Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
--Isaiah 43:18-19 NRSV
Recently I listened to an episode of NPR’s Planet Money about the 1980 movie 9 to 5 starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. If you are old enough to remember the movie, I bet the theme song by Dolly Parton is already running through your head! I remember seeing it in the theater and numerous times on TV and video. This podcast episode told the back story behind the movie and I was shocked.
Since I was a child, I didn’t really understand what the movie was about. I didn’t understand that the term “sexual harassment” hadn’t really been invented yet. Nor did I understand that the movie demonstrated what was the truth at the time (and is sadly still the truth in many companies today) that women held all the clerical and lower office jobs while only men were in management. I had no idea that many of the scenes in the movie were not over-the-top comedic situations made by Hollywood but real stories of women being chased around the office by their male bosses, forced to run menial errands by their male bosses that had nothing to do with their job descriptions and sexist and sexually suggestive comments and actions were the norm. Then and now, women were penalized at their jobs for taking time off for pregnancy, childcare issues and family emergencies. Of course there is also the drastic pay gap between men and women for the same work—even the optimistic ending of 9 to 5 demonstrated that sad reality would never change.
While 9 to 5 may have demonstrated the plight of White women of its day, it noticeably did not demonstrate the difficulties faced by non-White people of either gender. The Planet Money podcast stated there was only one non-White character who even had a speaking part in the movie. As bad as the office situation was for White women, non-White people weren’t even in the office at all.
I’m middle aged now, and I’ve begun to tell my children and remark to others about how things were ‘back in my day.” I have to remember that my nostalgia doesn’t make up for the suffering experienced by people who didn’t look like me. White folks have told me all my life about how great the 1950’s were without realizing that time was only good for them—Black and brown people did not share in those good times. I’ve realized I’m in danger of having the same kind of myopia. As much as I might look fondly back on the 1980’s, things still were quite difficult for women, non-White people and LGBTQ people. When I speak about the “good old days,” I must remember that a lot of things might have been good for me which were not shared by most other people.
History and tradition matter, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking everything in the past was good. God has been at work in the painstaking efforts for equal rights for all people not only in the past but also today. If we aren’t careful, our discomfort with change causes us to miss the work of God in the present along with the future God intends where all God’s children have equal value in our society.
These words may come back to haunt me someday, but I hope as I age that my cherished memories of the past won’t blind me to God’s saving work in the present and future. I hope I never get so nostalgic for the “good old days” that I stop working for a better future that all can share.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851