December 20, 1988: “Working Girl” Premiered and Encouraged Women to Demand a Seat in the Boardroom

Working Girl
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    December 20, 1988: “Working Girl” Premiered and Encouraged Women to Demand a Seat in the Boardroom

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      Sari Rosenberg

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      December 20, 1988: “Working Girl” Premiered and Encouraged Women to Demand a Seat in the Boardroom

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      November 16, 2018

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      A+E Networks

On December 20, 1988, “Working Girl,” starring Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford premiered in Los Angeles, CA. Starting with Carly Simon’s stirring “Let The River Run” during the opening credits, audiences fell in love with the Mike Nichols-directed rom-com. “Working Girl” was a box office hit, and the film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Actress (Griffith) and Best Supporting Actress (Joan Cusack). The film, about a secretary from Staten Island looking to smash through the glass ceiling, reflected a growing shift in American culture as more and more women demanded a seat in the boardroom.

At the start of the film, Tess McGill (Griffith) had recently been fired from her secretary job after taking revenge on her sexist coworkers. In her attempts to be treated like a professional and advance at the company, the men undermine her efforts, while treating her like a prostitute. She later explains, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.”

Although frustrated by Tess’ recent firing, her headhunter gives the plucky working-class secretary one last chance. She places her with the high-powered female executive, Katharine Phillips (Weaver). At first, Katharine seems like the perfect boss and mentor to Tess. She gives Tess fashion advice, in order to tell Tess that she would be treated with more respect without her chunky Staten Island jewelry and big hair. With her boss laid up in bed after a skiing accident in Europe, Tess learns Katharine is about to steal her merger idea. So, Tess takes matters into her own hands. She “borrows” some of Katharine’s high-end power suits and her Rolodex, and pulls off the deal herself. All with the help of executive Jack Trainer (Ford). In the end, Tess is vindicated and lands both the man, as well as her dream job.

With famous lines like “I have a head for business and a bod for sin,” Griffith’s Tess is a modern-day feminist. She owns and embraces her sexuality while remaining self-assured and success-oriented. However, some feminist critics were uncomfortable with Tess’ hyper-sexuality. They were also unhappy with the cat fighting between the two female leads. However, released during a time when women were demanding more high-powered roles at the office, “Working Girl” was a revolutionary and inspiring film to women.

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