“Still Working 9 to 5”: The progress and future for working women

A silhouette drawing of the three women protagonists of “9 to 5” intertwined with the silhouette of their tied-up boss. In the upper left hand corner of the image there is a clock reading 9, and in the opposite corner there’s a clock reading 5.
Claremont Graduate University hosted the film’s co-director and co-producer, Gary Lane, and executive producer, Larry Lane, to present their documentary, “Still Working 9 to 5” to illuminate sexist problems in the workspace. (Sasha Matthews • The Student Life)

On Sept. 28, Claremont Graduate University (CGU) hosted the co-director and co-producer, Gary Lane, executive producer, Larry Lane and activist Zoe Nicholson of the documentary “Still Working 9 to 5” after the 1980 American comedy, “9 to 5,”  for a screening and a Q&A panel on the film’s inspirations and legacies.

The film centers on three female office workers who are so infuriated with their boss’ sexist behavior that they plot to kill him. Although the movie is a comedy, it raises serious questions about the sexist issues women in the workplace faced back then. Even now, after 40 years, the 2022 documentary “Still Working 9 to 5” continues to illuminate these problems.

The initial idea struck them when they saw the three stars of the original movie, “9 to 5,” — Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda — together at the 2017 Emmys.

“It started all of this sequel talk, so I told [Larry], ‘I think it would be amazing because it’s been a movie, a song, a TV show, musical and now a sequel,’” Gary Lane said. “So, that’s initially what we wanted to make.”

Though the twins initially envisioned their creation as a sequel, they instead pivoted it into a documentary. They highlighted the involvement of co-director and co-producer Camile Hardman, citing their conversations with female activists who worked to improve the condition of women in the workplace as crucial in shaping the documentary into its current state.

“So, we really wanted to follow the ‘9 to 5’ timeline with the working women’s timeline,” Gary Lane said. “We really wanted to take you guys on the journey and show you all that the issues of 1980 are still being dealt with in 2023.”

Q&A panel guest Zoe Nicholson was one of the female activists interviewed for the documentary. Nicholson is an author, speaker and proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment that would have prohibited discrimination based on sex. She shared her hope that people will continue pushing for equity.

“I hope you will speak up on behalf of all the women who have come before you and all the women who will come after you because we cannot get complacent in a circumstance where equity does not happen,” Nicholson said.

Despite this sentiment, the film also touches upon how cynicism has emerged among younger women. Attendee Gwen Mascha CM ’25 described her connection to this theme.

“So, we really wanted to follow the ‘9 to 5’ timeline with the working women’s timeline,” Gary Lane said. “We really wanted to take you guys on the journey and show you all that the issues of 1980 are still being dealt with in 2023.”

“I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but I don’t want to even try to uphold a legal system that is so incredibly corrupt and will really never protect me the way that I want it to,” Mascha said. “I think that we all are trying to figure out a way to create solidarity in a way that’s not reflective of the government or the Constitution.”

Nicholson recognized the cynicism that emerges when national and global power structures don’t follow through. So, she suggests a different approach: go local.

“Start where your feet are, because that’s where you are,” Nicholson said. “I want you to go in a room and [ask]: Is equity in this room? That’s really what we have… That’s who we are – our neighborhoods and our families,” Nicholson said.

Adding to this idea, Scripps philosophy professor Susan Castagnetto pointed out how, once this local analysis is accomplished, it becomes possible to take a larger-scale approach.

“One might need to transform institutions across the country — education, workplace, immigration, the prison system,” she said.

Still, she believes political action becomes incredibly difficult when cynicism persists among women. Castagnetto explained the ways this creates division amongst feminists, giving power back to dominant structures.

“But who benefits from the creation of the idea that there’s no point in being a feminist…no point in voting or whatever,” Castagnetto said. “Who’s benefiting from that?… The powers that be.”

CGU doctorate student Janice Poss agreed, claiming that disconnection and uncertainty prevent unity. She put forward her theory on how feminist thinkers should approach a world with shifting power dynamics.

“Because there’s a cacophony of voices that never had a chance to speak before, nobody can hear each other,” Poss said. “No longer is the world controlled by white men. We’ve got to find our place, and we’re not sure [where], so we’re kind of reeling with what the world’s going to look like in 50 years.”

But while progress isn’t linear, Poss asserts that change is inevitable.

“Just when you want to give up, you gotta keep pushing forward,” Poss said. “Once you realize where the root [of the problem] is, then you can start fighting it. We’ve come far, but we have a long way to go.”

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