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Did Amazon Just Cancel Feminism?

The night before the election, I was too anxious to sleep, and in an effort to distract myself, I binge-watched the new Amazon series, Good Girls Revolt. Though the events it fictionalizes—when women brought a sex discrimination suit against Newsweek magazine—took place 47 years ago, it felt timely. As we stood on the cusp (I thought) of shattering the presidential glass ceiling, I reveled in watching young women in the waning days of the 1960s come into a sense of their own potential and their right to equal opportunity.

As a historian, I’m usually wary of TV shows meant to recreate a particular historical moment or event; the inevitable wrong notes are too jarring. Good Girls Revolt, which picks up chronologically just where Mad Men left off and attempts to ride its television wave, does not nearly match its artistry, but is nonetheless highly entertaining and historically accurate. Though I found some of the plot points and characters predictable, I was riveted.

Discussing the show with colleagues the next day, as we drove back from a final day of getting out the vote in New Hampshire, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I found so compelling about it. Was it the fun costumes, the attractive actors, the girl power plot? Surveying it again from the post-election perspective, I realized that the show provoked a potent mixture of hope and despair.

The show covers a period from the end of 1969 to the spring of 1970, and captures the heady moments of consciousness raising, of “click moments”, of discovering the power of sisterhood. Though the women of the fictional News of the Week face abundant indignities, casual harassment, and daily discrimination, they’re also coming together and stepping into their power. For all the frustrations and set-backs that they face, the overall atmosphere is one of awakening. From our perspective in 2016, we know what they have to look forward to – they will win their case, they will become editors, they will take pride in being “career girls” and they will make the term charmingly obsolete. It’s all ahead of them.

And then there’s the dark underbelly of hindsight. We know all too well what’s ahead of them. We know how much doesn’t change in the intervening years. We know that women are still fighting so many of the same battles – for equal pay, for equal representation in media, against workplace sexual harassment, and for more egalitarian domestic expectations. We know that feminist progress is two steps forward, one step back. We know that while the most obvious and reprehensible sexist behavior is no longer accepted policy, in many cases it has only gone undercover, where it is less identifiable and more insidious. We know that our country just elected a president who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, among other delightful claims to fame.

And then Amazon went and cancelled the show last week. Et tu, Amazon? This felt like the final blow, driving home that the narrative of a progressive march forward is definitively not the story we’re telling now. As I remarked to a colleague, “It feels like they just cancelled feminism!”

Perhaps Amazon succumbed to the despair so many of us are feeling about the viability of progressive politics. Perhaps they decided the election results mean feminism is no longer trending. Perhaps they lacked the imagination to envision a better future for the good girls of News of the Week. Perhaps they couldn’t bear to tell Patti that her daughters still get hit on by the boss or break the news to Jane that the good girl still doesn’t win. (Eleanor Holmes Norton – as the only real character other than Nora Ephron, who is dead – already knows that being a member of Congress doesn’t mean that Black lives matter.)

But here’s the thing. Feminism isn’t a TV show. We may describe it as having waves but it certainly doesn’t have 10 episode seasons and a neat story arc. There’s no script, and the only cliffhanger is the daily one in the plodding, less-than-glamorous work of making change. Yes, there is music, there are stars, there are dinner parties and community and sex and in-fighting; there are moments of triumph and of despair. But no one gets to cancel feminism. Not Amazon, and not Trump.

I wouldn’t mind curling up on the couch right now to watch some women stand up together and fight and win (and even better if they’re good looking and have great clothes). I could use some delightfully diverting TV since the real news is a bit too apocalyptic for my taste these days. I will continue to look for – and demand! – cultural representations of real, strong women who support each other and make us think and laugh and learn. But it’s time to get off the couch and return to the world as it is today. We’ve renewed feminism for an open-ended run, and the work starts now.

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Good Girls Revolt
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A still from the Amazon television show, Good Girls Revolt
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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Did Amazon Just Cancel Feminism? ." 19 December 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/did-amazon-just-cancel-feminism>.

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