Maybe once a year there is a song that becomes an important moment in economic culture. One such song was the 1983 Donna Summer single “She Works Hard for the Money.”
Before 1983 people had conflicted feelings about women’s careers. When women worked, it was seen as transitional or regrettable in some way, perhaps the result of poverty or other misfortune. As hard as it may be to believe now, there was a raging religious debate about whether women should work at all. “She Works Hard For The Money” changed all that.
The song depicted a woman who got up at 5 a.m. to go to work, but there was no second-guessing her work. It was the same work for decades, and she worked not merely to support herself, but because her family and the world were counting on her. It was a story of sweat and sacrifice, but ultimately of perseverance and success. The song told women, most of whom had to work regardless, that if they worked hard they would win the respect of their clients and their families. The sweaty exuberance of the music drove that point home.
After this song, it came more easily to most people to see women and their jobs as a proud part of the bedrock of the economy. The argument against women holding jobs might continue among religious theorists, but as far as the broader public is concerned, it is a question that was put to rest in 1983.
We lost Donna Summer this week, but she will not be forgotten.