Being home sick is not all bad. Yesterday I was able to watch the end of one of my favorite movies from the 80’s, “Nine to Five“, starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and the deliciously villainous Dabney Coleman as their “sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot” of a boss.
The ladies in question all want one thing from Mr. Coleman: Respect. And they ain’t getting it. Lily Tomlin, the always-passed-over power behind the throne, finally loses it when the boss refuses yet again to give her a promised and much-deserved promotion – awarding it, of course, to the young man she trained instead. She, Fonda and Parton have a commiseration party, where they get stoned and fantasize about taking revenge on Coleman. Tomlin’s fantasy is about poisoning Coleman’s coffee. When she gets to work the next day, she finds to her horror that she has actually done so by mistake. Tomlin, Fonda and Parton then go through endless, hilarious machinations to prevent anyone from knowing that Tomlin is an attempted murderess, including kidnapping Coleman and holding him prisoner in his own house for six weeks.
During those six weeks, the ladies completely revolutionize the company that Coleman was running in such a sexist and inhuman manner. Parton can sign Coleman’s name better than he can, and they keep sending out memos from “the boss” instating female-friendly improvements, including a new day care center, a job-sharing program that allows working mothers to work part-time, and equal pay for equal work.
Coleman ends up escaping his confinement, and shows up at the firm determined to change everything back to the way it was before, and to send the women to jail for attempted murder and kidnapping. Just as he is about to call the police, the owner of the company (Mr. Tinsdale) personally shows up to commend him for increasing productivity over 20% in that short six-week period. He is delighted about absolutely everything the women have done – open to every change, except one. Holding a baby in his arms, Tinsdale remarks to Coleman under his breath, “That equal pay thing, son – that’s gotta go.” At the end of the movie, the women never solve this problem, although the script is optimistic that they will.
Alas, twenty-nine years later, nothing has changed. Mr. Tinsdale is still in charge, and he’s not even remotely as open-minded as he was in “Nine to Five.” Employers are not required to do much of anything to take care of their employees these days, and women are still paid an average of 78 cents to every man’s dollar. This disparity partially explains why the United States has fallen to 15 on the Human Development Index. (Notice that Iceland is number one – yes, the country that has just appointed an openly lesbian woman as its interim Prime Minister. Huh.)
The Human Development Index is described thusly:
Human Development is a development paradigm that is about much more than the rise or fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is thus about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which is only a means —if a very important one —of enlarging people’s choices.
Fundamental to enlarging these choices is building human capabilities —the range of things that people can do or be in life. The most basic capabilities for human development are to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community. Without these, many choices are simply not available, and many opportunities in life remain inaccessible.
In seeking that something else, human development shares a common vision with human rights. The goal is human freedom. And in pursuing capabilities and realizing rights, this freedom is vital. People must be free to exercise their choices and to participate in decision-making that affects their lives. Human development and human rights are mutually reinforcing, helping to secure the well-being and dignity of all people, building self-respect and the respect of others.
A country that refuses to acknowledge women as equal citizens in its Constitution; that allows women who run for office to be treated in the most abusive and shameful manner; that still does not force its employers to pay women equally for doing the same job as a man; that is a country that does not fully support human development. That is a country that still denigrates the accomplishments of Hillary Clinton as “serving tea to diplomats,” then hardly blinks an eye as she is appointed Secretary of State because of those accomplishments. This is a country where the election of a black male President was hailed as the end of racism and the dream of every African-American, but the possible election of a female President was not hailed as the end of sexism and the dream of every female American – because as we all know, sexism doesn’t even exist in America!
That’s where we are, men and women who believe in social justice.
So, ladies, don’t trouble your silly little heads about such things. Go contribute to the economic recovery by buying diet products you don’t need, injecting your face with poison in an impossible quest to look younger, investing in the latest eye cream, getting plastic surgery to enhance your breasts and reduce your cellulite. But don’t expect that paycheck to go as far as a man’s.
That would be un-American.