In 1980, the comedy film 9 to 5, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, was released to raise awareness of women’s issues at work. Over forty years later, a new documentary, Still Working 9 to 5, reveals how little has changed for women over the last 40 years.
The new documentary examines the timelessness of the 1980 comedy and the challenges and barriers working women faced forty years ago. Fonda, Tomlin and Parton each reflect on their roles in the original film. Still Working 9 to 5 will have limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles starting September 16. And last week, Kelly Clarkson and Dolly Parton released a new version of “9 to 5,” Parton’s iconic song from the original movie, to coincide with the documentary’s opening.
The original blockbuster 9 to 5 was a comedy about three secretaries, portrayed by Fonda, Parton and Tomlin. In the film, the trio fight for workplace equality and plan how to get even with their misogynistic boss. The characters fought blatant sexual harassment, received less pay than men with less experience, had their good ideas stolen by their boss, were held back from promotion, lacked flexibility for childcare and were expected to do office housework, like getting coffee for the boss. All issues that remain concerns of women in the workplace today.
As evidenced by #MeToo, sexual harassment at work is still rampant, and women are still paid less than men in almost every profession. Only 6.2% of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are female, indicating the glass ceiling is still firmly in place. Child care remains elusive for many families, and research confirms that women still do the lion’s share of office housework.
And researchers indicate that men are still more likely than women to receive credit for their ideas. So, Parton and Clarkson’s “9 to 5” song lyrics will likely resonate with a new generation of working women: “They just use your mind, and they never give you credit. It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.”
Although women still face many of the same issues they did in 1980, there has been substantial progress. In 1980, women’s wages represented 64% of men’s, and forty years later, women still take home only 83 cents for every dollar earned by men. Although still far from gender equality, there has been significant improvement in the gender pay gap over the last forty years.
Activist Karen Nussbaum co-founded and was the first director of 9to5, a Boston-based group aimed at helping working women in the 1970s. Her friendship with Fonda inspired Fonda to make the original 9 to 5, and the film was named after Nussbaum’s organization.
In Still Working 9 to 5, Nussbaum highlights another issue that was facing women in 1980. “I look back on it now, and we were so modest in our demands. We should have job postings. We should at least know what the jobs are. That was one of our big demands, a job posting,” Nussbaum explains in the documentary. Women today are instead fighting to have salary ranges included in job postings.
Today, women also have more career options than they did forty years ago. Ellen Cassedy, another co-founder of the Boston-based 9to5 organization, explains in the documentary, “One working woman in three was a clerical worker in the 1970s. It was the largest job category in America.”
And today, there is greater awareness of women’s issues at work compared to forty years ago. “I’ve always believed that film is a good way to throw light into dark corners, uplift voices that aren’t often heard,” Fonda said of 9 to 5 in the documentary. 9 to 5 effectively shed light on the problems of working women, but there’s clearly still more work to be done.