Small-screen sound off: Good Girls Revolt
MANAGING MOSAIC REPORTER
Amazon’s original series “Good Girls Revolt” appealed to me from the first trailer that popped up in my social media feed. It promised three of my favorite things: journalism, gender equality and vintage clothing. When I finally got around to watching the show this weekend, it delivered – but it’s not a particularly fun or comfortable show, and that’s a good thing.
“Good Girls Revolt” has less in common with “Mad Men” than I had initially assumed, judging the former against the latter just because both are period dramas about the workplace. Granted, I saw the first season of “Mad Men” in its entirety, and while I found it well-written and interesting, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. I told myself I didn’t have to binge-watch it … and then I just never watched season two. Was I supposed to feel bad for Don Draper? Seriously? I was also filled with secondhand anger every time Peggy’s work was devalued – a feeling that “Good Girls Revolt” seems to inspire, as well. Underneath the late-60s rock-and-roll soundtrack, b-roll of anti-Vietnam protests and talk about “free love,” “Good Girls Revolt” is a show about workplace sexism.
In the pilot, Patti walks newcomer Nora Ephron – yup, that Nora Ephron – through the way things work at News of the World magazine: the researchers, all female, do all of the reporting and write the first draft of articles. Then the reporters, all male, do re-writes and put their own names on the copy. For reference, that would be like if you wrote a term paper, your friend edited it and then turned in your work, with their name on it. Oh, and then they got an A.
As a viewer, I was happy to see that as Patti explained all of this, Nora was having none of it. Among the show’s female characters, Nora falls at one end of the spectrum of complacency when it comes to News of the World’s hierarchy. Patti is somewhere in the middle, but closer to Nora than to the center – when Nora tells her that fighting with another woman over who gets to research a story that they won’t get credit for is like “fighting over the lower bunk bed in prison,” Patti takes it to heart. It becomes clear over the course of 50 minutes that Nora will shake up the status quo at the magazine in a major way, and as a viewer, that’s a relief.
I’m not being dramatic. It’s actually a relief. I don’t think I could keep watching this show if it was just going to be these women – each an interesting, sympathetic character in her own right – toiling and sweating and triumphing, just to be pushed aside until another news tip comes in. I want to keep watching this show, because even though I’m feeling just as frustrated as these characters, that just shows that the show is well-written.
The story behind “Good Girls Revolt” is true – the show itself is based on Lynn Povich’s nonfiction book “The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace.”Although the TV show seems, based on episode synopses, to lead up to the lawsuit, the book is said to cover both the workplace culture Povich experienced during her time at Newsweek, as well as the lawsuit she and her female coworkers brought against the magazine for discrimination.
As I write this, I realize I’m dancing around the thing that got to me as I watched the show, which is ironic. I’ve gotten credit for all of the work I’ve ever done. No one has ever called me “dear” or “honey” – yuck – in the workplace. But none of that means we’ve eradicated sexism. All types of discrimination still exist, although some are less overt, less accepted, than they were in the 60s.
Just like the women of “Good Girls Revolt,” we will take steps forward and then be forced back. I’m grateful not only for the work of the women on whom the show is based, but also for the existence of the show itself. “Good Girls Revolt” just goes to show that when something is unjust, although you may feel discouraged, you need to get back on your feet. You need to fight back.