Jarl Mohn, President & CEO of NPR: “The story tonight is about breaking glass ceilings.”
Nov. 12, the first Saturday evening after the 2016 Presidential election, NPR and The Newseum hosted a planned screening of the pilot of Amazon Prime’s new show, “Good Girls Revolt,” in Washington, D.C.
The show, whose full 10-episode Season 1 dropped Oct. 28, tells a fictionalized version of the consciousness-raising that led to the landmark 1970 sexual-discrimination class-action suit by 46 female researchers against their bosses at “Newsweek.” They argued it was illegal for positions within the magazine to be segregated by gender (men as reporters with bylines; women relegated to anonymous, hardscrabble research roles supporting them); Eleanor Holmes Norton, then legal director of the ACLU and current DC representative to Congress, represented them.
(Historical spoiler: They won.)
Lesley Gore, overhead before the screening: “Don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say…”
Following the screening, NPR’s Pop Culture Editor Linda Holmes moderated a panel with the show’s four leads: Genevieve Angelson (Patti Robinson), Joy Bryant (Eleanor Holmes Norton), Anna Camp (Jane Hollander), and Erin Darke (Cindy Reston).
The actors and moderator were joined by two of the women central to the nonfictional 1970 case: Lynn Povich, one of the 46 women in the suit and author of the show’s literary inspiration, “The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of ‘Newsweek’ Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace,” and the real-life Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Linda Holmes, NPR: “This is how we do, you know — everybody worries about each other.”
The screening hall in the Newseum on Saturday was easily 80 percent female. Archival photos of NPR’s “founding mothers” cycled across the giant screen before the episode began, Lesley Gore demanding autonomy through the speakers overhead.
When the pilot’s credits rolled, museum staff brought out a set of warmly colored sofas for the women of the hour to sit comfortably together on.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: “My consciousness was quite raised, but I was not in the position of Lynn and the other women. These women were the very best of any crop of any young women, and they had proved it by the way they had excelled in college and in fellowships they had received. They came back and got what they believed was the very top job at the apex of journalism: ‘Newsweek.’ They felt very fortunate.”
It isn’t impossible to imagine the discussion they’d anticipated, with the event scheduled to follow the culmination of one of the most historic presidential campaign seasons in US history: “Good Girls Revolt” is a story of uncomfortable, hard-fought success against a public establishment pulsing with universally accepted sexism.
Erin Darke (Cindy): “I was saying backstage that I’d had a moment — you know, this week has been… A lot. And I mean, I woke up on Wednesday morning and I had an audition, and it is a great script; there are a couple of amazing male roles. The role I was going in for was a professional woman, a physical therapist, that was described in the script simply as ‘the world’s hottest PT.’ And I went there and I made it through the audition and I got home and I was taking my push-up bra off and I… Broke down. I felt so demeaned and ashamed that I had let myself do that — and on that, of all days.”
The pilot of “Good Girls Revolt” opens on one woman, Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson), striding alone against the current of 1969 New York City crowds as she heads to her job as researcher at “News of the Week.” She stops to buy packs of cigarettes for all the male reporters in the pen, which she delivers before literally descending to the railed-off pit of female researchers.
Up in the editor’s office, meanwhile, another woman is waiting, alone. It is, we soon learn, her first day on the job. Her name, of course, is Nora Ephron; she quickly finds herself assigned as researcher to the new male reporter… Who knew her before today — she beat him at college debate, evidently, and he hasn’t quite let go of it.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: “They had the best job a woman could get, at the most important magazine in the United States. And somehow they had to absorb the notion that that was not enough. The young men who were reporters were in every way comparable to them, and yet they had absorbed the prevailing wisdom of the society: That that was the way it was. And further, that that was the way it was supposed to be. The courage it took to challenge the notion — that that was the way it was supposed to be — is impossible for me to relate.”
The whole newsroom is brought to a standstill as reports of a developing story about a riot at the “Woodstock of the West,” Altamont, comes down the wire. Patti has apparently just returned from six months in San Francisco and her assigned reporter — and sneaky backroom lover — Doug (Hunter Parrish) is fresh and ready for a new story to take on. It is given, instead, to Jane and her own writer, whose teamwork has produced the magazine’s last four covers.
Patti is disappointed but not discouraged — her assignment or not, she has a solid source embedded with Santana that can give her good info. After she volunteers as the “honey” to go alert the cover department that they may need to make a last-minute change (taking Nora along on a whirlwind office tour in the process), she does just that.
Erin Darke: “There was a stream of women walking in, there were women crying in the lobby. Women were hugging each other… [The casting director] asked me how I was doing, and I said, ‘The… gray and dreariness outside reflects my heart today? How are you?‘ I don’t know if he put together that part of the reason that all of us were struggling so hard on that day wasn’t just because of that day, but because of what we were having to do on that day — and what it felt like it meant to us.”
No one in the “News of the Week” offices is excited about Patti insisting on following the lead: Her reporter wants her to appreciate the handful of free nights this has bought them for real dates, and for her to avoid contributing to the career of a rival. Her publisher wants yet another tried-and-true Viet Nam cover, and condescends to every lead outside of the mainstream that would be needed to corroborate a culture story — especially if those leads are female. Jane wants to ensure her position as the fiery tail behind her reporter’s rising star doesn’t falter, and — at least initially — worries Patti’s on a course to sabotage the story out of spite.
Eleanor Holmes Norton: “Then they had to understand — and here’s what’s important — that there was strength in numbers: What are they going to do –pick off you, you, you and you? It was likely doing what they did — appearing as a group, figuratively arm in arm — that ‘Newsweek’ would have to step back and consider what to do. And that’s exactly what happened… What they did, and the reason they were able to challenge a world-class magazine, is because they had the good sense to organize.”
Patti’s source delivers a report that, if true, means not just a police cover-up but a major shift in the alternative cultural landscape. She wins the editor (Chris Diamantopoulos) over, and the rival team and keeps chasing the story — all the way back across the country to California.
Genevieve Angelson (Patti): “Erin did go home and start a consciousness raising. I got an email!”
Back in New York, Jane, Nora and would-be novelist Sally band together to cover for Patti as she races back from the airport before press time. When Patti returns, elated from her success, Nora slips her the address of a regular “consciousness raising” meeting she thinks Patti should attend.
With nine episodes left (and history in the books), we know that Nora is right.
Lynn Povich, the author, describing a recent book event: “[A young woman told me…] We’ve been raised in a very individualistic culture… When you’ve been raised and been told you can do anything, you can be anything, it means that you alone are responsible for your success and failure. And I thought that was very interesting, because we benefitted from this sense of sisterhood, or civil rights, or anti-war, questioning authority… And I do think your generation hasn’t had the movements to support you, and to encourage you, and I think you’re finding that now.”
When the panel finally let out, after everyone in the hall had had the chance to laugh and cry and applaud together, we all exited through the main hall of The Newseum, passing directly over the piece of the Berlin Wall on permanent display one floor below:
History felt so close we could almost touch it.
The first season of “Good Girls Revolt” is on Amazon Prime, and the pilot is for free for non-members.