One-on-One with Author Lynn Povich

Lynn Povich, a pioneer who with 45 other daring women led the charge for equal rights in journalism, talks about the changes she has seen since the 1970s and the challenges that still lie ahead for all of us

by Lesley Kennedy • Reporter

MORE: What was the atmosphere like after the first suit was filed— changes weren’t happening and writing position “try-outs” for women were pretty much a joke?
LP: It was really hard for the first staff women who tried out as writers. Except for one who ultimately made it, they all failed, even though two of them had been published elsewhere. One had gotten cover stories at both The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine. The other was writing for the Village Voice. They were being recognized outside of Newsweek, but their tryouts went nowhere. I would say most of the writers and reporters with whom we worked every day were very supportive because they knew the kind of work we could do. I think most of them respected us and understood that we were well qualified.  As with many organizations, the discrimination was in middle management, although several of the very top editors also were not happy with the women.

MORE: You call yourself an affirmative action baby.
LP: I would have never been offered the job as senior editor if it hadn’t been for our lawsuits or the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I’m proud to be an affirmative action baby. Anna Quindlen told me when she speaks to audiences, she too, says, “I am an affirmative action baby and if you think affirmative action means hiring a second-rate, mediocre person, you’re looking at one.”

MORE: So many journalists that followed just a few years after you say in the book that the Newsweek women – and The New York Times women who also filed a lawsuit—really allowed them to rise in the ranks. Do you consider yourself a trailblazer?
LP: I do. I think we were pioneers and opened the door for lots of women, not just in the media, but in the workplace in general. It’s rare that the women on the front lines really benefit. It was the generation just after us, the Anna Quindlens and the Gail Collinses who say to me, your generation did it for us. I look back on it: We were pretty young, most of us between 24 and 27, and we were passionate about the injustice; we felt we had little to lose. In the Old Testament, Nahson, who was Jewish and in the exodus from Egypt, was the first person who put his foot into the Red Sea, not knowing it would part. Those of us at Newsweek did things without knowing what was going to happen, and that was incredibly courageous. Having 46 of us gave us strength. Together, we gave each other the courage and the will to do it. … What’s interesting to me now is in this political season, women’s issues are becoming so prominent again and so important. My hope is that this generation, too, will be galvanized.

MORE: What are the most important lessons you learned during your career?
LP: You have to stand up for yourself. Our generation was mentored by men, and many of us were lucky enough to have good mentors. But, ultimately, we had to do it ourselves and push forward ourselves. This sexual discrimination suit showed me that when you actually organize and do something that requires risk you can create change, and that even the good girls can do it if they’re determined and focused and know their rights.

Next: One-on-One with Author Lee Woodruff

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