Picture, if you will, the last time you vacuumed your home or did any type of housework. What were you wearing? No, this isn’t some sort of role play or the beginning of a sexy story. I want to know what you had on. Probably not your nicest clothes, right? And a supportive bra of some sort, I’m guessing. That’s usually what I wear to do housework, which is why I took pause during a recent rewatch of the 1988 movie Working Girl.
During one scene, Tess (Melanie Griffith) is vacuuming in just underwear and heels — nothing at all on top. It’s supposed to be a visual cue to the audience that she’s finally coming into her own, in both the boardroom and the bedroom. All I could think while watching the scene, though, was how bad it is to perform manual labour with your breasts unsupported (hello, tissue breakage).
Also, how many other ways could Tess’ new empowerment have been conveyed to viewers without Melanie Griffith having to vacuum topless in what I imagine is some kind of '50s housewife male fantasy? I can think of several, and they all involve Tess keeping her top on. Was the studio worried that this movie, about a woman trying to climb the ranks in a white-collar corporation that basically runs on institutionalised sexism, would bomb at the box office because no men would possibly go see such a thing? So they stuck in some shots guaranteed to appeal to the male gaze?
Listen, I have no problem with sex or nudity in movies or television shows. Michael Fassbender in Shame? Great stuff. Shameless? If you’re not watching, you’re missing Emmy Rossum making sex scenes look hot. What I take umbrage with are cases like the nude vacuuming scene in Working Girl. I just don’t see its point, besides Melanie Griffith having to put her boobs out there to get male butts in seats. The same goes for Halle Berry's topless scene in Swordfish, which is on record as being completely unnecessary.
In the case of Tess McGill’s topless housework and these other examples, the nudity and sex scenes feel gratuitous, exploitative, and just straight-up superfluous. Also, because these scenes are so unnecessary to the plot, I’m not going to be embedding them here. Just watch the trailers included along with the descriptions of the scenes, and know that they exist.
This story was originally published on 2nd February 2016.