Why Good Girls Need to Revolt

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Yes, I’m breaking my own rule to review Good Girls Revolt (2016), the new Amazon production set in 1970. But it’s not just a mid-century Mad Man-esque period piece, this is a history of working women breaking through the newsprint ceiling. Loosely based on the 2012 nonfiction book The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of ‘Newsweek’ Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich, this miniseries is a fictionalized look at how a group of female journalists eventually filed a class-action suit against a major publisher to end gender-based discrimination in their workplace, breaking down a huge barrier for women writers. If you don’t think this is applicable today, please tell me about the gigantic rock you are living under because it must be nice and quiet there.

Before I get to all the feminism ‘n shit, let me address the costuming. Yep, it’s the 1970s, and I hate it because of that fact. The era is too familiar to me, for one, and this rendition is just a smidge imperfect overall. Sometimes, the clothing looks too cliche 1970 in that stepped-out-of-a-magazine way, when these are upper-middle-class working people who wouldn’t be all that fashionable. Sometimes, the clothes are just too modern, especially on the men (needs more sideburns and longer hair OR if the guys are going for clean-cut look, the clothes should be more straight-laced and uptight). I wonder if they blew the budget on CGI to recreate the 1970s New York backgrounds and add extras and cars instead of getting every single costume perfect. Trade-offs! Still, Good Girls Revolt mostly looks right for the period, even if it’s a period that doesn’t really qualify as historical by Frock Flicks’ standards. Besides, the subject matter is right up our alley, so here we go.

Good Girls Revolt (2016)

I know they’re showing how different the characters are, but having one woman wearing all flower-power garb with long hair and the other wearing fitted dresses bubble hair-dos, is just so literal.

Good Girls Revolt (2016)

These guys’ hairstyles say 2016 more than 1970.

Good Girls Revolt (2016)

Having worked at a vintage clothing store in college, I can tell you that, yes, both of those sweaters are authentic for the late 1960s.

As a piece of actual history, this miniseries resonates strongly. And, let me be a bit too honest, I started watching it before the election when I felt a whole lot more upbeat, and this story was a lot more uplifting. Finishing the series and this review now is TOUGH because the all-feminist Frock Flicks crew basically wanted to slit our collective wrists a week ago, but dammit, our foremothers went through this hell to make it better enough so we could be independent thinkers and even so we could kill time writing this fluffy little blog and work in bits of what we learned in academia, so we can’t stop now.  Ehem.  Watching Good Girls Revolt felt particularly real to me because I’ve worked in a couple newsrooms, and even now, they can be an old boy’s club, it’s just not codified like it was back in the ’60s and ’70s (the Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2015 report found that, on average, men generated 62% of news in U.S. publications, while women generated 37%). I tend to think any woman working in a male-dominated professional field today will see Good Girls Revolt as highly relevant. But this series isn’t a revenge fantasy like 9 to 5, and it’s doesn’t depict an easy win for the women. What’s most interesting is how slow and evocative the realization of this discrimination is and how it could be changed.

The women working at this publication at this time are not born-radicals. Like most people, women or men, they just want a job that pays enough and provides some sense of satisfaction. And like most women of that era (and like many women still), they’ve been taught to be “good girls” — they don’t raise their voices, they do what they’re told, and, at work, they put their heads down and get the job done. It was a privilege to have a job at such an important publication, especially for a woman (even though they had all been at the top of their classes at prestigious East Coast colleges). Making waves is always risky, and you wouldn’t want to rock the boat and mess up what a good thing you had. Said writer Povich of the women’s early attitudes:

“When the rest of us saw that guys who graduated from the same schools without any professional experience got hired as reporters and writers over us, that’s when we decided to do something. But we were so insecure and so intimidated about trying out as writers that we asked a few guys to teach a writing course for women. And even after women succeeded at that, progress stalled. The editors seemed to think that Newsweek writing was a special talent one was born with—but somehow only men were born with it.” (Behind ‘The Good Girls Revolt’: The ‘Newsweek’ Lawsuit That Paved the Way for Women Writers, The Daily Beast.)

That is why the good girls had to revolt. The radicals and rebels always revolt. We expect them to, and some people will write that off as “oh they’re so crazy!” When even the good girls revolt, you start to notice. If the women who have been conditioned to take the abuse and accept the tiny stale crumbs that the patriarchy hands down to them, if even they start to ask questions and wonder why they’re getting such a bad deal, then yeah, something’s wrong with the system. You can’t dismiss them as easily. This also points out the relevance of having role models — these good girls didn’t have a precedent. They only saw men succeeding in their field. By standing up and asking for what they were owed, they broke the barrier and became role models for other young women.

Good Girls Revolt (2016)

Eleanor Holmes Norton (the lawyer) is the only main African-American character, but these publications where pretty white at the time (and still are, ehem).

Through the fictional characters of sassy Patti Robinson (played by Genevieve Angelson), timid Cindy Reston (played by Erin Darke), and straight-laced Jane Hollander (played by Anna Camp), the story of the actual Newsweek women is told with subtlety and humor. Injecting a touch of gravitas are the real-life characters of Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant), the ACLU lawyer who took on their case, and writer Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer), who quit Newsweek early on and didn’t actually participate in the lawsuit. Even the male characters fill out the show nicely, not merely as chauvinist jerks (OK, Jim Belushi’s publisher is an asshole), but as products of the times, who seem honestly surprised that it’s a problem to treat women differently than men. Good Girls Revolt isn’t perfect, but the series gives a relatively nuanced look at women slowly earning some equality in the workplace.

Good Girls Revolt (2016)

Nora Ephron, center, is dead-on accurate.

 

Have you watched Good Girls Revolt on Amazon? Remind you of any work experiences?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

25 Responses

  1. ladylavinia1932

    I get the feeling that the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s is a hard period for Hollywood costumers to grasp. My sister, who is a big fashionista, was very critical of the costumes for the last two seasons of “MAD MEN”, which covered 1968 to 1970.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      It’s a transitional period, & those are always hard — costume designers tend to go overboard towards either the earlier or later period. That really has to come down to a character-by-character decision, who would be most up-to-date & who wouldn’t, with a certain amount of mixing between the eras, since even the trendiest person of any time period isn’t totally committed to the current year’s fashions.

      Reply
  2. cozydell

    Right on, sistah! That glass ceiling was firmly in place when I hit the streets of Manhattan in 1966 with B.A. and M.A. in hand. It was kindly explained to me at employment agencies that women could be hired at the major magazines only as research assistants to the men who wrote the stories. If I wanted to write, I should work at a women’s magazine. And of course businesses could not be expected to invest in women who would only leave the work force to bear children. Because you were expected to resign or be transferred to work avoiding the public once you began to “show.” I lucked out and stumbled onto the world of “house organs” where I was a valued employee, got to write and take extension courses in photography and typography (which involved spec-ing type for hot lead, seriously), and made a decent salary. But the system described here was firmly in place, lest anyone think otherwise.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Thank you so much for your POV. And this “of course businesses could not be expected to invest in women who would only leave the work force to bear children” is still out there, ugh! Not as bad, but dayum. Drives me batty.

      Reply
      • Jay

        I know someone who was the first woman ever awarded a specific graduate scholarship for this very reason [“women have babies and leave”]. The year? 2001.

        Reply
  3. mmcquown

    That title is just asking for it, so I’ll say it: Yes, the good girls are revolting! My favourite memory of that period was the cover of one of the magazines that showed a model sporting the “peasant look” compared to as guy dressed as a real peasant. This was also the period of the “beehive” hairdo, long coats and high boots. One cab driver was quoted as saying, “They’re all Cossacks!”

    Reply
  4. Stephanie Publicker

    I’m probably 5 years younger than the girls in the show. From the opening credits it felt as if I’d fallen through time back to then, a time that I hadn’t thought about in years. I had variations of the clothing, especially the paisley bohemian styles. The scene of the group of women taking out mirrors to examine their bodies reminded me of the copy of Our Bodies Ourselves I scoured. Good Girls Revolt gets the sense of the era.

    My mother is 99 and I had this vision of visiting her in the nursing home holding a copy of the newspaper announcing Hillary’s win and taking a picture of my mom with the newspaper. So last Wednesday I cried and ranted. Thank you for the comment about our foremothers and how we can’t stop now. It’s just going to take longer.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Your intention to bring your mother the newspaper with Hillary’s win breaks my heart all over again. Trystan and I were talking the day after the election about how our poor mothers thought this era was behind them. I’ve had a stomach ache since November 8 and I’m trying to wrap my brain around how this works out going forward, especially as it pertains to the blog/podcast. We have talked about ways to continue putting forth a more obvious and in-your-face-patriarchy message on the blog, but it’s difficult because so much of what makes up costuming flicks is inherently sexist and glorifying of less-than-feminist narratives. Finding strong female leads that aren’t buried under the weight of helplessness is really, REALLY hard, particularly in historical flicks.

      We just have to keep pushing people to demand strong female characters in costume movies. And if no one else does it, well, maybe it’s time we start writing those screenplays ourselves.

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I definitely thot of “Our Bodies Ourselves” in that scene — & the bathroom scene the next day was so funny! I really enjoyed those touches, they felt authentic & poignant.

      Reply
  5. Kathleen Norvell

    I remember trying to get a writing job with BA in English firmly in hand in 1970. The local newspaper said it would give me a “trial period” but never did. During the 70s I worked as a proofreader in a printing company, a government library tech, a medical editor,and then finally, a technical writer. It really was hard to get a foot in the door. It was so much easier in technical writing.

    As far as clothing, I was into miniskirts and bellbottoms. I had more than a dozen pairs of jeans, all different colors (my favorite were a Union Jack design), but I couldn’t wear those to work. I admit that I was more of a hippie (loved Giorgio de St. Angelo designs). I made a lot of my clothes, which consisted of mostly suits and dresses, but the dresses were NOT conservative. I still remember the Pucci-print dress (very much like the one “Eleanor Holmes Norton is wearing, above) with a hood and a butterfly-sleeved red paisley print sheath.

    Later in the decade came polyester double-knit (gag!), leisure suits (gag again), platform shoes. Just be happy with what’s being shown on screen because it gets much worse later!

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      No jeans & no pants were allowed! All the fuss being made about pantsuits today — that’s why. Women couldn’t wear pants to work until very recently (not even in the US Senate until 1993!).

      Reply
      • Alys Mackyntoich

        As a litigation attorney, I can tell you that pantsuits were not “safe” for wearing in Court, even on the liberal East Coast, until after 2000. In 2008, when I had to go argue a motion in Kentucky, I was strongly advised not to wear a pantsuit if I wanted to be taken seriously.

        Reply
  6. Barbara

    I just wanted to say that I love you all so much. :) (It’s been an emotional week, and I have a feeling watching this is going to be hard.)

    Reply
  7. Susan Pola

    I am mot able to get Amazon on my cable and i will wait for the dvd. I too am suffering from ‘TrumpShock’. It galls me how Hillary got more popular votes, but the Electorial votes went to Trump, who terrifies me. We need to change it. Popular voye equals winner. Do away with Electorial System.

    Reply
  8. Jane

    I started my first post college job–as a social worker–in 1970. We were told we could wear pants, but only as part of a pantsuit. The pantsuits for sale were all ugly double knits. I wore short skirts and midis.
    About the fashions in Good Girls: there are lots of circle pins and I don’t remember them after the mid-sixties. Also–didn’t we have pantyhose by then? Several of the “gals” are shown putting on or taking off hose/garter belt combos.

    Reply
    • Kathleen Norvell

      We most definitely had pantyhose before then. Without pantyhose, I could not have worn miniskirts. Some women preferred stockings and garter belts. However, as a woman with long legs (as long an inseam as my 6’2″ boyfriend), I could never get hose long enough that they didn’t pull the garter belts down over my hips (I know, TMI), so I thought pantyhose were God’s gift to women.

      I still have some vintage circle pins, but rarely wore them. They were too “old lady” or “preppy brat” for me.

      Reply

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