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Blog Insight & Commentary

10 Empowering Documentaries for Working Women

Inspiring stories of women standing up for themselves, their careers, and for other women

Beth Castle
Managing Editor, InHerSight

lady gaga

If you haven’t found the right job—or you have, but you’ve also got a really bad case of the Mondays—work can sometimes make you feel like you’re a dying office plant who will never know what it’s like to photosynthesize.

Well, our team at InHerSight doesn’t believe work has to be that way. You can find a job, a field, or a cause that you love and run with it.

Don’t believe us? Watch these documentaries to see firsthand how women who advocate for themselves and their careers can bring a whole lot of good to the world, even when they’re facing seemingly insurmountable odds.

Ask Dr. Ruth

Where: Hulu

Dr. Ruth Westheimer is easily the most well-known sex expert (sexpert?) in the U.S., and the story of how she grew her career is so captivating you’ll wish she could be your spirit guide, not just your love guru: A Holocaust survivor, she went on to host five television shows and write 40 books about sex and sexuality.

At the Heart of Gold

Where: HBO

You’ve no doubt heard about Dr. Larry Nassar, the now-imprisoned USA Gymnastics national team doctor who was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on sexual assault charges after 156 women came forward to make statements against him. This documentary looks at how a culture of secrecy and dismissing young women’s voices protected him for so long. No, that’s not inspiring. It’s heartbreaking. But remember: It was a group of young women who spoke out and took him down; whether in the gym or in the office, our collective voices can enact change.

Black Ballerina

Where: Amazon Prime

If you know anything about the classical dance world, then you know it’s overwhelmingly white (read this article on brown point shoes for added context). This documentary tells the stories of black ballerinas pursuing their careers despite racism, exclusion, and unequal opportunities. Their emotional strength here is admirable, even when it’s clear change is still moving slowly in this industry.

Plus: Like this? Rent “A Ballerina’s Tale” off Amazon Prime, too. It’s the story of how Misty Copeland became the first African-American to be named principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre.

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Gaga: Five Foot Two

Where: Netflix

Take a media break from “Shallow” in order to binge yet another Lady Gaga inspiration: a film that documents both her rise to fame and the prep needed for her Super Bowl performance. A woman in a male-dominated industry, the singer balances managing fame—and harsh media critics—with illness. The story is powerful enough to make you want to wear a meat dress to the office.

He Named Me Malala

Where: Netflix

The story of Malala Yousafzai has been widely shared: After a Taliban gunman shot her in the head in retaliation for her activism, Yousafzai survived and gained world recognition. Since then, she’s been speaking out about the need for education among young women. She’s also the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. Recent college grads, take note of her resilience—she’s only just now 21.

Read more: 17 Memoirs to Inspire Working Women

Knock Down the House

Where: Netflix

Whether you support her politics or not, you can’t deny that New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, made an impressive start to her political career. A former waitress and bartender, AOC took on Joe Crowley, the incumbent Democrat who’d be representing Queens and the Bronx for 10 terms—and won. This documentary follows her primary campaign as well as those of Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin.

Ladies First

Where: Netflix

At just 18, Deepika Kumari became the best female archer in the world, but her road to sports stardom wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Kumari grew up poor in rural India, where she, like other young women, was told girls are meant to stay at home. Obviously, that didn’t stop her from pursuing her athletic career. This documentary looks at how she made her dreams a reality.

Period. End of Sentence.

Where: Netflix

An Oscar winner for best documentary short, this film takes you to rural India, where the stigma of menstruation still keeps women and girls from attending school, visiting their temples, and working. That all begins to change for one set of entrepreneurial women, who, after purchasing a machine that helps them make low-cost sanitary pads, begin earning their own money for the first time in their lives.

RBG

Where: Hulu

The Great Dissenter. Notorious RBG. Whatever you call her, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s career is the stuff documentary films should always be made of. From attending law school as a new mom to proving to 1970s-era America that gender discrimination in the office is real (wow), RBG has a history of standing up for working women. Praise be.

Read more: Social Media Detox 101: How to Take One and Why It Matters

Tiny Shoulders

Where: Hulu

Chances are, you don’t have the hip-to-waist-to-breast ratio of Barbie, and neither does any woman you’ve ever known. While that’s disturbing and isn’t totally rectified by the recent “curvy” edition of the doll, this documentary will help you see Barb in a different light: not as an anatomically incorrect plaything, but as an early model of a working woman. Barbie’s career aspirations shifted the way young girls think about play (“playing house” vs. “becoming the boss”). Who knew?

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