When I saw Mike Nichols's Working Girl as a kid in the '90s, I dreamed of one day working in an office like Tess McGill's. Shown in the last scene, the aggressively beige cell has little in it except a desk and a phone. As the camera zooms out, we see Tess (Melanie Griffith) is one of hundreds of blazer-wearing employees in identical rooms on the upper floors of One Chase Manhattan Plaza. She shrinks to the size of a teeny particle on the gridlike skyscraper, and, as we zoom out, disappears.
Sounds soul-crushing, right? In Working Girl, though, Tess's office is a triumph, soundtracked by the gospel-pop anthem "Let the River Run." When I watched the movie as a kid, I had no trouble believing such a cell was the pinnacle of female success. One of my favorite daydreams around then consisted of building my own one-room home, filled with objects precious to me — and this was long before I ever read Virginia Woolf. Tess's office seemed similar: a blank space where she could construct her identity in the world. More than fancy clothes or Harrison Ford as a boyfriend, it was a reward for her journey from sex-object secretary to serious executive.