The classic 1980 comedy 9 to 5 has something in it for every woman who has ever worked for a boss who treated her badly. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton star as working women with a horrible boss. Jane Fonda plays Judy, whose recent divorce forced her into the workplace as a secretary. Lily Tomlin is Violet, the harried office supervisor who tries to show Judy the ropes on her first disastrous day. Dolly Parton’s role is Doralee. She’s the buxom secretary that everyone assumes, just by looking at her, is sleeping with the boss. (The role earned Parton several acting award nominations and the theme song she wrote and sang, “Nine to Five.” was nominated for an Oscar.) Once Violet and Judy figure out that Doralee is also desperately trying to keep the boss a desk-length away, the three become good friends.
Dabney Coleman plays Franklin Hart. As the movie’s tagline points out, he’s the “sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot” boss who takes advantage of his female office staff. He humiliates them, insults their intelligence, sexually harasses them, and is generally condescending. The EEOC could have named a few employment laws after Hart because he breaks most of them. It’s not surprising that Violet, Doralee, and Judy, share some imaginary comical methods of “doing him in.” Violet’s Snow White coffee scenario comes complete with cartoon animation.
In one of the funniest scenes, Violet believes she accidentally poisoned Hart’s coffee with rat poison. The trio try to steal his (supposedly-dead) corpse out of the hospital. When they do inadvertently manage to kidnap the very-much-alive Hart, they have to keep him restrained—but comfortable and well fed—in his own house until they can figure out a way to avoid prison.
At work, they pretend he is out of town and take control of his department. They make the numerous changes they had suggested and he refused to consider. Productivity leaps, and corporate management notices. Eventually they find a way to restore freedom to their boss—a way that would mean negative consequences for him if he exposed what they did. When corporate management transfers Hart far, far away, it provides the happy ending every comedy needs.
The 80s with their big shoulder pads and bigger hair may be over, but this movie makes several lasting points with humor. It reminds us how the worst side of human nature can cause people to use their power to oppress. But it also reminds us that the way we treat others has a way of coming back to help or hurt us.
When this movie was made, there had been an ongoing argument for several decades about whether every woman should be in the workforce. It was far less common for women to work “outside the home” than it is today. Sometimes the choices each woman made were scrutinized and criticized by those making a different choice. (Well, that much hasn’t changed!)
In many ways, the characters in this movie remind me of an unnamed woman in the Bible who had good ideas, talent, and a solid work ethic: the Proverbs 31 woman. When we read about the Proverbs 31 woman, we need to remember she lived in a different time and in a patriarchal and agrarian society. There were no career women. Those in favor of all women staying home often cite the Proverbs 31:10-31 example of a wonderful housewife and mother. But in that era where everything had to be made from scratch and there were no convenience items or time-saving appliances, every woman was a “working woman.”
Those in favor of women working outside the home sometimes point out that the Proverbs 31 woman was involved in real estate investment, planting a vineyard (v. 16) and a wholesale textile business in which she made goods for the marketplace (v. 24). Regardless of your interpretation, it seems clear that her office was her home. She was available to meet her husband’s and children’s needs and, by doing so, she met her own.
The portrait of the Proverbs 31 woman was not put in the Bible to make the rest of us women feel guilty or lazy. (Even though it sometimes does.) I believe it is a video that covers the whole life of this epitome of womanhood, not necessarily a screenshot of one month or one year. That interpretation gives room for the seasons of a woman’s life. Proverbs 31:28–29 says: her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
In some seasons, a woman’s time is consumed with the care of children who won’t have the sense to rise up and call her blessed until they are older. While in other seasons, when the children are more independent, a woman will more easily find time for working outside the home, managing investments, or being an entrepreneur. The unrealistic “you can have it all” goal has led many women to put impossible expectations on themselves and then to become depressed when they feel they’ve failed.
Each woman’s decision to work or not to work outside the home should be made by her and her family with dependence on prayer. No one is saying these decisions are easy. Judith Briles (The Workplace: Questions Women Ask, Multnomah, 1992) wrote: “Even the woman who is in tune with God’s leading will struggle to maintain a balanced life. There are going to be times when each of us is out of step at work or in our personal lives. Just being open and receptive to the fact that life is not going to be perfect helps bring perspective back into a busy woman’s life. God may not provide us with a perfectly ordered life, but what he does provide is himself, his presence and open doors that bring us closer to being productive, positive and realistic Christian women.”