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Why We Made "Good Girls Revolt": For Past and Future Generations of Women

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 13/11/2015 Lynda Obst

The day I went for my interview at the New York Times, I was 24, and not nervous enough given that I was in Abe Rosenthal's office, the august and legendary Executive Editor. He was squat and messy, but gave off the indelible aura of enormous power. His first question to me was what I thought of the magazine, for which I was interviewing. Brashly but honestly told him I thought it was a beached whale. He sat back and smiled. "When you start here, don't tighten your suspenders," he said to me. Note that I had no real idea what suspenders were (the things that held up blue jean overalls?). But I smiled, charmed. From that time on I was one of his favorites.
Little did I know that there were daggers coming from eyes all around me. Eyes that were on women who had been sidelined because they had just successfully sued the paper for having been discriminated against for decades. Those women had tried and failed to be promoted to positions of relevance at the paper and I was about to prance my way upwards at the magazine from cover story to cover story all because of phenomenal timing. It turned out that Abe needed to show he liked women -- and he needed to show it that year! And I was the lucky recipient of his largess.
So I trod happily on the well-worn carpet of their unrewarded efforts, but I was clueless. I knew nothing of their struggles or history at the paper. I knew they were resentful because I could see it in their faces. But until I read Lynn Povich's story of the lawsuit at Newsweek -- which immediately preceded and prompted the one at the New York Times and is so beautifully told in her book, The Good Girls Revolt -- I didn't know why.
In 1969, at the very cusp of the beginning of what we now call feminism, the researchers at Newsweek where Lynn was then working were allowed to research but not write their stories, despite the exact same training and education as their male peer reporters. They would hand their story over to a male reporter for a pass and it would run under his byline. Slowly, they began to see how unfair this was. That year they began to conspire in ladies rooms and their apartments to sue Newsweek for gender discrimination in their workplace. The famous civil rights lawyer, now congresswoman from D.C, Eleanor Holmes Norton took on and fought their case, realizing that it fell under the Civil Rights act of 1964. It took two lawsuits to win. The women's suit at the New York Times followed. And my easy run followed their historic efforts.
When my exec at Sony gave me the book last year, I knew we had to make it into a series, both to honor the generation that allowed mine to thrive (to an extent -- but a great extent) and for the ones after me who know even less about these heroes than I did.
And then of course there was Nora.
Ephron of course. Her first job out of Wellesley was at Newsweek as a researcher. She was told she wasn't allowed to write. She already had enough spitfire and self-confidence to know this would not at all work for her, so she quit. I needed to bring this aspect of Nora to life, as this inner confidence is what made Nora so inspirational to all of us who knew her -- for a lunch, a day, a seminar or a lifetime. She changed all our lives just by proximity. Like feminist fairy dust, being near Nora made us want to be great, want to live an adventure, want to be Lillian Hellman, or Isadora, or Isak, or in the end, Nora: the best most exciting unintimidated versions of ourselves. In watching her inspire her colleagues at Newsweek, we could bring that to multitudes of women who had never met her or seen her or even read her. We could bring the larger sense of who Nora Ephron was to anyone who had a computer.
It was a must.
So we made it. And it's on. Grace Gummer plays her with grace (pardon me) and aplomb. The rest of our good girls flesh out so many of us of that time -- I see so my treasured girl friends of that painful, rollicking crazy moment. Share it with us, my valentine to the most remarkable woman I've ever known, all of our gratitude to the scores of women who came before us and allowed us an easier go of it, as we are doing for our daughters and granddaughters.

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