Things They Don’t Teach You in Social Studies

“Oh, no, he’s going to kill himself,” I said aloud.

The words came on the heels of the noise from the door closing, which immediately collided with the explosion of the bullet. One gunshot. As perverse as it sounds, I was excited that I called the scene. I saw the desperation and peace that preceded it.

“Why would he kill himself?” Bridget asked.

“He did two tours of duty in Vietnam. He was treated like a second-class citizen. The country that he served spat at his service. And he must have felt so hopeless that he believed he would be better off dead,” I said.

“That’s awful,” she said.

“It is. It was awful,” I replied.

“How did you know?” she asked me. “How did you know he was going to shoot himself?”

I replied. “It was the confidence and grace that he held toward his childhood friend, and when he gave him the Mickey Mantle baseball from their childhood, and then stood up to say goodbye. I just knew it was his last goodbye.”

She accepted that. We returned to watch the season finale of Good Girls Revolt on Amazon Prime. It’s both an enlightening and depressing show. All of which was never taught in a social studies book. It seemed like every school year we went over the same stuff, rarely getting close to the 50s and 60s, let alone 70s. Between Vietnam, the war at home, and the challenge women faced in acquiring equal footing in my former field, journalism, it was a remarkable show. It focuses on a group of women researchers at a fictional weekly news magazine that filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for equal treatment.

From The Atlantic article: The show, inspired by veteran journalist Lynn Povich’s book, told the story of the landmark sex discrimination lawsuit she and 45 other women filed against Newsweek in 1970. Good Girls Revolt captures the cultural awakening of that time period and centers on a group of young women who, despite doing work similar to that of their male coworkers, are paid less and are relegated to the title “researchers,” while their male colleagues are “reporters,” getting all the credit and bylines.

There’s an interesting dichotomy of gender throughout the show.

  • Veterans want respect for what their contribution.
  • Black Panthers and the underground want respect for blacks and non-whites.
  • Women wanting respect from the men in power, in all venues, their marriages, their workplace, their nuclear families.
  • And white men of privilege wanting respect because they are white men.

Set in the late 60s, and into the early 70s, it is not unlike today. Without Black Lives Matter, would #MeToo or #TimesUp matter? They are all iterations of the same theme: Equality. It makes me think about the 13 consecutive years that I recited: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We are not indivisible. We haven’t been united since before I was born.

The Vietnam veteran, Noah, killed himself because the war in Vietnam divided his country. His last sacrifice was to tell his story to his childhood friend, whose class and college education sent him on a different path. He thanked his friend for writing the story for the magazine because it would do a lot of his buddies good. Just like the bullet that killed him, the war tore through class and race and permeated to gender. Those wounds have never healed.

Hippi Bridget Lakefront Chicago
Hippi Bridget Lakefront Chicago 2009, by Karen Craven

What I didn’t say to Bridget about the suicide was how I instinctively knew he would die.  So much of what I have read and learned about suicide include a peaceful ending. Just like someone plans a wedding, the person planning to depart us makes peace with friends and enemies. Noah’s childhood friend, an established reporter at a national news magazine, represented the enemy; a man of white privilege who evaded service to his country. Noah, despite his bravery and military service, will walk in the shadows of the cowards who did not serve, and that was the conflict that Noah could not bear. The two-faces of our country were beautifully contrasted in the series. For and against, or rich and poor, either way, it was a country divided, where the Bravehearts lost out.

I could be overthinking, overwriting, but this experience kept me up for quite some time Tuesday, so it’s why it’s being written now. The show is perfectly emblematic of our ongoing battle of those who want to be seen as equals versus those who want to remain dominant. It’s black and white, brown versus black, men versus women, straight versus gays, trans versus all, sexual suppression versus sexual freedom, evangelical versus … You get the picture.

The final scene ended with the women announcing their claim against the EEOC at a press conference where they faced a room packed wall to wall with all male reporters, then the screen turned to black. At which Bridget yelled, “That’s bull shit”.

I shook my head in agreement. “It most certainly is.”

“If those women wanted to be reporters then the magazine should have just let them,” she said.

I pointed out the room and asked her if she saw one woman in the sea of reporters who covered that press conference. She said no.

Her bullshit comment came after a number of scenes where women were treated like broads and dimwits. These actions stood in contrast to their work which made every reporter look a hell of a lot smarter than he was. These women were the better halves. And yet, their husbands struck them, fucked them, waited to be served by them. Their fathers saw them as women whose hands were made to serve and please a spouse, not to bang a typewriter. It was ok for a man to pierce a hole in his wife’s diaphragm, and yet it wasn’t legal for a woman to get an abortion.

She said bullshit with conviction and understanding, as well as empathy. I was proud that she was starting to get it. And I wasn’t the one telling her. She was figuring it out on her own. The lessons she learned were great, even including the scenes when Bridget closed her eyes. She remarked, “there’s a lot of sex in this show”. And she was right. There was, and I questioned my judgment about watching the series with her. But because of the questions she asked, like do women still use diaphragms, and if that woman already had three children she could hardly feed, why could she not get an abortion? The conversations about one night stands, birth control, orgasms, and mutually beneficial sex, are all conversations, that without the show, would likely be way too awkward to ever approach constructively.

As I attempted to get her to sleep Tuesday night, I tried to quiet her excited chatter about the women deserving any job that they wanted. I knew I made the right decision to watch the show with her. I read her social studies book recently. And whether Good Girls Revolt is fictitious or not, its story is true, the themes are, too and all of that is absent in her school book. The education about how we got to where we are at today, and why this country remains divided, will not be learned in middle school or from a book. That is a damn shame because it is more relevant than ever.

That’s for me to teach her. Thanks to Lynn Povich, author of The Good Girls Revolt,  who was one of the 46 women who filed the complaint. She helped me be a better social studies teacher and mom, too.

FYI: TIME explained what was going on, and how the issue wasn’t just about one magazine:

Newsweek‘s cover story on “Women in Revolt” was scarcely on the stands when 46 women researchers, reporters and the magazine’s one woman writer staged a revolt of their own. They complained to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that they are “systematically discriminated against in both hiring and promotion and are forced to assume a subsidiary role simply because they are women.” Newsweek‘s women were particularly incensed because the magazine had commissioned a freelance woman writer to do the Women’s Liberation cover story. Osborn Elliott, Newsweek‘s editor in chief, said that most of his researchers are women because of a “newsmagazine tradition going back almost 50 years.” He was quick to add, however, that he was not unwilling to alter tradition.

…Until recently, the rebellious restlessness of women in journalism had rarely surfaced. Last summer a female sportswriter sued to gain access to the press box at a professional football game; a feature writer won the right to withhold her byline from “wives-of-famous-men” assignments. And three months ago, women staffers ousted the male hierarchy of the underground and pornographic newspaper, Rat.


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