The fraternity of Gordon Gekko, Patrick Bateman, and most recent inductee Jordan Belfort requires certain qualities in its pledges: dicks, and dickishness. Hollywood’s iconic Wall Street bankers are all male crooks — suits, ties, cufflinks, and a penchant for objectifying. On the trading floor, only the suits have double breasts (UGH, SORRY). And the women of these films tend to be cast as either worried wives or part of an endless parade of strippers.
But women too work in finance. Women also are traders and bankers and consultants. Why are Hollywood’s avaricious miscreants always men? Where are Hollywood’s she-wolves of Wall Street? So asks former investment banker Samantha Washington in an essay for the Telegraph.
These men are scoundrels, yes. But, in their twisted way, they’ve also come to define an archetype — and one with a certain inspirational flair. As directors plead cautionary tale!, viewers admire Gekko’s ruthless attitude, Bateman’s grooming habits, and Belfort’s manipulative intelligence. And filmmakers continue to devote extensive screen-time to displaying fantastic wealth and invite-me-to-that-party scenes. Intended or not, these male protagonists become rogue role models. Shouldn’t there be a wolfish, female financier as one part off-putting warning, two parts intriguing aspiration? Equal villain opportunity.
Washington did find one idol among her searching through the movies: Tess from Working Girl. But this writer discovered that turning to Hollywood for role models comes with its own lessons:
Gorgeous Melanie Griffith, who has metamorphosed from secretary to M&A queen in 1980s New York declares to some hapless paramour: “I have a head for business and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?” Not as far as I was concerned: Sex, smarts, power and femininity all rolled into one. Boom.
… And so it eventually came to pass: a male colleague sat me down to tell me that I would never be taken seriously in the mighty world of finance if I insisted on presenting myself as a “Charlie’s Angels extra”… But I suppose the colleague was well-meaning; it was the way of the world I was in. I had to accept that Melanie Griffith in her clattering heels, dripping in sex and getting to the top was but a Hollywood figment.
Washington reports that she ditched banking and decided to Melanie Griffith her way around a journalism career. But oh, she still imagines a world where all the little girls can look up to Hollywood’s version of a ruthless banking babe, where wide-eyed collegiate Econ majors can unironically hang a poster of Gertrude Gekko on their walls, and where a gaggle of brunching girlfriends can compare the tensile strength of their business cards.