Friday, August 17, 2012

Sex and the Office

From the New York Times obituary for Helen Gurley Brown:

Ms. Brown routinely described herself as a feminist, but whether her work helped or hindered the cause of women’s liberation has been publicly debated for decades. It will doubtless be debated long after her death.
Reading about Brown’s life and work, I remembered that I had — where? — a copy of Sex and the Office (1965), the lesser-known sequel to Sex and the Single Girl (1962). So I looked, and looked, and there it was, on a shelf in, no joke, my office, with several passages marked. I must have used these passages when teaching. Here are two passages that I marked. Do they help or hinder the cause of women’s freedom?
It's okay to butter up anybody . . . boss, clients, visitors, brass, workers, even people who are a little creepy.

I can see your mouth corners turning down . . . being nice to people you hate is phony. All right, Miss Pure Motives, have it your way — but in my opinion, a business office is not the place to discriminate between the worthy and unworthy recipients of charm. You can draw the line in your personal life if you wish, although I never do. (I positively slather over the milkman to get certified raw skim milk delivered to my door, and he looks more like a tugboat than a dreamboat.)

Send the congratulatory wire. Take the vice-president’s wife to tea. Carry on over a new crew-cut. Carry on and carry on. No matter what your motives are, you’ll make people feel nice and that’s always good.


Listening, babying, flirting (except when it would embarrass the object of your attention) are all things you should do with impunity . . . and a little style. And there just may be room at the top for you to cheer a Chairman.

You have to make up your own mind about sleeping with people to get ahead, but there’s nothing wrong with talking to a man. Long, probing, business-friendship talks are delicious, whether they improve your perch or not.

I could name ten corporation executives whose real business confidante is a woman — not a secretary, in these cases, but some girl who has a terrific grasp of executive problems.
“Some girl”? Some feminism! I think I must have used this book when teaching Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House. Nora too was engaged in a pleasing and manipulative performance.

I also marked a passage that suggests buying books to spiff up an office:
Books look marvelous and say good things about you. (Anybody who owns books can’t be all dumbbell.) Five dollars should buy ten to fifteen books in a second-hand store. (It’s better if they are books you’ve really read and liked.) Paperbacks look nice too.
[All ellipses are Brown’s.]

comments: 1

Elaine said...

Oh, dear.