When a young Eleanor Holmes Norton shows up in the second episode of the Amazon Video’s new girl-power series “Good Girls Revolt,” the other female characters agree on one thing: She’s terrifying.
The two sides meet for the first time in the late 1960s at a “consciousness raising” event in Manhattan, where Norton (played by actress Joy Bryant), then a young American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, leads a group of young working women through a trust exercise. She’s there, according to Nora Ephron (actress Grace Gummer) “to wake women up.” The other “good girls,” a group of whip-smart researchers at “News of the Week” who were not allowed to be reporters because of their gender, are prepared to be woke.
Nearly five decades later, Norton (D), the District’s non-voting delegate to Congress, says the series, based on Lynn Povich’s real-life account of her time at Newsweek captured in the book “The Good Girls Revolt,” definitely got that right. Well, she was not “terrifying” exactly, but the young lawyer was not exactly easygoing, either.
“A lot of this was a challenge,” explained Norton, who in real life would eventually help the women sue Newsweek for better opportunities for career advancement. “If you don’t challenge these women who were the only ones taking the risk — this was not my risk — you had to convince them.”
At the time, women’s rights were not considered a civil rights issues, according to Norton. So it took some “consciousness raising” to get the Newsweek researchers in the frame of mind to sue their bosses and alienate their male colleagues.
These were the “crème de la crème,” she explained: Fulbright scholars and Phi Beta Kappas who were working at one of the national publications in the country. “And the notion that you should get more than that didn’t occur to them,” Norton said. There was a sense among the women of “the pit” that they had been chosen and not held back in second-tier positions.
That is until they started organizing.
“Ultimately, they came to believe they needed someone to be terrifying,” Norton said. “If I had any of their tentativeness, that does not inspire confidence. I was tough on them. I didn’t say, ‘Don’t worry, Mommy will take care of you.’”
So yes, she was a bit scary. But there’s one thing the series, which sent Norton several scripts to peruse for accuracy, does get wrong about that first encounter.
In that same meet-cute scene, which has the air of a top-secret meeting, Norton wakes the researchers up by explaining plainly that “if women aren’t allowed the same jobs as men, that’s illegal.” Seconds later, the group is called back to the circle to “celebrate their beautiful bodies” by looking at their nether regions with the help of a makeup compact.
“I didn’t get final say,” Norton said, “but certainly no one ever said take out your mirror and look at your vagina.”