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The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace - Lynn Povich OH MY GOD!

oh my god.

Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bumps. The descriptions of the conflict these women felt between wanting to be good girls and realizing that being a good girl means becoming a shell and disappearing are so beautiful and told so well. Povich is brilliant, and it’s clear that she has so much compassion and understanding for women who reacted very differently to the discrimination they all felt.

And look at that cover! That cover alone makes me freak out. AAAAAAAAAHHHHH. I am reduced to inarticulate babbling because of my love for this book. I love you, book! I love you and miss you! Don’t be over, book! I neeeeeed. I think this book is going to have to take out a stalking order against me.

Rather than only inarticulately freaking out, I will tell you something of what this book is about, I guess. It tells the story of the women who worked at Newsweek in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s filing class action lawsuits under the recently passed (1964) Civil Rights Act (Title VII). Mostly, though, it draws out all of this intense humanity from the internal and external conflict surrounding the women’s decision to sue and the reactions from the magazine.

It gets the sentiments from both sides so right, and it is compassionate, while still being direct. Povich starts the story with a few girls working at Newsweek in 2009 and waking up to the discrimination they were experiencing, and then it tracks back to the parallel story of the women in the ‘60s. You never want to hear a story like this told in a way that villainizes one group or another – the women or men or the advocates for racial equality, etc. – and this one so gracefully conveys nuance in the reactions from all sides. Oh my god, how is this story not well-known American folklore???

So, the women at Newsweek ultimately filed two class actions with the EEOC. Their attorneys, a pregnant Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, later, a pregnant Harriet Rabb, kicked negotiation ass. It is so painful to read men saying, “Well, we are trying to not be racist anymore. Isn’t that enough for you?” as though the main consideration of anti-discrimination efforts is to make white men better people. And it is painful to read women disappearing to accommodate society, but Povich tells both of those points of view smartly and compassionately. Of course, though, she includes Eleanor Holmes Norton responding to the men by saying, “The fact that you have two problems [race and sex discrimination] isn’t my concern.” And she also tells of the women she knew advocating for each other’s skills and abilities and truly creating a sense of sisterhood and comradery, once they dropped their mutual suspicion, that is true to my experience of women working together.

Povich is also really interesting about the interplay of race and gender for the black women working at Newsweek. Ultimately, the entire group of black women opted out of the class action because of the tension between advocacy for racial equality and gender equality. As I understand it, there has always been that pressure on black women to be loyal to race above gender, as though they are mutually exclusive. And the sense that white women are complaining about a gilded cage, while the black women experienced a dank, rat-infested torture chamber, overwhelmed any sense of identification with the white women who first thought of the lawsuit. Povich, also, though, very articulately describes Eleanor Holmes Norton’s take on race and gender advocacy, and that was absolutely brilliant to read. Oh my god, read this book.

When I first started law school, I was really surprised by a few of my women professors who were very competitive with women students in my class. I had just come from a male-dominated law firm in which women were relegated to a secretary ghetto, but most of the women in that ghetto were very supportive of each other. The more I thought about it, though, the more the competitiveness made sense to me. These women, becoming professionals in the ‘60s and ‘70s, fought tooth and nail to be where they are today. One of the professors who has been most competitive with me tells this story of how she was first in her class at law school, editor in chief of the law review, got the highest score on her bar exam, and she couldn’t find a job after she graduated because she is a woman. Women are not welcome in society. So disgusting. So, it totally makes sense to me that when society sets it up that there is room for one token woman in a company, you would turn against other women. And it is impossible for me to feel angry at a woman who experienced that kind of discrimination and successfully retained a professional status. That is incredible, and even if it has, at times, resulted in a bad experience for me, it is the discrimination, not the women, that I blame.

Every time I talk to a woman, I hear stories like those in this book. Every woman has these stories, and they are incredible. I love them. I do not, of course, love the way discrimination dehumanizes women, but I do love when it turns us into warriors and when it makes us think of the women who will come after us and hope for a better life for them.

Thank you! Thank you, Lynn Povich, for writing this book! Thank you, women, for living bold lives. Thank you for being good girls, but thank you, also, for giving up that idea for those of us who would come after you. It makes us more willing to give that idea up, too, and stop lying to ourselves about who we are and what we want. Seeing you advocate for yourselves and each other makes me feel like, I, too, can be a real human with a life and a passion. Oh, gush gush. Read this freaking book, women, if you want to hear stories of people like you! Read this freaking book, men, if you want to know about women. People, read this book!

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I got a copy of this book from netgalley.