Punching the Clock (and the Boss) with Dolly, Lily and Jane

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This is a fable of empowerment that is aware of real obstacles and limitations. Its credibility comes from the knowledge that the three stars, for all the power they may have achieved in Hollywood and Nashville, had been exploited, belittled and taken for granted, too.

I do see its presentation of “workplace sisterhood” as still relevant in the age of social media because, while it can seem dated in the current context of almost everything related to women in the workplace, it also offers what I think remains a clear-eyed view of what women still endure regularly in the office on any number of fronts, from the clueless and tone deaf boss, to demeaning work, to working long hours for generally less pay, to comments on dress and appearance — myriad issues that while perhaps not intractable remain bugaboos in the office. David Guyer, Chicago, IL

DARGIS It’s complicated! The movie is one of those perfect imperfect specimens that ties critics and readers into frayed knots, as our commenters’ discussion underscored. It’s both aesthetically and politically frustrating, and the three female stars, by turns, transcend their material and are dragged down by it. A lot of viewers seemed to have experienced similar whiplash while watching it: laughing and then wincing, repeat. That makes it really interesting to me, partly because its contradictions are emblematic of the paradoxes that drive us nuts about many movies.

One reader, Nicholas Hirst, wrote that the important scene happens after the women’s revolt and “we see a redecorated and enhanced workplace with more diversity and a clear shot of a man moving from his wheelchair to his desk.” I noticed that, too, but was also bummed that the overall efforts are so half-baked. As Elizabeth B wrote “There is no intersectionality in this film which today does not fly.” But then she added that she still prances “around my room to ‘9 to 5’ like no one’s business.” Same, same, even if Parton has caused heartache, as with her (since shuttered) Confederacy dinner theaters, which our colleague Aisha Harris wrote about a few years back.

Part of what I enjoy about going back to certain movies — both those I loved and those I loathed or shrugged at — is exploring how they change but only because we do.

SCOTT At the end, when the chairman of the board shows up (in the person of Sterling Hayden doing Colonel Sanders cosplay), he’s full of praise for the innovations Violet and her team have put in place over Hart’s signature. “Except for the equal pay thing,” he mutters, a sign that change can only go so far. And some of those innovations — couches, open-plan offices, flexible hours — have since become common features of office life. (Others, like job-sharing and child care, should have.) But workers aren’t necessarily happier. As David Kotz and Karen Pfeifer of Northampton, MA noted, “Nine to Five” is both “in sync with the current critique of capitalism” and “realistic about the limits of reform of capitalism.”

Now, as many of us wonder if we’ll ever see the inside of an office again, we can recognize what has and hasn’t changed.

As one of the original organizers of 9to5, Organization for Women Office Workers in Boston (1973) and a former office worker myself, I cannot imagine labeling the hit movie “9to5” as being dated! Jane Fonda spent many hours talking with our members around the country about life in the office. The movie may have exaggerated their stories, but only slightly! I’d say “9to5” the movie was ahead of its time in calling out the boss and showing what can happen when women workers organize. It continues to be relevant today in the gig economy, among restaurant workers, at Amazon, among those engaged in the fight for a $15 minimum wage, etc. Low pay? Check. Poor benefits for working families? Check. Sexual harassment? Check and check! The list goes on. — Janet Selcer, Boston

What annoyed me this time (and never before) was that Franklin Hart got away with his embezzlement. I am sick of white collar criminals and grifters and he is just one more! Brazil doesn’t seem like much punishment. Maybe if they sent him to the branch office in Siberia? Or how about if he just got caught and went to jail? — Leslie H. Nicoll (via email)



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