The Working Woman’s Anthem ‘9 to 5’ Needed an Update. But This?


“Another word for hustle is ‘survival,’” said Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has been pursuing a passion project about Ms. Parton. Women often take on significant caregiving responsibilities on top of paid work and “micro-entrepreneurship,” she said. It’s necessary to acknowledge, but, she added, “we should not valorize it.”

Professor McMillan Cottom noted that she was struck by the lead character of the ad — a Puerto Rican woman, the actor Tanairi Vazquez, whose side hustle is dance (she’s making herself a website). That’s at least somewhat accurate, she said. Women of color, especially Black women and Latina women, have always had to hustle — and are bearing the brunt of job losses during Covid-19.

“That ad speaks to a demographic that I’m not actually sure exists right now in the pandemic,” said Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford and the author of “Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times.” “It’s great to hustle to achieve your dreams. It’s another if you have to hustle just to get by.”

Ms. Parton’s original anthem spoke to solidarity among working women. It had “this kind of ‘Take this job and shove it’ tone,” said Joan C. Williams, a workplace scholar. She said the song, which came out when she was in law school, “showed me that Dolly Parton was a pistol.”

The update — even if Ms. Parton didn’t write the lyrics this time around — might speak more to the grim reality of every woman for herself.

The organization 9to5, which is the subject of a new documentary, began in 1973 with a group of 10 young clerical workers in Boston who made less than $3 an hour and did not receive pensions. Many had trained the men who would become their bosses.

They began passing out pamphlets in ladies’ rooms of local offices and meeting over coffee, drafting an office workers’ Bill of Rights, which included things like equal pay, job descriptions and respect. On National Secretaries’ Day, they organized a protest — attempting to “repossess” the holiday by declaring they wanted “Raises, not roses.”



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