Equity Says That Women Can Love Money, Too

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures.
We’ve heard enough about the wolves of Wall Street. In bars or in blockbusters, there’s tell of coke lines in bathrooms, frat parties that graduated into boardrooms, the finance industry’s theology of avarice. Stories of real-life Gordon Gekkos or Jordan Belforts saturate our cultural narrative, celebrating the same spoils.

Enter Equity, a movie about Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn). She’s a woman cut from that same “greed is good” and ”money is a drug” ethos, but she lacks that same extravagance. Her love of money is different, and utterly unglamorous. She wants a hefty salary, but not for the toys or cars it can pay for. If empowerment has indeed become something to buy, Naomi has the cash to purchase it. Money is her end, not some kind of means; she likes riches and doesn’t apologize for it. “It’s okay to [want money] for ourselves, for how it makes us feel,” Naomi tells a group of guileless college girls. With Equity, director Meera Menon asserts that our conception of ambitious women is too limited. We're not all leaning in for the same reasons.

Naomi and company are disciples of Rihanna’s prosperity gospel: These are women interested in money for money’s sake.

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Naomi is coming off a big loss that balloons into a catastrophic one because she’s the office’s cold, unapproachable blond. Her junior associate Erin scrolls through an Atlantic feature on whether women can have it all while on her way to a midnight meeting. Samantha, an old friend of Naomi’s who’s now a prosecutor, plays ditzy to get closer to the overgrown frat boy whom she suspects of white-collar crime. Their stories converge on the eve of a big public offering. Dynacorps is a Silicon Valley startup that’s half security company and half social media network. Naomi and her team are bringing it to the market, as competitors work behind the scenes to drive the stock’s price down.

Menon’s camera doesn’t pass judgment; women can want things without explanation or regret. This goes against the politics of respectability that seems to come attached to women’s bank accounts: Men can want money for fun, but women are supposed to want money for their families or some distant future. Naomi and company are disciples of Rihanna’s prosperity gospel: These are women interested in money for money’s sake.
Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures.
In an industry built by and for men, it’s thrilling that Equity shows only women and boys. Naomi’s office is sleek and gray, with svelte award statuettes lining the walls. Her boss is around her age, but works in an ornate office with enough wooden beams and bookshelves that it looks passed down not from Michael Douglas, but his dad Kurt. Naomi is defined by her precision and efficiency. The centerpiece of her superior’s desk, meanwhile, is a running game of Jenga. Her two assistants — Baby-faced 1 and Baby-faced 2 — make copies and distribute cookies. Even Naomi’s sly boyfriend is a little silly, sharing stock tips via stuffed animals. The movie doesn’t just place men at the periphery, it reveals them to be a little foolish, too.

Equity's women know better than to be surprised by a career's worth of fresh indignities.

Equity is billed as the “women on Wall Street” movie, but it's really just a movie about women who like money and share the same corporate ecosystem. Wall Street is just the setting, and one that’s clumsily realized. The real story is how women work in offices. Legally Blonde and The Devil Wears Prada pretend to be about women in the workplace, but they both require the same coming-of-age payoff. A girl becomes a woman, and the audience gets a neatly packaged lesson in Feminism 101. Equity focuses on women who share the same hunger and work for and against each other, engaging in a more advanced conversation that isn’t obsessed with pop song empowerment. It’s closer to All About Eve than Andy Sachs — Menon's film isn't interested in stories of a cutthroat industry’s first sting. Equity's women know better than to be surprised by a career's worth of fresh indignities.

“Don’t let money be a dirty word,” Naomi tells the young undergrads who take notes as they listen to her sermon from Wall Street's pulpit. “We [as women] can like that too.” The line is echoed later on by another woman newly touched by this gospel. The wolves of Wall Street have the privilege to howl at moons and Maseratis. Its women, according to Equity, are busy stockpiling Benjamins.
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