Lessons from the Career Woman Trope in Movies

woman working on laptop inside a car

This career woman trope has been in movies for years, especially romantic comedies. This woman has achieved success in her life. If not, then she’s on her way there. She’s often “married to her job” and “doesn’t have a life.” She doesn’t have much time on her day to socialize and meet her potential partner very easily. If she’s interested at all in finding “the one,” she’d need the help of professional matchmakers.

The career woman is often a hard shell to break. But that’s not the case, not always. We can see in various romantic comedies through the years that she can have both—a career and a loving relationship. All she needs is to find the right balance.

His Girl Friday (1940)

In this film, Rosalind Russell portrayed Hildy Johnson, a successful newspaper reporter, alongside Cary Grant’s character, Walter Burns, the newspaper’s editor and her ex-husband. The movie started with Hildy planning to settle into a quiet life with her fiancé, Bruce Baldwin. She’s ready to leave her life as a career woman in the city for a life as a wife and mother in the suburbs.

But as the movie progresses, we learn that this isn’t what she wants to do. And what’s great is that another man in her life understood her love for her career: Walter. Because he worked with Hildy, he knew perfectly well her potential as a reporter. And he understood how valuable her career is to her.

Many other things happened in this movie. There was an accident. Someone went to jail. But, in the end, we learn that it’s important to find a partner who understands what your work means to you. In this way, they wouldn’t ask you to abandon your career. They wouldn’t ask you to change anything about it. They would understand that a job isn’t just a job if one loves it. But they would also trust that you would always make time for them as well.

woman shaking hands during meeting

Working Girl (1988)

In this film, Melanie Griffith portrayed Tess McGill, a young woman working as a secretary to a stockbroker. We learn from her that, as a young woman with strong career goals, she shouldn’t accept the unfair treatment that she got from her male co-workers. We see later in the film, though, that her methods of succeeding weren’t ideal. She assumed the identity of her boss, pretending to be an associate instead of a secretary. She wore her boss’ clothes, lived in her house, and made business decisions. Because she felt that no one’s taking notice of her potential, she took matters into her own hands.

Her actions eventually led to some consequences. But she learned from her actions. So, in the end, we see her finally finding the opportunity to succeed in a different company. There, she pledged that she wouldn’t let someone experience what she experienced. Ultimately, we learn from her that ambition is great as a fuel for one’s success. But, if we’re not careful, ambition could drive us to do some shady things. In the end, we might not have achievements to be proud of at all.

The Proposal (2009)

In this film, Sandra Bullock played Margaret Tate, the Editor-in-Chief of a top publishing company in New York City. She’s portrayed as the ultimate terrifying boss. Everyone’s afraid of her. But, behind her back, everyone mocked her. She’s very much attached to her work. It’s basically the love of her life. So much so that when the U.S. immigration said that she’s in violation of her visa and she must be deported, she scrambled for any solution. Out of desperation for a green card, she proposed to her assistant, Ryan Reynolds’ character, Andrew Paxton. This showed that she would do everything that she can for her job.

In her story, we learn something much like Hildy from Working Girl. Ambition can drive someone to do the unimaginable. But, in Margaret, we learn that you don’t always have to put up a show of detachment and iciness for your job. You can achieve things in your career, especially if you have the love and support of a family much like Andrew’s.

We’ve all seen that trope: a woman in a pristine, dark-colored dress suit. She’s carrying a designer handbag and a venti latte coffee cup from Starbucks. She’s strutting in the New York City streets with her pointy stilettos and a clear purpose in every step. Without any preamble, you know that she holds an executive position in a corporate office. She’s got years of experience behind her and a high level of ambition that doesn’t wane. She’s the embodiment of a career woman.

But, in these movies, we learn that her life doesn’t revolve around her career only. We see what we hope to become: a person who can have everything–professional and personal success.

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