Right now, when women’s rights are under full attack in the United States, it is very strange to watch clips from the film. 9 to 5.
Upon its release in December 1980, the film proved to be a smash hit. The story of three office workers who take revenge on their infernal boss has spawned a television series and a musical. Since its release, it has become a beloved part of the cultural lexicon.
I remember seeing 9 to 5 as a pre-teen in 1980 and immediately in love with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, the three girl powers at its center. They were capable and smart, but mostly they were angry. In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were very few female heroes or leadership in popular culture. wonder woman and The bionic woman were running everywhere, just like charlie’s angelsbut they didn’t channel the searing rage I often felt as a girl.
Watching these clips now over 40 years later is more than deja vu. It’s more like deja, what is it? That the battles fought then are still actively fought is depressing enough. But in many ways, the things that women fought and died for were pulled even further back.
Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is a new documentary by Camille Hardman and Gary Lane currently playing at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto. It takes the origins of the 1980 film as its premise, but then expands exponentially to examine the role of women in the workplace, how little change there is, and the need to do so.
The documentary is filled with captivating interviews with 9 to 5it’s three stars. He also devotes attention to the women who were in the trenches, fighting the actual combat. It features Karen Nussbaum, co-founder of 9to5 National Association of Working Women, an organization dedicated to fighting for equal rights and equal pay for women. It also spotlights Lilly Ledbetter, who sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company for discrimination in 1998.
In a test on Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For Jacobin Magazine, 9to5 National co-founder Nussbaum wrote, “We have seen progress. Women are no longer confined to a handful of occupations and sexual harassment is no longer a personal shame but a public outrage. But the sensible reforms discussed in the film – equal pay, childcare, flexible hours – are still out of reach. As Dolly says in the new documentary, Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.“It’s 40 years later, and it’s still important.”
Along with a dive into the backstory of the original film as well as the movement that inspired it, the documentary features everything from the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, to the #MeToo movement. .
ERA is a particularly painful chapter. The first version, guaranteeing equal rights for all sexes under the law, was drafted in 1923 and then reintroduced in 1971. Ratification of the amendment required the commitment of 38 states to be added to the US Constitution. This is where things went wrong. The required commitment from 38 States was never achieved, even with extended deadlines. ERA has been reintroduced at every session of Congress since 1982.
In 2020, after Virginia finally ratified the amendment, the magic number of 38 was finally reached. But a Justice Department opinion, taken during the Trump administration, argued that the deadline for ratification had passed in 1982. The Archivist of the United States, whose job it was to certify the amendments, agreed with the Ministry of Justice. Once again, the ERA seemed to be dead in the water. But the legal battle to pass the amendment is ongoing.
Recent revelations that the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing federal protection of abortion rights is about to be overturned have brought ERA back into the spotlight. As a recent Ms. Magazine article made explicit, the idea of enshrining equality in law has taken on even greater relevance in light of the Majority Opinion Draft authored by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and disclosed to the media.
On the labor front, the implications of the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade couldn’t have come at a worse time. Like Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. makes it clear that the gig economy hasn’t been great for women. The pandemic has also hammered home, quite literally, the glaring divisions that still exist in the domestic sphere, with women taking on far more work and childcare than their male partners.
A recent study published in the Feminist Frontiers issue of Gender, Work & Organization found that women were much more affected during the pandemic, stating that “mothers with young children reduced their working hours four to five times more than fathers. As a result, the gender gap in working hours increased by 20-50%. These results point to another negative consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the challenges it poses to working hours and women’s employment.
But anyone with working eyes doesn’t need endless studies to point out the obvious: we’re backtracking.
Every day new shit explodes into the public consciousness, whether it’s a Fox News personality saying pregnant women shouldn’t be hired for important jobs or Judge Alito dishonestly claiming that human rights pregnant women in the labor market are registered and protected by law.
In his essay, Nussbaum quotes Louis Menand and his book The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold World, “In many ways, American women were worse off in 1963 than they had been in 1945 or even 1920. In 1920, 20 percent of doctorates were awarded to women; in 1963 it was 11%. Forty-seven percent of university students were women in 1920; in 1963, 38 percent.
As she writes, “this isn’t the first time American women have had to start over.” But the implications are much broader. As many thoughtful people have pointed out, Alito’s draft opinion sets the stage for the rollback of civil rights, same-sex marriage, contraception, and even the right to education for all children. The list continues.
A return to a white Christian version of the United States is so bizarre it’s almost impossible to comprehend. Although America, as usual, is much more dramatic than Canada, the same forces exist here, working their way into positions of power. It is a pattern that is found in different ways in the world.
The history of women’s rights has long been stuck in the same pattern. Battles are fought and won, but the war continues. Even the women featured in Always working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seem a little bewildered by the continuation of the rollback. Jane Fonda is still fighting the good fight and regularly getting arrested. Dolly Parton, meanwhile, has created her own form of grassroots activism with her literacy projects and even the development of a vaccine.
For every step forward, it often feels like there are 20 back. It’s a shuffle that’s not just exhausting but enraged. This long-simmering fury is boiling over as the wars women have waged against the death of rights once again spill into the streets.
But taking a page from the original film and the organization that inspired it, imagining innovative, positive and better ways could be the ultimate form of revenge. In the movie, it’s basic stuff like flextime and daycare. In the real world, it’s freedom, money and real power.