Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Good Girls Revolt (with Ganja)

Just as I discovered the excellent series Good Girls Revolt on Amazon Prime, it was announced that it won't be picked up for another season.

The series is based on the 2012 book by former Newsweek staffer Lynn Povich about the 1970 lawsuit filed with the EEOC by 46 women who were denied the chance to write under their own bylines at the magazine as part of a company-wide policy.

The suit was filed by none other than Eleanor Holmes Norton, the former ACLU lawyer who currently serves as the Congressional representative from DC. Eleanor Clift, who rose from "Gal Friday" at the Atlanta bureau to Newsweek's White House correspondent, writes, "I owe my career to the women who put themselves on the line to right wrongs embedded in our collective psyches about the roles of women and men."

Making an appearance as Nora Ephron is Grace Gummer, which is fitting because her mother Meryl Streep was pregnant with her when she filmed Ephron's movie Heartburn. Nora left Newsweek before the suit happened, and went on to a writing career. Also appearing is actor Hunter Parrish, who played Nancy Botwin's older son on "Weeds." Katherine Graham, the publisher of Newsweek at the time, is fictionalized in the series but her line, "Which side am I supposed to be on?" remains.

There isn't any marijuana in the book, apart from a single scene where researcher Kate Coleman, a "proud member of the Berkeley Free Speech movement" who worked on a 1967 cover story about the rise of marijuana use, hosted a male editor and his wife at a pot party. But the lead character Patti Robinson, who's hip to the hippie scene and leaves a joint in her boss's desk for him to try, seems to be based in part on Coleman. Patti admits to turning on to watch the nightly news and is depicted in one scene doing so (shown above). Even the goody two-shoes lead researcher Jane Hollander, played by Anna Camp of The Help, tries pot (shown), declaring it did nothing for her (but letting it change her life anyway, after she encounters sexual harassment and discrimination on the job).

Two months after the Newsweek complaint was filed, 96 women from Time Inc. filed a similar suit, and in the next few years, women at Reader's Digest, Newsday, the Washington Post, the Detroit News, the Baltimore Sun and the Associated Press did the same, Povich reports. In 1974 six women at the New York Times filed sexual discrimination charges on behalf of 550 women there, and in 1975, sixteen women at NBC initiated a class action lawsuit covering 2600 past and present employees.

Lest we think this kind of thing is ancient history, Povich's book starts with the story of Jessica Bennett, who "grew up in the era of girl power" in the 1980s, and yet found similar obstacles when she started working at Newsweek as an intern in 2006. She watched male interns get hired before her, and when she was finally hired a year later, she had to fight for assignments. Her best friend at the magazine, Jesse Ellinson, experienced similar difficulties, discovering that the man who was hired for her former job made more money than she did, and being told by her boss to take advantage of her looks.

Like the women in the consciousness-raising era of the 60s, Jessica and Jesse eventually realized their problems stemmed from sexism, instead of personal failings. Like most of us, they were unaware of the Good Girls lawsuit until they were given a copy of Susan Brownmiller's book In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution which has a chapter on the suit.

This was in 2009, when the scandal about David Letterman sleeping with female staffers hit the news (and it was noticed by another Newsweek staffer Sarah Ball that neither Letterman or any other late night show had a single female writer). Jessica, Jesse and Sarah pitched a story on the lawsuit set in modern times to their editor, and found Povich during their research.

Good Girls Revolt ends with the filing of the lawsuit, but so much more happens after that. Executive producer Dana Calvo reported on Instagram that efforts to shop the series to another network had failed: "Good Girls Revolt won't be airing on another network. We made what felt like a 10-hour play, and I will miss the world and the characters that our cast brought to life. Mostly, I will miss hearing from all of you who said it had an impact. Sending love and thanks today for the privilege of being able to tell stories that bring us closer and make us stronger," she wrote.

Brownmiller, BTW, is one of the interviewees in the Netflix documentary "She's Beautiful When She's Angry" along with Kate Millet, Muriel Fox, Rita Mae Brown, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Our Bodies Ourselves collective and more. Along with Good Girls Revolt, it's a good watch just before the women's marches on January 21.

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