The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace

Lynn Povich, The Good Girls Revolt. Published by Public Affairs on 10 September 2012. “In 1970, Newsweek magazine decided to do a cover story on the brand new Women’s Movement, but there was just one problem: they had no woman to write it. Only men were hired as writers on the magazine; women were hired as researchers and rarely, if ever, promoted to reporter or writer. The day Newsweek hit the stands with its cover called “WOMEN IN REVOLT,” 46 of us sued the magazine for sex discrimination. We were the first women in the media to sue and comprised the first female class action suit. Following us, women working at Time Inc., The Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, NBC and the Associated Press, among others, also sued their employers.”

Excerpts from story:

On March 16, 1970, Newsweek magazine hit the newsstands with a cover story on the fledgling feminist movement titled “Women in Revolt.” The bright yellow cover pictured a naked woman in red silhouette, her head thrown back, provocatively thrusting her fist through a broken blue female-sex symbol. As the first copies went on sale that Monday morning, forty-six female employees of Newsweek announced that we, too, were in revolt. We had just filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging that we had been “systematically discriminated against in both hiring and promotion and forced to assume a subsidiary role” simply because we were women. It was the first time women in the media had sued on the grounds of sex discrimination and the story, irresistibly timed to the Newsweek cover, was picked up around the world….

At 10 A.M. our lawyer, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the assistant legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, began reading a statement to a packed press conference at the ACLU’s office at 156 Fifth Avenue. “It is ironic,” she said, waving a copy of the magazine, “that while Newsweek considers women’s grievances newsworthy enough for such major coverage, it continues to maintain a policy of discrimination against the women on its own staff. . . . The statistics speak for themselves—there are more than fifty men writing at Newsweek, but only one woman.” She pointed out that although the women were graduates of top colleges, held advanced degrees, and had published in major news journals, “Newsweek’s caste system relegates women with such credentials to research jobs almost exclusively and interminably.”…

Mary Pleshette, the Movies researcher, [was] asked whether the discrimination was overt. “Yes,” she answered. “There seems to be a gentleman’s agreement at Newsweek that men are writers and women are researchers and the exceptions are few and far between.”…

In early 1970, Newsweek’s editors decided that the new women’s liberation movement deserved a cover story. There was one problem, however: there were no women to write the piece….

“The Newsweek case was pathbreaking in terms of impact on the law and on society,” Eleanor Holmes Norton told me. “It encouraged other women to come forward, it had an effect on journalism, and it had a wide-ranging effect on women. Journalists had to write about it, and because the women were so extraordinary, because the case was so clearly one of blatant, unmitigated discrimination, it made people understand discrimination against women in an important way.”