I love the movie Working Girl. Matter of fact, it only took watching fifteen minutes for it to surpass Top Gun as my favorite eighties movie. And I’m still enamored. It wasn’t Melanie Griffith chopping off her frizzed tangerine perm, or the Boeing-sized shoulder pads, or how she rocked that iconic Arnold Scaasi black dress. It was the sheer female grit and determination of the main character Tess McGill. She was my champion, particularly in a time when women were still grossly underestimated for their intellect and business sense. Tess was a strong woman. I was hooked, intrigued, … no, actually, downright obsessed with the notion that a meek and misjudged woman could triumph based on sheer will.
Thirty years later, women have become undeniable forces in all sectors of business and society. Women have assumed positions of power and equalized leadership alongside our opposite-gender counterparts, thankfully without any further need for shoulder pads. Relationship stigmas have been shattered and women are no longer considered a possession through a marriage license. Today’s woman can choose her place in her home, in addition to anywhere else she wishes to bloom. Even time and trend have somehow transformed the highly offensive “b” word from a derogatory female canine slur to a newly revolutionized declaration of empowerment (a fad I won’t be embracing, thank you very much). Yes, sisters, we have come a long way since Tess crashed some debutante’s wedding to get her much needed business meeting with the bride’s father, the president of Trask Industries.
But if we’re being honest, residues of insecurity and inferiority still affect women as it relates to our sisterhood. We see this everywhere, from magazine covers and casual conversations to social media. That other girl looks amazing all the time. She is the perfect mother, the adored wife, the trailblazer, the popular girl, the well-connected, and the highly respected. She is the poster girl that is the proof that every single dream is possible, while serving as our personal reminder that we’re not quite there yet. We are left in her wake either totally insecure or truly inspired, or maybe a little of both.
Tess knew that woman: her boss Katherine Parker, played by Sigourney Weaver. She had the office, that dress, the rich nice guy, and lived in a jawdropping upper west side apartment. Tess used the allure of Katherine’s success to springboard from personal insecurity into powerful transformation. She dabbed her perfume, practiced speaking with a slower tempo and more refined tone, put on the shoulder pads, and faked it until she made it. Tess and Katherine eventually became enemies through condescension, reproach, and even jealousy, which makes for a great storyline. But in real life, these are the very things that hold us back from our own remarkable futures. I often imagine what would have happened if they had joined forces. What if Katherine was so confident in her own success that Tess’ green-horned ambition posed no threat? What if Katherine mentored Tess? What if women purposefully committed to working together, celebrating each other’s successes, and lifting each other up? What if we reframed personal insecurity into powerful inspiration?
The indomitable Carly Simon wrote/performed the inspirational Working Girl theme song “Let The River Run” and belted the line:
“We the great and small, stand on a star, and blaze a trail of desire through the darkening dawn.”
Like the unapologetic river waters she chose as her metaphor, we too chart our own course with rushing waters of insecurity and inspiration. And we rejoice when underdogs, like Tess, harness their power and seize their victories. These are the girls with unbridled motivation; a “fire in her belly” as Trask says in the film. These are the girls who risk everything for their passion, choosing self-confidence over self-doubt. We know these girls. We are these girls.
Tess was one of us. Be like Tess and let your river run.