Zoe Nicholson is used to playing the long game when it comes to women’s rights. The writer and activist is interviewed throughout Still Working 9 to 5, a new documentary following up on the fight for women’s rights 40 years after Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda’s smash-hit 1980 film 9 to 5.
Known for being a key advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) — a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have invalidated several state and federal laws that discriminate against women if it had passed — Nicholson told the MovieMaker podcast how she stays motivated in the fight for equal rights for all genders during a conversation with Still Working 9 to 5 co-director Camille Hardman and Gary Lane, and Lane’s twin brother and producer, Larry Lane.
Nicholson had some sage words of wisdom for those advocating for pregnant people’s rights to their own bodies, many of whom have started to feel hopeless since Roe v. Wade was overturned earlier this week.
“Change comes and goes in waves,” she said. “All I have to say now to the 21-year-old to the 18-year-old who just thinks it’s the end of the world, [is] this is how the world actually works. It’s high surf, and you need a long board. This is exactly how it works, and I stay motivated because I know that.”
She also said: “Women have always been aborting. Cleopatra had an abortion. Women used birth control for centuries. It only became illegal in recent history. And all they really wanted to do was make it more difficult and you know, kill the women who couldn’t afford a good one.”
She also made a point to be inclusive of the transgender, non-binary, and gender-fluid communities.
“Roe was going to be the one way to completely unravel American women, and they did,” Nicholson said. “I also can’t resist saying, actually, we should now be saying ‘pregnant people,’ because more people can be pregnant than women.”
Her advice to fellow activists comes from decades of experience and a deep understanding of how American politics move and change.
“I was in the steets of Chicago in 1968 taking a billy club across the head from a guy on a horse with a uniform. I do it because this is how I want to be, at the edge of where change is occurring,” Nicholson said. “It moves by issues, and it moves through the culture, and and I also think that the divine — it’s sort of an odd thing to say here — but the divine sort of held things up. Still Working 9 to 5 coming out in this quarter of 2022, to this old lady, seems like some kind of miracle… because this moment is the precise most perfect moment for this movie to be out.”
Speaking of the divine, Nicholson has also fought for reform in the church. She earned a B.A. in Theology from Quincy University in 1969.
“I left the Catholic Church for one simple reason: I wanted to be a priest and they wouldn’t let me,” she said. “I actually converted to Buddhism when I was 22 and I am a celibate Buddhist monk now.”
In her early career, she was also a high school teacher and later opened up a women’s bookstore called The Magic Speller Bookstore in Newport Beach, California. Since then she’s written books including her memoir, The Hungry Heart ~ A Women’s Fast for Justice, The Passionate Heart, about her experiences with Buddhism, and The Engaged Heart ~ An Activist’s Life, which includes many of her speeches and photos of her life.
During her time advocating for the ERA in 1982 — the deadline to ratify the ERA that was extended by Congress and President Carter in 1978, and which was ultimately unsuccessful — Nicholson also got to know Phyllis Schlafly, the woman largely responsible for rallying conservative women against its passage. Schlafly argued that the proposed 28th amendment would take away child support for divorced women, end social security for widows, and cause women to be drafted into the military.
1982 was also the year that Nicholson joined six women in Springfield, Illinois in a public, 37-day fast to show support for the ERA.
“I don’t agree with Phyllis about anything, and I actually know her. I spent the whole summer with Phyllis in 1982,” Nicholson said. “Why did it fail in ’82 when it really came up to the bat? I can tell you why — because women are the cheapest labor force in America. The second reason is because the money stopping the ERA and actually funding the American Eagles, which is Phyllis’s group, was the health insurance industry. Women pay more and get less coverage. It all has to do with money. It always does and always will.”
Main Image: Zoe Nicholson pictured in Still Working 9 to 5