo America this year. History, journalism and feminism all in one book? Yes, please. Although I liked many aspects of The Good Girls Revolt — the fast-paced narrative, the context and analysis of the early feminist movement and the level of detail Povich included about life at Newsweek during this time — I felt like the book was missing that last little bit of emotional umph that would have taken it to the next level.

First, the good: Povich doesn’t waste any time getting right into this story and keeps the narrative moving even while providing the necessary context and background for readers not familiar with the early feminist movement. And she’s very skilled at giving microbiographies of each of the major players to get a sense of who these people were before this event brought them colliding together.

I also loved learning about what journalism was like back during this time. It’s amazing how different writing for a magazine was then, with many different people working on a single story before it went to print each week. The systems that were in place to help writers — who rarely did their own reporting, just worked to spin the work of others into something readable — do their job were extensive. And according to Povich, the type of rampant sexism that’s part of a show like Mad Men isn’t at all far away from what women in journalism experienced as well. Povich brings the world of this lawsuit to life, which I really enjoyed.

Unforunately, all the great details didn’t quite come together enough to grab me emotionally as well as it did intellectually. Although it’s clear from the details Povich includes that she did extensive interviews with the subjects of the book, I’m not sure the book really captured the urgency and fear the women clearly must have felt during the time. Moments that should feel like emotional peaks and valleys felt just a little flat.

Povich also glosses over some of her own experiences, which I understand to some extent since the lawsuit was about much more then her. But she is also one of the women who directly benefitted most — Povich was named the first female senior editor in the magazine’s history — and I would have liked to feel more of what that meant to her at the time rather than just read about her rise in Newsweek like a news story.

However, I think that critique might also be a matter of me demanding more from the book than it was trying to do. I’m not sure Povich even intended to make the book the type of dramatic narrative I seemed to want. As straight-forward chronicle of this event and portrait of a very specific time in journalism history, The Good Girls Revolt is awesome and a book that I feel confident recommending to people interested in this story.

Other Reviews/Stories: NPR Books | Slate |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

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