Rewriting Newsweek

Lynn Povich helped shatter a glass ceiling for female journalists

September 27, 2012

In “The Good Girls Revolt,” Lynn Povich tells how she and her co-workers sued the magazine for gender discrimination.

Lynn Povich was a “good girl,” a smart, well-educated woman from D.C. who landed a job as a fact-checker at Newsweek in the 1960s — back when Newsweek never hired women to be writers or editors. All that began to change on March 16, 1970, when Povich and 45 female co-workers sued the magazine on charges of gender discrimination. The women won, and Povich went on to become Newsweek’s first female senior editor. She describes the early years of her career in the new book “The Good Girls Revolt.”

You won a historic lawsuit with your co-workers, but, as you write, some women on staff weren’t even interested in being promoted at the time.
This is a story about women in transition, who were raised in the ’40s and ’50s to be good girls: be nice, be attractive to men, get married and have children. And coming of age in the ’60s, when the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement all took place, it was hard to challenge everything we’d been raised to believe a woman’s role should be.

You were initially represented by Eleanor Holmes Norton, who today is D.C.’s congresswoman.
We didn’t know her record when we approached her. We’d been thinking we might not be very appealing to her, a bunch of highly educated middle-class white women. But she was intrigued by [the case] from the very beginning. First of all, she was a feminist. And she was a prominent black woman who believed that black women should be part of the women’s movement. Also, she was fascinated by taking a case that was professional women.

What made you stay at Newsweek once you realized it was a discriminatory place? Why not leave?
A lot of us got hired because we wanted to work and have a job, but we weren’t very career-oriented. The idea was just to be in an interesting place, which Newsweek was. Even after the suit, after women started becoming reporters and even writers, it was a very exciting and interesting place to be. A lot of the women in the suit actually ended up having lifetime careers at Newsweek very successfully.

How do you feel about diversity in newsrooms today?
I don’t think we’ve done very well, frankly. Women are everywhere; they’re not in the very top of management, but you can’t go into a newsroom and not find a lot of women. But there are still very few people of color. I think our profession is still pretty white.

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