If you haven’t already binge-watched the journalism drama “Good Girls Revolt,” the Amazon series comes at an appropriate time, as women’s rights are once again a major topic in our country’s political discourse.
Inspired by the landmark sex-discrimination case at Newsweek, the fictionalized show pays tribute to the world of journalism in the 1960s and 1970s—cigarettes, hookups, journalistic excursions, office politics, and short skirts abound. The 10-episode period drama challenges viewers to externalize sexual discrimination. But beyond the adorable 1960s fashion and buzzing workplace drama, the show offers an intimate look into the sexual ethic of the time.
Set in the newsroom of the fictional News of the Week magazine in 1969, five years after the Civil Rights Act made sex discrimination illegal, the field of journalism is still behind. The men get bylines while the women, some of whom graduated from prestigious universities, conduct research and make coffee runs. As one female staffer, Patti Robinson explains, “We report, investigate, and write files for the reporters; they do a pass, write their names on them, and then the stories go to press.”
This arrangement goes unquestioned until the young female staffers begin to understand the injustice of the situation. Raised to become apolitical housewives, these “good girls” become the first female journalists to sue their publication for sex discrimination in the newsroom.
Meet the Good Girls and the Stereotypical Men
The series focuses on three female staffers at News of the Week. Robinson, a vibrant 20-something with caramel-blonde locks and a hippie-chic vibe, is a researcher who demonstrates both intelligence and drive. But despite her round-the-clock work, she does not get credit for the stories she covers.
Cindy Reston writes photo captions for the newsroom as she tries to gain as much “real-world” professional experience before she plans to have children with her husband. This adorably timid character is quite likable, and her coming-of-age story adds an endearing component to the show.
The character who most closely resembles the traditional 1960s woman is Jane Hollander, always dressed in Jackie-O perfection and eager to work hard in the newsroom. She’s a polished individual with pep in her step, though inwardly a hopeful romantic who longs to be loved and cherished.
Although it contains fictional characters, the show also portrays real historical figures. In the first episode, we meet Nora Ephron, the journalist, screenwriter, and Academy Award-winner. Throughout the series, we also see now-Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who led the 1970 Newsweek lawsuit. Adding an educational and informative component to the show, these characters depict the real-life people who took part in the social and political changes that swept through the country.
While viewers can track the character development of the female cast, the male characters remain one-dimensional and static. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Finn, while charming and passionate about producing groundbreaking journalism, remains oblivious to women’s issues. The national editor, Wick, represents a grumpy sexist who seldom speaks to a female staff member unless asking her to make him coffee.
Meanwhile, we see Patti’s reporter partner and boyfriend, Doug, who is a dedicated journalist passionate about giving voice to minorities. But even he maintains the conventional understanding of gender roles, which creates tension in his relationship with the free-spirited Patti. Although we see romantic subplots among the cast, the women resist the conventional relationships the men desire.
The Good Girls Aren’t Very Good—Or Smart
In their quest for freedom in the workplace, the women in the show ultimately become lost in the promiscuous wilderness of the sexual revolution. The series portrays the “anything goes” mentality with sexually explicit scenes raw enough to make you wince. Several female characters, despite their charming personalities, cheat on their husbands with coworkers. Others attend parties of utter debauchery. Sex becomes mere pleasure exchange, a fundamental aspect of the sexual liberation movement.
Although the girls make substantial advances in their careers, they destroy other significant areas of life, including sexuality and relationships. Sex becomes degraded and stripped of its beatific vision.
Several of the women even hook up with the very men they seek to sue. The primary example of “sleeping with the enemy” involves Patti, who spearheads the efforts to round up support for the lawsuit. Yet on the eve of the press conference in which they will announce the suit, she hooks up with the editor of the magazine (and cheats on her reporter boyfriend in the process). It’s amazing how a bright woman like Patti can compartmentalize these two important categories of her life without recognizing the absurdity.
In trying to actualize their sex and sexuality, the women in the show partake in a revolution that ultimately desensitizes them to meaningful physical intimacy. In the sexual revolution, we see a complete perversion of the mutual love and respect between men and women.
There’s Good In These Women Yet
Nevertheless, the true story that inspired the show (as told in a 2012 book by Lynn Povich) is definitely worth telling. The day after Newsweek published a cover story on feminism, called “Women In Revolt,” 46 female staffers at the magazine announced their suit for equal opportunity in the newsroom. As a journalism major myself, I value the opportunities such women opened to female journalists. The show’s main goal is to portray the injustice in the workplace that sparked the fight for equal opportunity, and this is executed well.
But in advancing her career, a woman should not sacrifice her moral propriety. In the act of intimacy and love we are not merely women or pleasure-seeking creatures. We are representatives of grace, love, and virtue. We should not separate physical union from the emotional, spiritual, or psychological unions that are intended to go with it.
Watching the show, I enjoyed being transported to the ‘60s, and I found the story of the “cultural decade” interesting. It paints the way things were for our grandmothers not long ago. But while the show perfectly captures the era and gives an interesting glimpse into the equal opportunity revolution, it also shows the dawn of a devastating sexual ethic of which we still see consequences today.