Why Good Girls Go Rogue
Photo Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL
Ever since Mad Men ended, I’ve been a little glum, apropos my TV viewing, but Good Girls Revolt on Amazon Prime Video has turned things around for me. The music alone makes it worth watching.
Based on Lynn Povich’s book by the same name, the new drama series set in 1969, follows the transformation “from career girls to feminists” of a group of researchers at the fictional News of the Week magazine.
The show re-enacts the uprising at Newsweek in 1970, when the women, who held researcher positions, filed an EEOC complaint (which lead to suing) over the magazine’s policy that only men could hold the title of “reporter.” Although the researchers were doing their share of reporting—finding, sourcing, and helping to craft stories—they would never see their names in a byline.
In the first episode, newly hired researcher, Nora Ephron, rewrites (for the better) the story of her male colleague and wants her name on it. When she’s denied, she quits, which is the impetus for the other, awe-inspired women to join her at a consciousness-raising meeting with an ACLU lawyer.
This is the post-“Peggy Olsen” generation; the one that paved the way for mine. But even with all they did to propel forward women in business, by the time I started in the early ‘80s, yes, we’d come a long way baby, but not far enough.
There were indeed women in power positions as department heads. As I was in advertising, I saw female creative directors and account managers—all at the VP level. However, as illustrated in that decade’s office-themed movies, like Big, The Secret of My Success and Working Girl, whenever all the honchos gathered around the conference table, they were a group of men and one woman.
Very early in my career, I had a “lone wolf” moment. My male boss brought me to a client meeting: over half a dozen men and 25-year-old me. Afterwards, I told my late aunt, who was 83 at the time, about my “Lorraine and the seven dwarfs” experience. As she had become a wife and mother right after she graduated high school circa 1920, and never held a job outside of her home, she was very impressed. Honestly, so was I, thinking it was cool and figuring that if there was to be one woman in the room, why shouldn’t it be me? I cringe now that it didn’t occur to me that there should have been more women at the table. The client couldn’t find a female manager to add to their team? My own agency didn’t have a female account executive who merited being on the business?
Although at the time, it was indeed a highlight for me, I remember all too many lows akin to the ones illustrated in the Amazon original series.
In many episodes, the editor in chief shouts: “My office,” and only the men rise from their desk chairs and head to the meeting; the women know they are personae non gratae. Once after a big meeting, the male members of the account/creative/production team went for drinks at some wood paneled- and leather club chaired-bar, not only to unwind, but breakdown what had happened, and likely talk about next steps. My female art director and I were not extended an invitation.
I actually got a bit choked up watching episode 8 entitled “Exposé.” (Oh, yeah, did I mention I binge watched?) Anna Camp’s capable, Bryn Mawr-grad “Jane” came up with a breakthrough story angle, only to have it handed off to be written by someone else—a more experienced woman freelancer, who works at a magazine that actually allows women to write. Been there. For Jane, as well as me, it seemed even more insulting. The magazine was going to break with tradition—finally—and give a woman a byline, and they went outside the company.
Also, like Jane, who has a change of heart about her original philosophy to be a career girl who would, “work hard, play by the rules, and advance on merit,” I, too, had a come-to-Jesus moment when I realized that it took more than that to make one’s way.
To redirect her career path, “good girl” Jane became the spokesperson for the women revolting against their bosses, whereas I had to become a freelancer, to game-change my professional endeavors.
In four years, when my daughter Meg is done with college, it will be her turn to enter the workforce as a professional. My hope is that equal pay for equal work will be the norm, and getting hired will be based on who’s the best person for the job.
Given, though, all the sexual harassment and gender-biased law suits that still surface in the news, perhaps Good Girls Revolt should be used by HR departments to illustrate that behavior that dates back to the 1970s has no place in present day. Then Meg will just be able to go to work and do her job.