Study Guide

9 to 5 Lyrics

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Want to move ahead
But the boss won't seem to let me

Quick Thought

The glass ceiling is real, even if you can't see it.

Deep Thought

Born in 1946 and coming of age in the 1960s, Parton lived through a wildfire of social change. In the 1960s and 1970s, women stood up en masse to demand basic rights in the workplace: equal work for equal pay, protection from sexual harassment, and the possibility for advancement beyond entry-level jobs (such as secretary work).

The 1970s were a radical time, and a lot came out of women's demands for more. But by the early 1980s, a lot of women working in professional fields found that they still faced a glass ceiling, meaning that even though they were supposed to be able to advance at an equal rate to men, it wasn't always that way in reality. Despite more legal protections from discrimination, invisible barriers still kept women and racial minorities from achieving in the business world in the way that white men could.

"Glass ceiling" is now a common way to describe this problem, but the phrase didn't come into popular use until 1985 or 1986. A government initiative under Bill Clinton called the "Glass Ceiling Commission" made the term widespread. But even after decades of gathering statistics and starting initiatives, the "boss still won't seem to let" women and people of color rise through the ranks at the same rate.

You're just a step
On the boss man's ladder

Quick Thought

The "boss man" underpays the worker, especially if the worker is a woman.

Deep Thought

The movie Nine to Five is all about women who work in an office with a chauvinistic and abusive male boss. They feel trampled and underappreciated. That was in 1980.

Interesting to note, then, that even though an equal pay law was passed in 1963, equal pay for equal work is still not a reality. The average woman makes 79 cents for the average man's dollar—and minority women make anywhere from 54 cents to 63 cents on the dollar of a man. One study found that, a year after graduating from college, women with degrees made an average of 82% of the wages of their male counterparts, but that gap may widen once women are 10 years out from their graduation. 

In 2010, a project called Catalyst presented a report to the U.S. Joint Economic Committee showing that women are still underpaid and lag behind in corporate leadership. They noted that generations have passed since women demanded equal pay for equal work at the first U.S. women's convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Dolly's decades-old lament is just a drop in the bucket.

Waitin' for the day
Your ship'll come in

Quick Thought

When your ship comes in, what happens?

Deep Thought

"The day your ship'll come in" isn't a literal phrase—unless you're an international trade mogul and actually have some ships out on the high seas. It just generally refers to the day when you make lots of money and/or things start to go better for you. 

But the phrase has literal origins in the long history of trade by cargo ships. Back in the day—and by "the day," we mean the Middle Ages and before—trade by sea was a dangerous and tricky endeavor. The seas and oceans were riddled with pirates and natural hazards, and the trip was even more frightening due to the fact that many Europeans still thought the world was flat (and some people still believe that). Your ship could actually fall off the edge if it strayed too far. 

Anyhow, the point is, when your ship came in, you were pretty darn lucky. Plus, you had a lot of goods that you could start selling off to make back the money you'd lost on the trip.

Bob Dylan and Jill Sobule both took the ship metaphor and ran with it. Can you think of other places this phrase turns up?

Workin' 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin'

Quick Thought

Nine to five doesn't sound like much of a complaint when you start thinking about the alternatives.

Deep Thought

Everyone associates corporate America with the 9 to 5 job. But even corporate America hasn't always had an eight-hour workday.

The first federal law regulating the eight-hour day for a private company was passed in 1916. It protected the people building interstate railroads from physically strenuous days with outrageously long hours. The Adamson Act came into being after the railroad workers threatened a national strike and President Woodrow Wilson temporarily took control of the entire national railroad company in order to mediate the situation.

Labor unions first began to demand 8-hour days in England and the U.S. during the 19th century—in Chicago there was even an "Eight-Hour Movement" of workers, activists, and unionists in the late 1800s. But it wasn't until the passage of the first Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 that forty-hour work weeks (8 hours, five days a week) became a national standard, with required overtime pay.

One of the more recent union critiques of deregulation is that companies can move their labor to countries that don't enforce these kinds of standards. Companies have purchased from suppliers whose employees, often teenagers, work as long as 12 or even 16 hours. Nine to five doesn't sound so bad, does it?

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