The Associate Wears Prada

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I just got back from watching The Devil Wears Prada (yes, my husband and I are way, way behind in our movies), and I have to ask: At what point did we decide that apprentices aren’t supposed to work their tails off? The movie implies that the apprentice’s best decision was to quit her job in the middle of her boss’s most important work-week of the year. Sure, the boss is hard-driving and demanding (and Meryl Streep did her usual stellar job in portraying the boss as simultaneously driven and human); sure, the apprentice gives up her friends and lover to serve the whims of her boss; and sure, she realizes that the job that she’s doing isn’t saving the world. But what first jobs are ever dream jobs?

Oh, wait: I know the answer to the last question. First-year associates at large law firms are paid better than many law professors and federal judges, and they work in very nice surroundings while observing the practice of law at an elite level (the level of Clients Who Can Afford To Leave No Stone Unturned). They may work longer hours than they expected, but they don’t seem to be working the hours that their predecessors did. And yet, they complain. See At some point, we went from wanting to have it all, all at once (impossible), to wanting to have it all, over time (almost impossible), to wanting to have the best of it all, right at the beginning (never going to happen, even in big law firms). That’s why my three favorite parts of the movie are:

  1. Stanley Tucci’s character (Nigel) telling Anne Hathaway’s character (Andy),”Other girls dream of working here. You merely deign.” The entire speech is one of the best anti-whining paeans ever.
  1. Adrian Grenier’s character (Nate:Andy’s boyfriend) telling Andy that her incessant catering to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) meant that her relationship was with Miranda, not with him. He’s right.
  1. Even though Andy rejected Miranda’s lifestyle (I hate that word, but it fits here), Miranda was human enough to give her a good reference for the good work that she had done.

New associates could learn a lot from this movie. Successful people work hard:very, very hard. Women who are successful are often penalized for what they have to sacrifice in order to put in the time to get ahead. They get called”Dragon Ladies”:and sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re not. I don’t know Anna Wintour, on whom Miranda Priestly’s character is allegedly based, but if she’s curt, inscrutable, exacting, or powerful, then she’s like many other high-level bosses (male or female). And I’ll bet she had to work her tail off, too, to get where she is. So: loved the movie, hated the message.

–Nancy Rapoport

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