The Top Ten Films About Women @ Work
This list is in honor of the first women to complete the Army Ranger Training Program, Captain Kristen Griest, 26, and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, 25. They’re both West Point graduates and official bad-asses. Only one-third of the soldiers who start the Ranger program are able to finish the grueling training, so these women are doubly extraordinary. Although they kicked down the door and completed the required training alongside 94 men, Griest and Haver weren’t allowed to join the 75th Ranger Regiment after they graduated from training like the male soldiers. After a public outcry, the Army finally gave Captain Griest and First Lieutenant Haver and all military women the combat jobs that they trained for. They are now part of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Women have fought since the dawn of the republic for workplace equality and for the opportunity to work, period. This struggle has been captured on film throughout Hollywood history. Below, some of my favorite films about women in the workplace.
1 G.I. Jane (1997)
Some people say this film sucks. Those people are men.
Demi Moore stars as U.S. Navy sailor Jordan O’Neill, who is picked by a Congresswoman to be the first woman to complete the Navy Seals training program.
While undergoing the brutal first phase of training, O’Neill has to request more than once to be treated the same as the men, with no special considerations. She is and is given a special beat-down by her Command Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen) during which she proves she’s no helpless female. She earns a small measure of his grudging respect. Then it becomes apparent that the Senator (a delightfully sleazy Anne Bancroft) has an ulterior motive, and that no one in Washington or the Navy expects her to successfully complete the program. In fact, they want her to fail. This is a fantastic film and Moore is at her best here.
2 The Contender (2000)
An honest and up-close look at American sexism in the public arena. Joan Allen plays (perfectly) Senator Laine Hanson, a politician in line for the Vice-Presidency. She has a spotless record and it seems like a sure thing until someone leaks a video.
The ensuing media shit-storm centers around what the video depicts, whether it’s actually her in the video, and if it is her is it anyone’s business. The underlying theme throughout is obvious: if she were a man, there would be no shitstorm or official inquiry. Maybe a week’s headlines. Is the video anyone’s business? Does she need to answer questions publicly? Is any of this relevant to her ability to do the job? You’ll be discussing this long after the closing credits.
3 Courage Under Fire (1996)
The first film about The Gulf War features an excellent cast headed by Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan. The story unfolds like a crime drama. Lieutenant Col. Nathan Serling (Washington), is a Gulf War Veteran hunted by a friendly fire incident that is consuming him with guilt, even though he was officially exonerated in the ensuing investigation. He is assigned to investigate the death of Captain Emma Walden (Meg Ryan) to determine whether she should be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
After conducting preliminary interviews with the survivors of Captain Walden’s unit, Serling is convinced that he’s not getting the whole story. He digs in, committed to finding the truth even as his own emotional state is unraveling. A compelling story with excellent performances.
4 Fargo (1996)
This now-classic film garnered Oscar wins for lead Frances McDormand and screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen. McDormand plays the hugely pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson, who is investigating a triple murder that will turn out to be a spider web of complications.
As she investigates, we’re treated to an
inside look at Brainerd, Minnesota. Part mystery, part comedy, part tourism, the film creates an unforgettable picture of a particular slice of American culture while telling a pretty wild and violent crime story. There are laughs throughout. Yaah.
5 Erin Brockovich (2000)
A broke single mom of three hits bottom after she loses a traffic case in court. In dire need of work, she decides the lawyer who lost her case will give her one. Period. Things get off to a rocky start when she clashes with her co-workers due to her miniskirts and sarcasm. One day she picks up an old file, started asking questions and the rest is history. Newbie legal assistant Erin Brockovich single-handedly built a case against Pacific Gas & Electric for poisoning the water in Hinckley California with Chromium 6, a known cancer-causing chemical.
She collected statements and medical records from hundreds of Hinckley residents, many of whom were ill, dying or had family members who had died due to cancer. Brockovich’s work resulted in the largest settlement in U.S. history: $333 million dollars. Brockovich continues her environmental investigations around the country. Chromium 6 can still be found in water systems around the country. And Pacific Gas & Electric recently paid another settlement of $3.3 million for continued contamination.
6 A League of their Own (1992)
There was a women’s baseball league in the U.S. during WWII and it was awesome. It’s the middle of World War II and every able-bodied man in America is off fighting in it. Women joined the workforce in droves, taking over manufacturing jobs that men left behind and working in defense plants building aircraft. The sports
world had a serious vacuum, with all the talent gone and the Amerian public without its favorite pastime. Along comes a promoter who gets the bright idea of putting women in short skirts on the baseball field. The All-American Girl Baseball League played mostly in the Midwest until 1954, almost ten years after the end of the war. When the league shut down it disappeared so completely most people had no idea it existed until Penny Marshall made this film.
Starring Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna and Tom Hanks. It’s a fun and inspiring film that revives a lost chapter of American herstory.
7 Nine to Five (1980)
A sexist, egotistical control freak (Dabney Coleman) executive has driven employee morale to an all-time low. His three assistants, (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily
Tomlin) spend an evening drinking and commiserating. Talk turns to revenge when they start fantasizing how they would kill him if they cold. It’s only talking, and the next day they’re back at the same old grind. Then an unexpected opportunity arises.
8 The Interpreter (2005)
Nicole Kidman stars in this twisty thriller about a United Nations interpreter who overhears an assassination plot in her native (African) language. When detectives start investigating, her past makes her a suspect. Sophisticated and twisty.
9 North Country (1988)
Charlize Theron stars in this true story about a woman who stands up to hellish sexual harassment on the job in an iron mine. She’s new on the job and when she talks to her female co-workers she finds that it’s a part of the job. Then men abuse
them because they believe that the women miners are taking away jobs from men. Things escalate until Josey Aimes (Theron) decides to sue. Not one of the women she works with will join her in the suit for (a justified) fear of retaliation. The suit made history.
10 Norma Rae (1979)
The true story of a mill worker who fights to unionize her workplace in order to obtain better working conditions at the mill. Norma Rae (Sally Field) discovers that the textile mill where she works is endangering the workers’ health.
She has a fight on two fronts: the mill at work and her husband at home, who complains that she’s spending too much time away. Sally Field won an Oscar for her role, and the film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
An earlier version of this post appeared on the MsLake blog