Lynn Povich started her journalism career as a Newsweek secretary in 1965. Soon, she and dozens of the magazine’s female underlings were holding secret meetings in the ladies’ room, plotting their escape from administrative labor. The magazine’s well-educated, highly qualified women were not satisfied answering phones, stuffing envelopes, and checking facts for its male staff of writers and editors. So in 1970, Povich and 46 of her female colleagues—with the pro-bono help of attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton—exited the restroom and sued Newsweek for sex discrimination. In 1975, Povich became the magazine’s first-ever female senior editor. This year, she wrote a book all about it—The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace.
Yes, a lot has changed since 1970. For one thing, female journalists are now publishing books chronicling the sexism of the news industry, and reviewing those books in the New York Times. (Women at the Times staged a similar revolt in the ’70s, an event that inspired its own book, and a Times review, too). In 2010, three young female Newsweek staffers revisited the 1970 insurrection, detailing how the magazine’s gender gap had improved in the past 40 years (women now make up 39 percent of the magazine’s editorial masthead, including the top slot), and where it had stalled (39 percent is not equity)—then published the story in Newsweek’s pages.
But female journalists still have plenty to discuss in the bathroom (or more likely, in the speedily-minimized Gchat window). Women’s representation in newsrooms has improved, but writing and editing gigs are hardly a 50/50 split. In 2011, women constituted 40 percent of newspaper newsroom employees (it took 12 years to gain just 4 percentage points). Major magazines publish seven stories by men for every one by a woman.