Have you ever watched a TV show or a movie based on a book, and found the screen adaptation full of flaws, yet been intrigued enough by the kernel that it’s based on, so as to want to read the book? That happened to me with Girlboss, and that’s what happened with this book as well.
Late 1960s in the US were a time of awakening, on multiple fronts – civil rights, women’s rights, counterculture and all that. Print publications published stories about all these awakenings, but were dozing worse than Rip Van Winkle. Women were hired as researchers and never made it as writers or editors, even when they had demonstrated the chops time and again. In fact, publications like Newsweek claimed that it was a newsmagazine tradition to not have women writers. The women of Newsweek seethed, and came together to slapp the first sex discrimination at workplace lawsuit on the Newsweek management, on the same day that Newsweek published a cover story on the women’s rights movement.
The book begins in the present, with three Newsweek women writers feeling that despite all the reported advancement of women in the workplace, they still fell behind the men. They dig and learn about the lawsuit 50 years ago, and how the women of Newsweek learned that the division they had taken for granted – women would be researchers and men editors or writers – was actually illegal. It’s a powerful story of a group of women standing up and fighting for their rights, and a consciousness-raising moment for the entire industry, as women working in publications from Readers Digest to The New York Times followed suit and began suing against sex discrimination.
What I found most interesting was the fact that most of these women understood that they were fighting for their careers, but also for a cause bigger than their own careers. In fact, other than the author, no other woman became a senior editor at Newsweek, but none regretted participating in the lawsuit. What is also interesting is how some women, including the publisher Katherine Graham, struggled to overcome their own prejudices in how they believed women should act in the workplace. Graham reportedly never supported the women and usually dismissed their demands as inconsequential, though she later went through some consciousness-raising of her own, courtesy her friendship with the feminist icon Gloria Steinem. The book left me with a question: how will the Me Too movement be viewed 50 years hence? Would it be a consciousness-raising movement, leading to visible change in how women are treated, or would it just be a trend that will run its course?