May/June 2021 Issue
April 26, 2021

Women's history must be amplified year-round

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
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Julia Reichert and Steven Bogner’s documentary “9to5: The Story of a Movement,” chronicles the history of a group of clerical workers who joined together to advocate for better pay and advancement opportunities, and an end to workplace sexual harassment in the early 1970s. In 1981, 9to5 partnered with SEIU and formed SEIU District 925, a nationwide labor union for office workers.

“Women are missing from our curriculums and that sparked my interest in telling this story,” said Reichert, noting that bringing class, gender and union history together is important. “Lots of union knowledge has been lost. This was a chance to bring it back, from a feminist perspective.”

The United Federation of Teachers’ Women’s Rights Committee and NYSUT’s Women’s Committee offered a free virtual screening of the documentary, and a follow-up panel discussion. Panelists included the filmmakers, NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, and Kim Cook and Lane Windham of the Worker Institute at Cornell. UFT WRC co-chairs Victoria Primiano and Latrice Curry moderated.


Like many, Curry didn’t realize the film starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, and hit song of the same name, was fact-based. For DiBrango, whose first job after college was as a secretary, the women’s experiences resonated. “I teared up watching this because I know the collective strength it must have taken for those women to speak up,” she said.

Cook, a 9to5 and District 925 organizer in the 1980s, discussed how they brought feminist sensibilities to unionizing. “We developed deep connections and trust with people and sought to have a more cooperative movement,” she said.

“Making the Case for Women in History,” a moderated #NYSUTchat on Twitter, discussed how educators can include women’s voices in school curricula. The event was inspired by PBS’s “Where are the Women?” virtual summit.

Participants agreed that inclusion should occur in all subject areas and all grade levels. “Women are not sideline contributors, we are at the forefront,” said Lori Atkinson, Copenhagen Teachers Association.

“Gender bias is pervasive in classrooms and our culture,” said Marne Ryan Brady, BOCES United Professionals, noting that fewer than 11 percent of textbook references are devoted to women and K–12 textbooks and curricula often portray women as bystanders to history.

“Representation matters,” said Aisha Cook, New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees, noting that showing the contributions of women is important so that children don’t grow up having lower expectations for women.

DiBrango acknowledged the work to highlight women’s achievements during Women’s History Month — and called for more. “We need to make it a year-round endeavor.”

For information on other events and resources, go to nysut.org/women.

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