Feature posted November 2019, bringing our feature back for Dolly Parton’s birthday!

Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda in “9 to 5”

Before #MeToo there was “9 to 5.” It wasn’t a hashtag, but it was a movement nonetheless. Dolly Parton wrote the song “9 to 5”, which shared the same title of the film, and it opened the movie. The song has become an anthem for feminism over the years. Although Parton does not associate herself politically, this song has followed some of the leading women running for office, like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, on their campaign trails. I feel the film, along with #MeToo, shows that sexual harassment and sexist behaviors can bring together women who will fight against their oppressors, and fight even louder for the oppressed. Before social media, movies and music led the conversation, and not a lot of action for gender equality seemed to be made in the day-to-day work life, until #MeToo brought a platform to women dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault in their workplaces. Once women came forward, it gave other women the courage to step forward and organize together. Representation of strong women onscreen is so important, as is the representation of strong women in real life. That seems to be the missing link to why the 1980 film did not make deep change, but “9 to 5” mostly showed us what change could look like if women fought back and gender equality was implemented in the workplace.

Lily Tomlin in “9 to 5”

Why was “9 to 5” a comedy? Before the film went to screen, it was supposed to be much darker. Jane Fonda was one of the three main actors with Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, and she felt that the film could create more of a stir as a dark comedy rather than a drama. Having Colin Higgins as director, you could see the dark undertones that also shone through in his script for “Harold and Maude”. In “9 to 5,” I felt like I was watching a more tamed version of one of those exploitation films, which were flipping the switch in power, bringing fantasy to life, with the awareness that women getting the upper hand in these situations appeared to be more fantasy than realistic. But “9 to 5” was less comic book-like in comparison, except the Snow White scene with Lily Tomlin. The pot party did not disappoint with their epic fantasies.

Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda in “9 to 5”
Toni Colette and Merritt Wever in “Unbelievable” (2019)

Now my next question: although I love “9 to 5”, what would the film be like if it did get dark? It would’ve had less commercial appeal I’m sure, but it may have brought more attention to why the dynamics in the workplace were problematic. We are living in a different time, but the works that have come to screen just this year inspired by the #MeToo movement have more of a serious tone, like “Unbelievable” and “Share”, and later this year “Bombshell”. And there has been more hopeful and inspirational films, like the documentary “Maiden”. Next year “Wonder Woman 1984” is supposed to bring more empowerment through the #MeToo movement. So my hope, and I’m sure the hope of Fonda, Tomlin, and Parton, is that “9 to 5” would eventually become dated, and stand as an empowering reminder of how far we’ve come.

I’ve always been passionate about strong women. In fact, when I was in grade school, I wrote a book about “Anna Bahamas”, a fictional, superior female version of “Paul Bunyan”. Instead of chopping down trees, Anna Bahamas dug ditches, and dug so much that the Bahama islands came to be. But something that has recently changed in me since #MeToo is my confidence of who I can be in this world. I never was assaulted or harassed really (although I should probably think about that), but #MeToo not only empowers women to come forward and unite, but it also shows that women of all races and backgrounds have value. That is the power of the #MeToo movement: women finding their worth, and having the confidence to contribute without letting a man define who they are. It isn’t until recently that I feel I’ve found my voice, one that has a lot to say through my own expertise and knowledge. I see how I am a contributor to the world, and not just a reflector.

Dolly Parton in “9 to 5”

To close up my piece, I wanted to circle back to the song “9 to 5”. The one line that stays with me is when Dolly Parton sings “pour myself a cup of ambition.” We start our days driven in some way, until it can become a mundanity of sorts, but there is something so exciting about that time before the day gets started. Everything seems promising and new. Dolly Parton’s song and the “9 to 5” film shows that even though we stumble through life, trying our best, there are moments where we can succeed. If anyone gets in the way of that success, like any “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”, find your women and throw your lassos.


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