Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Working Girl

Working Girl is a 1988 rom-com starring Melanie Griffith and every one's favourite Star Trek alum Harrison Ford. Aside from being a very satisfying romantic comedy, it is also a very useful example of the type of depiction of women in 80s films.

The lead character, Tess, is a headstrong, intelligent and go getting kind of girl - a female yuppie in in the most basic sense. She is a New York City native, but instead of being raised above the glittering lights of Manhattan, she is from Staten Island, a far more working class area. Because of her class and also her gender, she finds herself typecast as a secretary for a busy stockbroker, a role that leaves her unfulfilled. After a serious of delightful mishaps, she finds herself in a position of power, however its at the expense of another female colleague - the alien busting Sigourney Weaver. Tess enjoys her new position as an ass-kicking, take no parishioners financial executive and excels in the business world, showing that not only that her history does not matter but neither does her gender. Plus, she gets her man. Yay.

That is the simple version. However, scratch the veneer and it becomes obvious that this tale of female empowerment is in reality a little flawed.

Article one; the name of the film, Working Girl.'Working girl' is slang for a prostitute, and like 'lady of the night' is not exactly an empowering job title. I would imagine that this was done in order to inject some sex appeal in to the film, maybe to get the public's notice.

Secondly, Tess' character. Tess is street smart and tough but only gains access to the business world at the expense of another female colleague, perhaps implying that roles for woman were few and far between. Signourney Weaver's bitchy and ice cold executive character is presented as what happens when women get too much power; in other words they become calculating, using their sexuality to gain favour and get work. Of course, that's exactly what Tess does. In the beginning of the film she is accosted by a stockbroker, and outraged she refuses, but later in the film she is seen delivering what is quite possibly the most cringey line in the film 'I've got a mind for business, and a body for sin' showing that even she is not above using her feminine wiles as a way of manipulating those around her.

All in all, I think Working Girl is an excellent 80s film, and in particular a great 80s film that highlights contemporary attitudes towards women in the work place. I personally love the film, but have always found the title and the way that women are depicted in positions of power to be troubling. Men backstab and blackmail each other all the time in films, but because in this film its a woman it seems more shocking and sensational.

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