Journalist Lynn Povich discusses her book "The Good Girls Revolt."
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GUEST: Lynn Povich
AIR DATE: 04/20/2013
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And my guest today is journalist Lynn Povich, whose 2012 Public Affairs book, “The Good Girls Revolt” is one of the best written and most attractive examples of what I think of as contemporary history that I’ve had the pleasure of reading in years.
Now, its subtitle tells its story of forty years ago plus quite simply and directly – How The Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses And Changed The Workplace.
And when Gloria Steinem says “The Good Girls Revolt” is “as compelling as any novel” … she’s right on.
So that aside from the fact that she is such a darn good writer, I would ask my guest just what she thinks makes her story such an irresistible one for us today. Why, Lynn? You’re a great writer and it’s a great book.
POVICH: Thank you, Dick.
HEFFNER: But why does this story grip us so?
POVICH: Well, you know, I think it’s two things. One, it’s a great story. I mean it is the story of this transitional generation of women who come of age in the sixties and have to challenge everything they’ve been taught … that what a woman should be and what her role should be in society.
And, and it’s also this lawsuit which unfolds in an amazing way, as you know. And I think the characters which always make a good story are compelling as well.
HEFFNER: The Wallendas?
POVICH: Well, you have the Wallendas, which are the … our, our name for the Editors, the top editors at Newsweek. You have these young women, most of us were between the ages of 24 and 32.
And then you have our lawyer, Eleanor Holmes Norton who’s now the Representative from the District of Columbia, seven months pregnant, 5’7” feet with an Afro out to here (makes gesture). And you have Katherine Graham, the owner of the Washington Post which owned Newsweek at the time.
HEFFNER: And put together, do you think they accomplished what you wanted to accomplish?
POVICH: As you know from the book, it took a while. (Laugh) We didn’t hit it out of the park the first time around. But I think in the end we won almost everything we had asked for.
Osborn Elliott, the editor and Chief of Newsweek, said that our lawsuit made Newsweek a better magazine and a better place to work. And I think being the first in the media to file a gender discrimination suit in 1970 … it opened the door for women all over the media and in the media to begin to do the same thing.
And so after we sued at Newsweek, the women at Time, Inc. sued Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated. The women at the Reader’s Digest, at NBC, at The New York Times, which used our lawyer … our second lawyer to represent them.
And so, suddenly, not only were women opening the doors within their own shops, more or less, but the fact that women were getting promoted into writing and, and even editing meant that the kinds of stories, the kinds of voices, the kinds of people quoted changed the media.
And my, you know, feeling is that … if the media is a reflection of our society, then suddenly it was a much more equal, accurate view of what our society looked like.
HEFFNER: But that’s what I, I want really to ask you about. How did it change? The impact wasn’t just on these women at Newsweek, you’re saying it had to do with something much more extensive, much more important.
POVICH: Well, as you know, we were lucky enough to have a Women’s Movement behind us and supporting us. And that was just becoming news as our consciousnesses were being raised and realizing that this affected us personally … women were hired only as researchers at Newsweek and rarely promoted beyond that.
Men were hired … men with equal qualifications or even less … were hired as writers or reporters. So … but we were supported by a very exciting, energetic and moral Women’s Movement.
And I think that the times, from the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement and then the Women’s Movement … you know, began to question all these things in society. And because the media is the media and has a voice, suddenly it began covering the Women’s Movement, as we were changing the media inside … it began to cover the movement on the outside.
And, and I think the, the coverage of the Women’s Movement, when women and men began reading about all the things that were going on, not only professionally, but personally … consciousness raising groups, women questioning things, it began to sort of feed into the questioning era that all those social movements were part of.
HEFFNER: It was extraordinarily ironic that Newsweek was covering the Women’s Movement just as you people were getting together in the women’s room, in the Ladies room, surreptitiously banding together to do your thing. How do you explain that? You were talking about good guys …
HEFFNER: Oz Elliott was certainly …
POVICH: Yes. Yes.
HEFFNER: … a good, good guy.
POVICH: … yeah … the Editors of Newsweek were very progressive. They spoke out on Civil Rights, they were way ahead of time than many other publications … they were against the war earlier than many publications.
They were progressive, liberal men. And yet, under their noses, as Osborn Elliott later said to me there was a whole cast of women who were basically being oppressed. They weren’t being promoted, they, they were being treated paternally, is a nice way to say that. And many of their careers basically faltered because they couldn’t get ahead. And so the day that Newsweek … you know, Newsweek decided to publish a cover story on the Women’s Movement …
POVICH: … because it was so important and yet they had no women to write it. And so, for the first time in its 30 year history, it went outside the magazine and hired a very good writer at the New York Post, Helen Dudar to come and freelance the piece.
And, of course, being good journalists, the women inside who had been organizing realized this is a fabulous news peg. So the day that Newsweek appeared on the stands, on March 16th, 1970 with a cover story that said, “Women in Revolt” … 46 of us announced we were suing for sex discrimination.
And, as you well know, it was an irresistible story. I mean here were these young, attractive women … saying … suing Newsweek on the day it’s, you know, covering a Women’s Movement.
And so it was picked up not only around the country, but around the world and my favorite headline is from the Daily News, of course, which said, “News hens sue Newsweek” … this was 1970 and the first sentence was “46 Newsweek women, most of them young and most of them pretty sued Newsweek magazine (laughter) today.”
HEFFNER: And “most of them pretty” had to get in there, didn’t it?
POVICH: Yes, it was like … they weren’t those ugly feminists, or those, you know, combat wearing boot feminists. (Laughter)
HEFFNER: Do you think you had to go to law … to the law?
POVICH: You know a lot of the women on staff when we were organizing said, you know, let’s just go to the Editors and just tell them, you know, our problems, and tell them that this is illegal … which it was by the 1964 Civil Right Act … and they’ll change.
And the real reason we didn’t do that was that about six weeks earlier … six months earlier a group of top writers who were very unhappy with various things at Newsweek, their stories were being too edited, they wanted more voice in their stories, they wanted more freedom … decided to organize.
And when the Editors found out about it, they took each of the writers, one by one out to lunch … listened to them, said, “You’re absolutely right, of course we will change”. And nothing happened.
And we thought, you know, if they’re not going to do that for the top writers of the magazine, who get it out every week, they’re certainly not going to change for the lowest level employees, because they’ll just … as one Editor said, after we sued, “Let’s just fire them all, we’ll just get other researchers.”
So we felt we didn’t have the leverage and we felt that once we knew it was illegal and against the law, that we had every right, as any civil rights case did, to take it to court.
HEFFNER: Did it work that way with the others, too, that it was the legal action that led to the changes?
POVICH: Yes. I, I always say I’m an Affirmative Action baby and I believe that if that law … the Civil Rights law of, you know … banning discrimination based on many, you know, religion, gender, race … if that had not been the law, I don’t think these companies would have changed and changed as quickly as they had to.
And suddenly they had to open up and recruit, promote, hire people they never had before. Just as, and you know this well, the FCC decision of having to have diversity in order to get their licenses renewed. If they didn’t have to have diversity, they wouldn’t have hired African Americans and women to become anchors on local news and things like that.
HEFFNER: We have moved forward in one area, not in another. Do you think we’ve continued the move forward in the press, print journalism?
POVICH: Well, if you mean the status of women in the media …
HEFFNER: I mean the status of women in the media …
POVICH: … you can look now at the media and I’m talking about mainstream media at the moment. And, you know, there are women everywhere now that, that didn’t used to … we have women covering wars in Syria and Iraq … if you turn on the television or NPR … we have women covering the President and not just the First Lady. We have women in the business sections, in the foreign and national sections where they used to be in the women’s pages.
We have women in middle to senior management. And the glass ceiling is still at the very top. There are very few women at the top of news organizations.
The New York Times for the first time has a woman Editor, Jill Abramson … who was promoted to that position last year, so that’s 2012. And, and did have a woman publisher for a long time. The Washington Post has a woman publisher who’s related to the Graham family.
But there’s not a woman head of a network news or cable news station. And, you know, every moment is a picture in time. You know it ebbs and flows. There was a period, you’ll remember, where there were women Editors of the Chicago Tribune, the Oregonian, the Des Moines Register, the Philadelphia Inquirer … major newspapers. There aren’t now.
HEFFNER: Making what difference?
POVICH: Well, I think when you have a woman and, and, you know, I hate to generalize because you have to have the right woman and you can certainly have the right man.
And there are many men who have promoted women, who have diversified the kinds of voices and stories in their newspapers. So it’s not just that all men are bad and all women are good, you have to have the right kind of people.
But certainly women are more attuned to the kinds of stories, voices, mix of stories on the front page … I think that a lot of these newspapers, when you look at them … have changed the mix of stories. And certainly that was true at Newsweek.
Once I became a Senior Editor, we started covering women and work issues. We started covering the women’s movement, we had always covered fashion. But it was just a little bit different to have a woman in the meeting.
HEFFNER: So you do feel that there is a sensibility that enters journalism when you do have more than women as researchers.
POVICH: Definitely. And I think that’s true for all minorities, basically. I, I think everybody brings a different and therefore stronger and more accurate reflection of the society we live in.
HEFFNER: And let’s carry it further, to the American corporate world … outside of journalism, what do we find there?
POVICH: Well, (laugh) … we … I think it’s … of the corporate suites … those are the senior officers, I think it’s about somewhere between 14% and 16% and according to Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of FaceBook, it’s been that way for the last ten years.
So what does that tell us … that there’s something that happens above that level, where even women who are in the pipeline and have been, and have the experience, aren’t getting up there.
HEFFNER: What do you think it is?
POVICH: You know, I think, it’s probably, you know, many things. I think that many corporate cultures … I, I believe the corporate culture comes from the top. And I think men who respect women and like to work with women promote women. I think men who like to hang out with men, feel more comfortable with men, talk to men … that’s their sources of information … their records are not as good in terms of getting more diverse people into their management.
And I think so a lot it … a lot of companies are still “old boys clubs”, or macho cultures, and this is certainly true in the “tech” world … we see as well as just regular corporate America.
HEFFNER: Doesn’t that surprise you … in the tech world?
POVICH: No, because the tech world … much of the tech world has come out of engineering and computer science, where there are very few women. And there’s a big push now to get women into what they call “STEM” careers … science, technology, engineering and math, simply because those are growing careers, they’re very well paid careers, and women have not been encouraged to do that.
HEFFNER: Do you think that you could see in business, in the corporate world, the kind of reflection of the entrance of women in journalism in better and higher paying and more responsible positions?
POVICH: I think a lot of this has to do with the work/family issues, which I don’t consider “women’s” issues. I consider societal issues. It is very hard for a lot of women who are skilled and talented and could easily have those jobs to feel that they could be both a good boss and a good parent.
And because parenting still falls primarily on women, many women who have … many have been asked to go into those jobs … have had a hard time deciding not to do that.
And now you have a young … a generation of young men who are much more involved with raising their children than my parent’s generation. And, you know, I think this is an issue for the young men and women in the corporate culture today. Which is that if you have children, if you are two working parents and you have two kids, it’s very, very difficult and I think that what’s going to have to happen is that companies are going to have to figure out how to be more flexible, how to be more open in terms of providing some public and private supports for daycare … whether it’s for your children or your parents.
And making life a little easier for people who are very skilled, who they’ve trained and what we’re now finding … is something called the leaky pipeline, where women who are skilled and in mid to senior management are dropping out, because they can’t do it all.
HEFFNER: You mean you can have it all … but you can’t do it all. Or you can’t have it all, either.
POVICH: Well, you know … I have to say that the women’s movement never said, you can have it all …
HEFFNER: It was Helen Gurley Brown who said it …
POVICH: (Laugher) Yeah, I was going to say … thank you … you know, we just said we wanted an equal shot at everything … and, and to be equal.
So, no one has it all. Let’s face it, men don’t have it all. I mean men may do very well at their work life, but they’ve sacrificed a lot of their personal life. That’s not having it all.
They’re not stigmatized for not being at home with their children, or not being involved with their children, the way women are. But the fact is they have lost, you know, 50% of their lives, as well.
HEFFNER: Well what about the leak … with women that you referred to. How strong is that?
POVICH: You know I think … you know, Anne-Marie Slaughter just wrote this piece in the Atlantic about women can’t have it all and how she … at the State Department decided to leave because she had a teen-age son and she felt she had to be home with him.
Those jobs are … you know … nobody has a life if you work for the White House or the State Department. Those are 24/7 jobs. And you take those jobs knowing that … you might take them because you want the experience, it’s great on your resume, but both men and women leave those jobs because they never see their families.
I think the challenge will be figuring out how we can retain skilled and talented people and yet … and the technology should work for this because you don’t have to be in the office. The problem is that the technology is also killing us because everything is now 24/7 and there are no boundaries.
Just because you can answer email and be online, somehow if they feel … the bosses feel, the clients feel … you should be.
And I think one of the issues we have to deal with is, is putting some boundaries around, you know, the fact that you’re going to go home and you’re going to be off-line from eight … six to eight at night. And you’re not going to answer emails or anything unless it’s really urgent.
HEFFNER: Do you know somebody who does that?
POVICH: You know, I know …I know women who say that, you know, that they’re not available at dinner time. Or certain times. They then get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to do their email …
HEFFNER: To answer …
POVICH: … but this is not a solution, either.
HEFFNER: If that is not a solution, either … what then is the solution? For men and women in the world of technology?
POVICH: Well, I think that, you know, the issue is can you be effective at work doing it however you do it? You know, I, I know … do you really have to be at the end of every phone call? Do you really have to be in every single meeting? I mean I think there has to be some discipline here. We talk about waste and fraud in the government.
Look at all the wasted time in these companies with these meetings. And how much of that is really necessary. And I think if we went back to the fifties idea of time management … committees, if you remember that … you know, somebody should do some time management now with this technology. Because I don’t know that we’re working more efficiently. It’s true that there’s more demand on people because the work force has been reduced, and so with fewer people the employees are being asked to do more.
But I still think there is an efficiency thing that’s missing here.
HEFFNER: Where would Lynn Povich have gone if it hadn’t been that you “good girls” revolted.
POVICH: That’s a good question. I mean I certainly love journalism and I probably would have left, as many women … you know many women who came to Newsweek and knew they wanted to be journalists like Nora Efron, Ellen Goodman, Jane Bryant Quinn … they saw the lay of the land at Newsweek and they left pretty quickly to have very successful careers.
So I think most of us who decided we wanted to be journalists and writers would have had to leave if we weren’t going to get promoted.
HEFFNER: You know it’s funny, you said “Those … many of us who decided wanted to be journalists and writers … when you just listed all of those who left, and you do in the book, I thought to myself ‘but they didn’t leave’ …I thought of all of you as journalists and writers.” How do you … where do you draw that line? I thought of all of them as continuing to be writers.
POVICH: Well, it’s interesting, you know I, I didn’t know and many young women at Newsweek, didn’t know when we got out of college what we wanted to do.
I got a job at Newsweek and then discovered in doing the job that I really liked it and that’s what I wanted to do. But Nora and Ellen and, and Jane had been writing for their college paper … I mean they sort of knew that that’s what they wanted to do. Most of the women in the book just were happy to have a really good job in a really interesting place.
And then in the course of researching and going out and reporting, they realized they actually wanted to do this and wanted to have a career.
But, for women raised in the forties and fifties, nobody mentioned the word “career” to them. I mean a couple of women, like Nora’s mother was working and told her she was certainly going to have a career. But many of us, even at women’s colleges and I went to a women’s college which had a very feminist background, nobody said anything about a career. You got a job until you got married and had children. But careers were not something that they thought young women should have.
HEFFNER: Lynn has anyone said about this wonderful book, “You’re talking about a handful of people. You’re talking about a very, very fortunate, upper middle class group. Had nothing really to do with most American women.” Have you heard that?
POVICH: I certainly know that we were very privileged women. And White women and highly educated women. And I think I can only say that many social movements begin with the more privileged class where you are … where there are a lot of you together, so that if you’re … you won’t get picked off … you can band together as a group. If you’re only three or four people in a company, you’re much more threatened than if you are 46 or 60 of us.
POVICH: But, yes, it’s true that we were of a very privileged class. On the other hand that’s who was working in the media in those days. The media had begun to change from a sort of craft of a lot of working people who went into the media, to a much more highly educated group. And now even more so, I think.
But yes, I, I think that each group had to do what it has to do. So whether you’re in a company in a union … a longshore … whatever it is … you have to deal with your own circumstances.
These were the cards we had and we played them. And the, the ripple effect was because we were in the media. If we had just been in the AT&T … and in fact the women at AT&T brought a suit that was a very important suit, to get women into more line jobs, into becoming linemen, into getting better pay. They did it for their industry.
HEFFNER: If you were to … we just have two minutes left … if you were to take journalism’s condition today … moving from print to god knows where … what would you say has been the impact upon women, men in this field?
POVICH: Well, I think the original beginnings of online journalism, which was the Internet and sort of big hubs like MSNBC and AOL and things like that. It was still … there were some, certainly some women involved, but it was still sort of male dominated.
I think what’s happening now is that … two things, one is that social media, I believe, is a much more conducive media for what women like to do … we’re networked, we have large networks, we like the social aspect of media and I think women will do better in social media than they did in just traditional online stuff.
But now you have a lot of women who are also commentators online. I mean most of the online publications have very, very good women writing for them. So it’s opened up in a way, probably faster, than certainly print and television.
HEFFNER: Do you think largely because it is commentary?
POVICH: I think so. I mean I think that although, you know, there should be more in the print media … more commentary, but certainly online I think women have a good writer … it’s, it’s easier to do it … you have many more voices, you have a lot more space.
HEFFNER: Lynn Povich, The Good Girls Revolt is a wonderful book, thank you for writing it and thank you for joining me today.
POVICH: Thank you, Dick.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”
And do visit the Open Mind Website at thirteen.org/openmind to reprise this program online right now or to draw upon our Archive of 1,500 or so other Open Mind and related programs. That’s thirteen.org/openmind.