Nine to Five: Country Music and American Women in the Workforce

Nine to Five:
Country Music and American Women in the Workforce

Dolly Parton’s 1980 composition 9 to 5 rose to number one on Billboard’s Country Chart in January, 1981. A month later, it reached number one on the Adult Contemporary Chart and Billboard’s Hot 100. This crossover hit, bolstered by the film of the same name, addresses the concerns of the American working class. Its success illustrates both the increased involvement of women in the workforce and their greater presence in country music.

By 1980, more than half of the women in America had roles in the workforce. The percent of women in the US labor force increased to 51.5% from 43.3% in 1970 (BLS, Labor Force Participation Rates by Country). The five industries that employed the most women in 1980 had not changed since 1964, and as of 2010 had still not changed: education and health services; trade, transportation, and utilities; local government; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality (See Appendix 2). However, women’s employment in these areas had increased greatly not only from simple population growth but from civil rights and progressive laws that brought a far greater percentage of women into the workforce.

As women gained more employment, they also gained more income, and therefore more say as consumers in the market for goods and services. The increasing success of female country music artists undoubtedly relates to the increased purchasing power they had to consume luxury goods like pop music albums and singles. Though female country artists enjoyed little more than a place on the fringes of commercial success in the first half of the twentieth century, their potential female fan base became more economically powerful in the latter half.

However, understanding 9 to 5’s success purely in terms of a female audience oversimplifies the widespread appeal of the song across genders. Parton sang not only for women, but for all workers. 9 to 5 addresses the “daily grind” of millions of Americans, both then and now: traffic, broken dreams, failure to get ahead, promotions that never come, lack of credit for one’s work, and a suspicion that one’s labor only serves to make others rich.

Male artists had addressed similar concerns in earlier songs about labor. Sixteen Tons, for example, describes the despair of working one’s hands to the bone only to see debts pile up in staggering, unconquerable amounts. In the folk tradition that contributed to country music’s development, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie took decidedly pro-labor and pro-union stances. But not since Aunt Molly Jackson had a female artist tapped into the national zeitgeist of labor.

9 to 5, then, embodies the populist leanings of country music, addressing concerns of regular people in a down-to-earth language. But, it also represents a culmination of the economic and social conditions that contributed to women’s attainment of a larger role in country music. Like Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, also released in 1980, 9 to 5 dealt with labor, but in a more modern context. Dolly Parton did more than give a voice to women’s concerns. She spoke for everyone, both male and female, who felt trapped in a soul-crushing forty-hour work week.

References

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor force participation rates by country. Retrieved Nov. 5, 2013 from http://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2011/women/data.htm

Appendix 1
9 to 5
© 1980 by Dolly Parton

Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawnin’, stretchin’, try to come to life

Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin’
Out on the streets, the traffic starts jumpin’
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5

Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’
They just use your mind and they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it

9 to 5, for service and devotion
You would think that I would deserve a fair promotion
Want to move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me

They let your dream, just watch ’em shatter
You’re just a step on the boss man’s ladder
But you got dreams he’ll never take away

In the same boat with a lot of your friends
Waitin’ for the day your ship’ll come in
And the tide’s gonna turn an’ it’s all gonna roll you away

Workin’ 9 to 5 what a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’
They just use your mind and you never get the credit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it

9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
There’s a better life and you think about it, don’t you?
It’s a rich man’s game, no matter what they call it
And you spend your life putting money in his wallet


Appendix 2
Employment of Women in America, by industry, 1964-2010
From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

employment of women by industry 1964-2010

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