The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich
Consciousness raising, that beloved tool of second wave feminism, has been making a comeback on Twitter in the last week. In the wake of the horrific Santa Barbara shootings, #YesAllWomen collected (and still collects—bless the perpetual present tense of the Internet!) stories of what women have to put up with in the patriarchal rape culture that birthed the attack. During the second wave, consciousness raising was a way for women to identify what they previously thought were personal problems as, instead, systemic ones; last week, several men admitted to never realizing what it was like for women. And to make good on the fact that feminism will be intersectional or it will be bull, #YesAllWhiteWomen and #CisGaze soon followed.
Given the nature of Twitter, there are plenty of morons trying to hijack the hashtags, but they can’t keep a good conversation down. Consciousness raising was first started to combat how isolated women were from each other at the time, but the demise of the monoculture and the nichification of everything, including politics, can occasionally have the same effect. Seeing a wide rainbow of feminists taking to Twitter to speak up for each other without talking over one another—that’s feminism.
Against this particular backdrop, reading The Good Girls Revolt is an interesting experience. In 1970, on the same day that Newsweek ran a story about the burgeoning second wave of feminism, forty-six female Newsweek staffers announced that they were suing their employer for gender discrimination. Frustrated by being trapped in the research department despite having credentials identical to their male coworkers, this committee banded together to protest the casual sexual harrassment and dismissal they faced every day. It’s fleetly written by Lynn Povich, one of the staffers who ended up becoming Newsweek’s first female senior editor. Her journalistic style stretches a little thin to accommodate the book. She breezes through decades in just a little over two hundred pages, never delving too deeply into the emotional turmoil caused by the harrasment or the demise of her marriage.
Largely, The Good Girls Revolt is a feel-good piece about second wave feminism, complete with a heartwarming coda of three new Newsweek staffers discovering the story, writing a piece about feminism inspired by their lawsuit, and feeling a kinship to their foremothers. But, tellingly, these staffers express disappointment when Jezebel calls them out for not touching on the voices of the women of color, bemoaning that Internet feminism is so cliquish. (They took the ensuing debate to the Internet.) The kind of feminism that The Good Girls Revolt champions and wants to pass down is mainstream white second wave feminism—complete with blinders.
Povich demurs that the ladies of Newsweek were hardly radicals. (Their insistence on working within the system rather than dismantling it and feasting on its bones already says that in spades.) Povich and company weren’t the man-hating, bra-burning, granola-crunching feminists they so feared—oh, she insists, they were ladies. Like a nervous kid trying to convince the Sorting Hat that they don’t belong in Slytherin, she even prefers the word “drive” to “ambition.” For the most part, the book is about the rather gentle feminist awakenings of the women involved, although it still giggles at the idea that a lawyer was relieved to see them as clients because they were straight feminists! (They then go one to call Floyrence Kennedy the lunatic fringe, despite her help.)
I see this kind of feminism—narrowly focused on well-to-do, well-educated, white women to the exclusion of others—rearing its ugly head recently, especially in the form of Lean In. It’s very disappointing, albeit not totally unexpected in a book like this. There’s a way to write about the second wave and its problems without indulging in them yourself, and The Good Girls Revolt misses that mark.
Still, as with everything I read, there’s something to be learned here. Namely, that Anna Fels’ Necessary Dreams sounds awesome, if the quotes included from that book here are anything to go by. Her book is only called upon to explain ambition and the power of child care, but having someone specifically point out that our work cycle is expressly designed for the male life cycle is mind-blowing.
Bottom line: There’s a way to write about the second wave of feminism without indulging in the way it erased various groups, but The Good Girls Revolt isn’t it. Fleetly written. If you’d like.
This book was made available to me for publicity purposes.