When Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt–a fictionalized series based on a real sexual discrimination lawsuit against Newsweek by its female staffers–was conceived, it had the weight of history going for it, contextualized against the prospect of a Hillary Clinton run. What it didn’t have was a sense that the past was still largely present. How would the series, and the nascent women’s rights movement it captured, be received in an era where many young women no longer feel the need to fight for rights in the same way, at least not under the banner of feminism?
But then Donald Trump became the Republican nominee. “We couldn’t have anticipated Trump,” said Lynda Obst, one of the show’s executive producers, in a screening Sunday night at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Obst was part of post-screening panel moderated by Mo Rocca and featuring former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, Glamour magazine EIC Cynthia Leive and Lynn Povich, former Newsweek staffer and author of the book The Good Girls Revolt, which inspired the series.
And as many of the panelists recounted their own sexual harassment and misogynistic war stories from their early days in journalism and entertainment, they noted how Trump was, indirectly, making feminism relevant again for a new generation. “We couldn’t have anticipated,” Obst said, “the wonderful responses to ‘nasty woman’ we’re getting,” she said, referring to Trump’s slam of Clinton during the final presidential debate, a phrase woman had been reclaiming ever since. Before then, Obst said there had been a “fear that young women had backlashed against feminism.”
But part of the reason Trump’s treatment of woman has become such a well-covered campaign issue is precisely because more women are involved in elections coverage. Abramson pointed to how the presence of the “girls on the bus,” the large group of female campaign reporters, adds to the filters through which the election is covered and understood. And Leive pointed out that it was Megyn Kelly who had started it all, back during the primary debate when she had asked Trump about his treatment of women.
Against these examples, it’s easy to get swayed a sense of we’ve-come-so-far-ism. And to be clear, there’s been a lot of progress. It is unimaginable that a woman at a publication today would be told, as Povich says women at Newsweek were in 1969, “If you want to write go something else. Women do not write in the newsroom.” Or even if that were, improbably, the case, that a woman would accept her lot in this sort of media life.
But as Abramson points out, there’s a “different set of problems” today. The balance of male to female broadcasters, contributors, bylines, is far from even. Nor is the gender (or racial or ethnic, for that matter) balance in top newsroom roles. We should laud progress, but we shouldn’t get too comfortable.
The series premieres Oct. 28 on Amazon Prime.