Working Women And Active Independence, RomComs: 1996-2001

Working Women And Active Independence, RomComs: 1996-2001

1996-2001 was an exceptional time for women in movies.

Working women: Architect, Marketing Director, TV Producer, and Food Critic.

These are the movies I chose to write about:

One Fine Day

The lives of two strangers and their young children unexpectedly intersect on one hectic, stressful day in New York City. (Michelle Pfeiffer, George Clooney, and Amanda Peet)

Picture Perfect

A young advertising executive’s life becomes increasingly complicated when, in order to impress her boss, she pretends to be engaged to a man she has just met. (Jennifer Aniston, Jay Mohr, and Kevin Bacon)

Someone Like You

After being jilted by her boyfriend, a talk show talent scout writes a column on the relationship habits of men which gains her national fame. (Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, and Hugh Jackman)

My Best Friend’s Wedding

When a woman’s long-time friend reveals he’s engaged, she realizes she loves him herself and sets out to get him, with only days before the wedding. (Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, and Cameron Diaz)

This is a very white list due to representation issues in Hollywood, but it is also very upper-upper-middle class, East Coast, and heteronormative. I was raised on these kinds of movies, they formed what I thought about working women. They are limited in many ways, however, they are sex-positive, independence-minded, equality-seeking, flawed women who speak their mind. Heck, “Picture Perfect” starts with Jennifer Aniston UNAPOLOGETICALLY throwing a man out of her apartment *mid romp* because he tried to explain why he didn’t want to use a condom. In many of these films, the women drop their specific sponge/diaphragm/rubber formula into conversation in support of reproductive health. I looked up to these 1996-2001 role models for all of my thoughts on career, wit, outspoken nature, and sexuality.

These women put their work FIRST and it’s painful to think the current Hallmark movie model of love-over-career is based on this era, because these women did NOT put love-over-work. In “One Fine Day,” Michelle Pfeiffer goes out of her way to tell George that her work is JUST as important as his and that she doesn’t have to prioritize his schedule because he’s a man. In “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” Julia Roberts gets her hands dirty by pointing out the imbalance in Cameron Diaz and Dermot Mulroney‘s relationship and how dropping out of school is the worst decision she could ever make – and that her partner SHOULD put her first. In “Picture Perfect,” Jennifer Aniston insults Jay Mohr over and over because she doesn’t respect his work choices, it’s not even a ‘career’ to her. In “Someone Like You,” the entire film is a workplace romance and everyone’s job is equal, with no question – and their boss is a woman.

What I took away from films like this (during a very formative time in my life), is that I should set my life on course to the career of my choosing and that if love should come along, nothing about my ambition would change. My work would and should be as priority as I desire until I desire otherwise. Seeing Michelle Pfeiffer in “One Fine Day” may have been the most impactful character of my upbringing. She plays a working single Mom to George’s working less-than-primary-caregiver Dad. I never thought parenthood would be a barrier to my career and to this day, I’ve never even considered parenthood to be a barrier. But parenthood is an obstacle. It is an obstacle that may be quite a bit higher than my spouse’s obstacle, but we leap it together – just like Michelle and George.

If anything, I’d say “Someone Like You” has the most backwards idea of a woman looking for and setting her hopes on love, but that was made in 2001, it was less progressive than it’s previous films. “One Fine Day” in 1996 is the most gratifying equal partnership, “Picture Perfect” in 1997 is the most progressive working woman, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” in 1997 showcases two women with differing/oppsite desires, but “Someone Like you” in 2001 started the downhill roll into RomComs where women are actively seeking a partner – these kinds of movies were after my formative years and did not resonate with me.

Movies have a big impact on culture and these types of movies made me believe in love – but they also gave me the firm foundation that I am a full, thriving, fulfilled woman without love. RomComs were never about leaving the big city for the simple small town life and *finally* finding fulfillment. My RomComs were all about fulfilled women who learn to make space for love and partners who learn to make space for love, too. These were equal partnerships, even as the characters and circumstances around them constantly echoed women’s inequality in the workforce and parenthood imbalances.

These movies are all available on HULU. I highly recommend getting into them and really paying attention to the dialogue and how ‘we’ spoke 30 years ago and how sex-positive they are. Spend a whole week watching 1996-2001 RomComs and the algorithm will be reoriented forever. You’re welcome.

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