So now Working Girl - a movie so brutally misogynist for its period that one could see women coming out of the cinema in tears of rage when it was released - is an example of feminism, narrating and valorizing "women's liberation" and "emancipation".
Even to suggest the film is a "co-optation" of feminism is flatly absurd; it doesn't even pretend to deal in "emancipation" or "liberation", but is rather unmistakeably a tale of upward mobility and the conservation of family and country: the American dream.
Tess is not a victim of patriarchy but of snobbery. Her working class identity is associated with the preservation of "traditional" values including gender hierarchy which the decadent upper classes have allowed to weaken; she will carry into the world of wealth and privilege an infusion of the homely virtues ordinary folk have safeguarded while the liberal establishment has gone off on its innovating excesses. (Her chosen radio network matches her, in contrast to the mad cosmopolitanism which endangers American purity and empire.) Women enjoy too much power in the world Tess seeks to enter, not too little; the achievement of her goals is entwined with the restoration of dominant masculinity in an unhealthily feminized milieu. Hers is a standard, populist quest of the Hortatio Alger type with the usual brer rabbit con artist modifications. That the protagonist is female registers reality and facilitates the anti-feminist backlash features of the story.
The anti-feminist backlash features are central and emphatic. Working Girl is a film about replacing Sigourney Weaver's threatening woman-with-a-phallus with Melanie Griffith's adoreably compliant subordinate - destroying that wicked woman who buys her own handbags and putting one who receives them as gifts from men in her stead. It is a film which strips, humiliates, pillories and expels a traditional female scapegoat for the sins of capital to cleanse the patriarchal establishment which emerges from this ritual benevolent, meritocratic, (that efficient market magic revealing true values as in Trading Places) but also an honest and upright realm of stable and honourable "family" businesses, where heritage is respectable and worthy, and in which there is a place, and rewards, for women who know how to be helpmeets. Working Girl - what Griffith is, like Jamie Lee Curtis before her, and what Sigourney Weaver, a wealthy woman employer, is not - operates an archaic fable with Wagnerian ideas of gender rendered as cutesy contemporary: the merger brings together Petty Marsh and Dewey Stone, an eternal story to restore the timeless balance that has been disrupted. The narrative revives the flagging male's potency and demotes "the woman on Wall Street" from partner to entry level with the same sequence of gender-elaborating events.
One oughn't overlook the principal purpose of all this restoration, this modifying of the glorified volatility and mobility celebrated by Trading Places five years earlier. The film's conclusion consists of a powerful plea for the natural right of intellectual property, and it is this plea to which the expulsion of the scapegoated masculized woman gives affective intensity. Baring and whipping the "bony ass" of the fraudulent uppity woman and advancing the concept of the unique, individually produced Idea is a single gesture which secures the troubled and threatened world of US capital via the culture industry - dominace in software (in content, ideas, images) is what will defend US capital from the Japanese lords of hardware (as Griffith/Tess defends Trask from Japanese takeover). Restoring fatherly authority in the American House is (as is typical) a duty to protect the nation from foreign menaces (the villainess is fluent in German), and this is bound up with asserting the right to exploit, endlessly, without restraint, images of women. The cult of Intellectual Property requires the defamation and destruction of feminism, replacing it (caricatured as the reign of a corrupt, lascivious, unscrupulous female despot, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great) here with a kind of philogynist patriarchy, because white supremacist patriarchy and its core proprietor Individualism are necessary to both its theology and its practise.
The future promised by this restoration and redirection of "progressive" history is hardly disguised, with a denouement eroticising overwork as the narrative climax eroticised dull business dealings: they haven't even time to sit down to breakfast together, these weary lovers. In less than ten years they will be Pfeiffer and Clooney glamorousing a condition wherein employers' demands on successful professionals endanger their children and don't even leave them the energy to kiss.