In March 1970, forty-seven members of female staff at the US magazine Newsweek, who weren’t ‘allowed’ positions that gave them the opportunity to report, write or edit stories and were also paid a third of what their male colleagues were, for often actually doing the bulk of the work, filed a lawsuit with attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton, charging the magazine with sex discrimination. It was timed brilliantly, to coincide with the magazine’s own cover story on the women’s movement; “Women in Revolt.”
The Amazon original series Good Girls Revolt, released just last month, is an evocative show based on the true story written by Lynn Povich and so far has been received generally positively by critics and the public. Good Girls Revolt is set in and around the offices of a magazine named News of the Week, in New York City. The series begins in 1969 and continues into the following year.
Although a fictionalised retelling of the story, a few aspects have remained somewhat true, including the use of names Nora Ephron and Eleanor Holmes Norton. Homes Norton was the lawyer involved in the real lawsuit, although she didn’t approach the women as the programme shows, rather they approached her. Ephron, however, worked at Newsweek years before the film is actually set, yet she’s shown in the pilot episode quitting after finding out that she’ll never be able to write at the magazine. That act emboldens the other women and begins a chain of events that lead up to the lawsuit.
Good Girls Revolt demonstrates that the magazine would consign its well-educated female employees mainly to research jobs, who support the crew of male reporters who, you guessed it, do get to report, write and edit stories.
The female researchers track down sources, occasionally conduct interviews and produce documentation that are the foundation to the reporter’s stories. They often even fetch coffee for them! Towards the end of the pilot episode, we see character Nora Ephron quit her job as a researcher at News of The Week, when she’s told that women “don’t do rewrites” and her article is rejected by authoritative older male staff. This kick starts the beginning of our three main characters’ Patti, Jane and Cindy’s lawsuit.
Patti is the flower child, who isn’t afraid to indulge in ‘free-love’ and drugs, but who is very strong minded and smart. She’s often the driving force behind the case. Jane starts off as the ‘snobby’ privileged character who believes in waiting until marriage and saving herself for the guy who isn’t seriously committed to her in the long term, but develops in to a much more independent person, although she battles with her parents’ conflicting views and opinions at times. Cindy is reserved, mousy, and at the beginning committed to making her husband happy, even if she’s left unhappy in the process. I enjoyed her character development the most, even if it was predictable, as she became stronger, independent and even realised that sex can be enjoyable for a woman and not just an obligation to keep her husband happy.
I felt that the pace of the show was a little slow in places, as the development of this lawsuit was pulled out over ten episodes. Mind you, saying that, I still binge-watched all ten episodes in two days! If anything, the slowness of the development of the lawsuit and bringing the other female employees on board, felt more realistic and it allowed time for us to explore a few subplots and the personal lives of each main character. I loved the strong female characters, watching them develop over the season and seeing in to their personal lives; relationships with family, other halves and the developing friendships among the women who build each other up to become a united team. We soon realise that women of the 1960-70’s were stereotyped and discriminated against at home as well as at work.
The series demonstrates how women, often well-educated, would work for only a few years before being expected to marry and become a housewife, producing offspring and having no choice in whether they wanted to be a ‘career woman’ or not. Good Girls Revolt shows a point at which these female characters start questioning this and realise that they do indeed deserve the same opportunities, careers and pay packets as men. They can make their own decisions and major choices in life.
The development of the male characters I felt wasn’t the same, and I found it very difficult to warm towards any. For example, Finn, the editor of News of the Week, is slick, charming and wants to produce edgier articles that are more like what’s published at the rival magazines, but he’s very two-dimensional and empty. His character is predictable and feels slimy.
Now, I haven’t seen Mad Men, but it is a show on my ‘to watch’ list. I’ve read comments from fans of Mad Men, who feel like Good Girls Revolt, although it covers many of the same themes and is set around the same time, doesn’t come anywhere close and at times feels like a rip off. However, I’m not sure it’d be fair to compare them considering the huge following and budget Mad Men has established over the years and the way in which Mad Men is much more highly stylised. I guess I’ll find out when I eventually watch it! I found the plot of Good Girls revolt very compelling and absorbing, still.
The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston adds:
“‘Good Girls Revolt’s’ closeness to ‘Mad Men,’ one of the greatest TV shows ever, is the problem…It’s not as good as ‘Mad Men’: it doesn’t have the multiple strands, the understated artistry, the splendour, the characters that are so three-dimensional they actually elbow their way into your life. It is more obvious, less surprising, less original. If ‘Mad Men’ were a band, ‘Good Girls Revolt’ would be the tribute act.”
I did really enjoy the music, costume, hair, make up and set design of Good Girls Revolt, which takes us back in to a somewhat simpler world of teletype machines, typewriters and micro-mini skirts. I found it fascinating to imagine a world where stories were written without the internet or mobile phones and researchers had much more running around to get the info they needed.
If it wasn’t for the blatant sexual discrimination the show sheds light on, I would love to jump right into this world!
I was shocked and infuriated at how it was depicted that women in the office were encouraged to wear revealing clothing and in one scene I remember very well, Patti is even asked why she’s wearing trousers as opposed to a short skirt or dress. The newsroom is unsubtly split across two levels, with the men sat on an elevated platform, and the women squashed together in ‘the pit’, (that’s what they actually call it!), a lower level with stairs leading down to it.
The series also depicts the relaxed approach to sex and drugs at that time, which oddly, may actually seem surprisingly to us now in the 21st century. I felt it depicted a time much more relaxed to both these things compared to now and if anything, the women shown exploring it, Patti in particular, came across as incredibly empowered and in control of her own desires and wishes. I liked this.
But although the show luxuriates in the free-love era, it actually illuminates how so many of the issues affecting women in the 60’s and 70’s, still are today. There are ongoing battles for equal pay, a lack of affordable childcare and cases of sexual harassment. You could take away the mini-skirts and mini-dresses, the big hair, make up, typewriters and ashtrays and it’d present a similar story to present time.
The first season of Good Girls Revolt ended with the press conference, where the group of women, along with their lawyer Homes Norton, announced the lawsuit. This was my favourite episode of the entire series and it kept me gripped. I was sad to be at the end of the ten episodes and I can only hope Amazon will make more!
What did you think of the series, Good Girls Revolt? I’d love to hear your views below.
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