Sunday, April 20, 2008

Throughout my working career I've often been put in the awkward position of being the 'male' secretary. Until recently I was the Executive Secretary for the CEO of a non-profit. One of my duties was to coordinate the bi-monthly board meetings; getting coffee, danish, taking notes, etc. At one of these meetings, one of the board members came up to me and said: Don't you feel that being a male secretary is demeaning. I humda-humda'd and said something like "Oh it's very rewarding..." But it stung. I thought 'what a stupid thing to ask someone'. But then I thought "Wow... what a loser I am to be a male secretary".

In the 80's I recall going to apply for temp work. I got very few calls for work, even though my typing skills were good. It was to be expected, I was told by the interviewer, "Our clients preferred female secretaries". I was eyed with suspicion for even applying for the job. Eve Arden and Ann Sheridan I wasn't. Which brings us to this lovely pamphlet put out by the Remington Rand Typewriter Company on "How to Be a Super Secretary". Judging by the advice, a secretary was expected to be part-wife, part-maid, part mistress. The perfect woman their wives could never be; Hiding their feelings, looking perfect, acting pleasant, remembering her place, and always putting her boss before herself. Outside of going to Japan and getting a Geisha, a secretary was the next best thing.

However, I think a lot of this advice is still being touted at those "Be a Great Administrative Assistant" seminars that I get advertisements for every few weeks.

Common sense tips like: Keep a neat desk; don't bother the boss with your petty personal problems; come in on time; all seem like good rules to follow. However, the pamphlet creeps me out with the underlining theme that you're boss can do no wrong. He is seen God like, with a halo around his head. If you're a good girl and give him all the love and worship he deserves you might be rewarded.

Blessed are the women who for years put up with decades of second class citizenship; Not to mention having to worry about if their margins were straight. The things they had to do to have a good typewriter make me shiver.

HERE is a .pdf of the full pamphlet.

If you don't have the time to read the full thing, then than you should at least take some notes on your Bosses' Pet Peeves. Ladies, how many can you confess too?

  • Chews gum
  • Too much make-up
  • Argues
  • Too bossy
  • Smokes at her desk
  • BO (please do something about this!)
  • Hair untidy
  • Bobby socks
  • Doesn't check letters or reports
  • Too noisy
  • Airs personal troubles
  • Too emotional in attitude
  • Careless about details
  • Gloats when she changes phrases...thinks knowledge of grammar more important than knowledge of business
  • Never around when she is needed
  • Tactless in correction others... even the boss
  • Brags about being secretary to a 'big shot'
  • A trouble maker among co-workers
  • Loses papers when she cleans up desk
  • Feels exempt from office rules
  • Swears (this should be the boss's privilege)
  • Her slip always showing
  • Not lady-like enough
  • but not smart enough to hide it
  • Comes in late, goes early, takes too long for lunch
  • Moody, so cross at times she makes life disagreeable for everyone...including the boss

Now go out there and have a great Monday!


Aaron said...

I'd like to track down the authors of this pamphlet (they were clearly men) and sentence them to EVERY ONE of the instructions they slop out here...thanks for posting it! If we forget steaming loads of shit like this, we're doomed to repeat them...this is why I never attend those "ad min seminars" either. It's just several hundred dollars to listen to common sense advice that any marmoset could follow...

I've noticed that even in my position, which isn't purely secretarial, I act as everyone's assistant (including my own), because they sometimes can't be bothered to do things like print their own e-mails (no, I'm not kidding!) and remember where they put things. And if you're good at the job, they get all spoiled and lean on you like an incontinent child leans on's extremely unhealthy for all involved.

So if it IS "demeaning" to be a male secretary (and what sort of troglodyte says a thing like that?), it's the fault of people like your board member. ...

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing the brochure! I'm an executive assistant and have been in this profession since 1971, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed reading your post. Love everything else on your blog, too! SueB in Annapolis

Daniel said...

Holy crap! The outtakes you list almost perfectly describe our previous administrative assistant. Except for the chewing gum and bobby socks bit...and knowing anything about grammar, or wearing a slip. But other than that, it was her. Frankly glad to be rid of her. Just goes to show you, as sexist and horribly demeaning as most of this is, a secretary does have certain responsibilities. Like not wearing too much makeup while smoking at her desk. Sheeesh...