Earlier this month, I took the Staten Island Ferry for the first time. Before I boarded the ferry, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary boat ride with a brief turn around in Staten Island. Instead, this trip was my Tess McGill moment. It was my chance to connect with Tess, the main character in the 1988 film Working Girl.
After years of watching and quoting the film, I was on Tess’s turf, where she came up with the idea of putting together Trask and radio. My Tess McGill moment requires no explanation if you have seen Working Girl. However, this moment certainly requires an explanation if you have not seen the film.
For over a decade, Working Girl has served as my empowerment film. Each time I watch it, I gain a belief in myself that matches Tess McGill’s determination to better herself. My feelings are a result of Working Girl’s core message about finding one’s way professionally and personally when one is required to skirt the rules, but not because the rules are right or wrong. Tess, superbly played by Melanie Griffith for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, must go around the rules because avenues are blocked to her. She has no choice but to mix a bit of truth with a bit of stretching the truth to achieve a larger goal.
Tess is a secretary from Staten Island who is ambitious. However, in the world of late 1980s Wall Street, there is little room for growth. Tess shares her idea of Trask entering the radio industry with her boss Katharine Parker, played by Sigourney Weaver, only to have Katharine tell her the idea is good, but cannot go anywhere. She soon finds out Katharine is trying to steal it. When Katharine ends up holed up in Austria after a ski incident, Tess gets to work with Jack Trainer, a handsome Harrison Ford, to put together a deal for Oren Trask of Trask Industries. As the film unfolds, Tess finally has the chance to be who she has longed to be.
Throughout Working Girl, Tess does everything possible to advance herself. She capitalizes on what is available to her. She has an unwavering belief in herself. Most importantly, as Mr. Trask describes her in the film, she has “gumption.” I identify with Tess and her journey. I see her professional obstacles in my own life. Every time I watch the film, I want to take a bit of her inner strength and draw on it as I make professional decisions.
While Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” which served as Working Girl’s theme song, might not have been playing on this particular ferry, there was no doubt that I had my Tess McGill moment. What that moment means could be nothing more than taking the Staten Island Ferry, which happens to be in one of my favorite films. What it also could mean is the beginning of something far greater. I am going with the latter. Now, I must harness those feelings and make a professional move. Perhaps if I do, Mr. Trask will be calling me next. “Gumption, Ms. McGill,” Mr. Trask says. Gumption, Susan Cohen.