Working 9 to 5

What a way to make a living


This year in December, the movie 9 to 5, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, turns 35. Because we have come not nearly as far as one might think and because the film itself is a darkly funny work of art, Rolling Stone sat down with its screenwriter Patricia Resnick for a little chat.

‘9 to 5’ Turns 35, and It’s Still Radical Today

The film itself was the brainchild of Jane Fonda and was in part inspired by her friend Karen Nussbaum, the founder of 9to5, a non-profit that advocates for women in the workplace. It’s a delightful little movie and well worth revisiting if you’ve seen it before. If you haven’t, buckle up.

Here is a very brief plot summary: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton have a very bad, very sexist and horribly boorish boss. Lily Tomlin is passed over for a promotion that she deserves. Dolly Parton is sexually harassed by said boss and he’s a real shit to Jane Fonda. Over martinis and a joint, a plan is hatched — maybe they’ll kill him, but instead they kidnap him. You can piece together the rest, or you could sit down with some Triscuits, store-brand cheddar and a nice dry white and watch it. It was on Netflix for a while, but now it’s not, but it can be rented from Amazon for $2.99 — a bargain for a classic.

Resnick touches on a lot that’s interesting, but what stuck out to me was that despite the 35 years that have elapsed since this movie came into existence, the needle hasn’t moved all that much for women in the workplace.

We did a musical of 9 to 5 on Broadway in 2009, and it was really frustrating because a lot of the interviews that I did with male journalists, the first thing they said was, “Well, none of those issues are a problem in contemporary life, so how are women of today going to be able to relate to it?” I thought, yeah, you can’t sexually harass someone as obviously. We don’t call people “secretaries.” Other than that, what has changed? People would kill to work from 9 to 5.

Sexual harassment is still real! Secretaries are “administrative assistants,” now. And a workday that starts at 9 sharp and ends at 5 on the dot is, for many people, a fantasy. When the lyrics of the song “9 to 5” get stuck in my head as they do about once a financial quarter, I consider the fact that the hours described in the song seem both very unrealistic and quite nice.

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