9 to 5: Story of a Movement

Going back to 2011, I have been part of the historical documentary film project 9 to 5: Story of a Movement, co-directed by Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar of Yellow Springs, OH, and edited by Jaime Meyers Schlenck.

I began as a voluntary part-time researcher in 2011. In 2013, I became a paid member of the 9to5 film team where I served as the chief researcher and office manager until I left to begin my PhD studies. I helped through 2018 with the project on my school breaks.

The film traces the history of the women’s advocacy group 9to5, which launched in Boston in 1973 to organize for clerical workers’ rights. Clerical were—and still are—overwhelmingly female. The 9to5 organization launched its own labor union for office workers known as SEIU District 925 in 1981. You might know 9to5 through the Hollywood hit Nine to Five, featuring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda and Parton’s catchy song “Nine to Five.” Through this three-part framework of advocacy, labor unionism and pop culture, 9to5 pushed for working women’s rights!

9to5 was at the intersection of the labor and women’s movements, advocating for workers’ rights while demanding dignity and respect for women workers who were often treated like “office wives,” due to their identities as women. As the labor historian Lane Windham’s book Knocking on Labor’s Door shows, people of color and women were the driving force of the widespread efforts to unionize in the 1970s. This included the women of 9to5!

The research for 9 to 5: Story of a Movement enriched my research capabilities, most notably in conducting archival research. I also enjoyed learning how historical documentaries are made. The organization 9to5 continues with the struggle for justice for working women with offices in Georgia, Colorado, California and Wisconsin.

While working for the film project, I at times maintained the Facebook page. I share a sample of one post I created in October 2018 in connections between TimesUp and the MeToo movement and 9to5’s work against sexual harassment.

Post from 9 October 2018 (excerpted from the Facebook page)

Last week, the newest member of the US Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh was questioned about Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when both were young adults.

Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh is reminiscent of Anita Hill’s 1991 accusations against then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment. Hill testified before the Senate that Thomas had repeatedly harassed her sexually when she worked under him in the 1980s.

Sexual assault differs greatly from sexual harassment with assault being a case of an individual purposefully seeking to cause physical harm to another.

Legal understandings of sexual harassment stress that it’s “unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex” and that making unwelcome sexual advances, asking for sexual favors and any other kind of “verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature” is all illegal behavior.

Hierarchical power relations between the sexes and between supervisors and workers leads to situations where sexual assault and harassment can flourish.

The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s began to address these issues, including women with 9to5!