Sex and the Officeby Helen Gurley Brown
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Helen Gurley Brown adds dazzle to dull office days in her follow-up to the phenomenal bestseller Sex and the Single Girl The classic book from 1965 tells what it was really like to be the girl in a Mad Men–style workplace. Sex and the Office became the definitive, comprehensive guide to working life for an entire generation of women. Alongside advice about how to deal with your boss, manage office politics, and make the most of personal and professional opportunities in the office, Helen Gurley Brown also shares stories from her own office days. A classic of its time, this stands as a frank look at how to get ahead, not just through working hard but through playing hard, too.
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Sex and the Office
By Helen Gurley Brown
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1964 Helen Gurley Brown
All rights reserved.
HOW TO LOVE A BOSS
To have a lovely work life you don't have to have fantastic drive or looks or brains or be a nymphomaniac or have the hide of a Burmese elephant or sacrifice any of the joys of having a normal healthy husband and normal healthy children. To have the best of all possible times in the office you do have to work hard, however!
Work? YOU? Hard? AT A JOB? I can see you laughing right into your dimpled little hand. Working hard on a job is for sallow spinsters with nothing else in their lives. If you're eighteen and pretty, any company should be happy to have you just as an ornament. If you take a job at all, it's just for Easter-in-Honolulu money ... or to wait for him. You certainly don't intend to get your brain all sweaty.
My dear, you must stop reading (if you can read) right now! This book is not for you. You'll never have a speck of fun if you think you're doing somebody a favor just by filling a posture chair (even though most offices are crying for helpers). You don't have to be driven and compulsive, but you must try to do better and better in your job if you are to have this rich, full daytime life ... the hours filled with surprise, excitement and, among other attractions, wonderful male companions. Forget the fact that working hard in a job seems kind of antique ... something girls did only during the Great War or the Great Depression. Girls who want to have fun in offices do it now.
The better job you have and the better you are in it, the better the men you get to fraternize with (instead of just stealing hungry looks at them from your file-girl perch). And though it may seem to the untrained eye that you are selflessly working on office projects together, what you are really doing is sinking into them like a cobalt treatment so that you may make off with them after work—if that's your pleasure. (Of course I think getting married to the first man you make off with in an office or anywhere else is so dull. You ought to sample several before you make up your mind.)
There are other prizes for high-voltage workers. As one girl I respect very much says, "If a girl doesn't have all the money she needs to do everything she wants—including buying clothes, taking lovely vacations and furnishing a beautiful apartment—I can't for the life of me understand her not moving toward a job that will pay for most of it. Not to do so is not only unsexy—it is unholy."
Are career girls—the ones who get those lovely things—different from other women?
You'll find not half so many successful girls were inner-directed or told-to-by-voices as they were simple fluffheads who started working because they had to. Then the fun and games began and they stayed.
But men hate career girls! Really, dear, you probably still believe storks bring babies! Do men hate Elizabeth Taylor, the glamorous columnist Suzy, Barbra Streisand, Queen Elizabeth and Sophia Loren? Raging career girls all! The men who hate career girls hate the career girls who hate men. These girls really don't like men or sex very much and use their jobs to hide out. Some of the most sensational career girls I know career all day, then whomp it up all night with the men they've collected during the day (at least until they've settled on one).
Let's list the ground rules for having the most fun in the office; i.e., access to the most men and the most money. Some of the rules won't sound like anything but drudgery. Well, the details of doing a good job are not particularly glamorous. Neither is the whale oil that goes into Arpège (except to another whale) or the metallic thread that makes a silver lamé dress—it's the wearing of those things that makes them sexy. On an attractive girl a great job looks and smells good too, even though certain mundane choring goes into the making of that job.
First though, we must have the job, and most jobs are found in offices.
WHAT'S AN OFFICE, MOMMY?
Every place a girl works is an office—the opera house, the Boeing 707, the laboratory, the movie set, the fashion show runway, the ad agency. I'm afraid there isn't room to put down the rules for all offices even if I knew them. Most offices are more alike than different, however, and most of the ones where girls get a crack at success are conventional business offices rather than the more exotic varieties. So we're going to talk about business offices.
BEING A SECRETARY GETS YOU IN
There you are with your M.S. in Political Science, but does Adlai really need a lovely girl to chin with about Mao and Nikita? (After what happened to British War Minister John Profumo over the girl he chatted with, it's a wonder any political dignitary is chatting with anybody female.) What is more likely needed by Mr. Stevenson or anyone like him is somebody to turn out about thirty pounds of correspondence a week.
The personnel director of a company that has delicious jobs for girls says, "Pretty, degreed and pedigreed Vassar and Radcliffe girls are always streaming through here asking what opportunities there are—in other words what we can do for them. They all want the big break. The catch is, none of them has a single thing in mind she can do for us. We can always use a good stenographer, and furthermore we do give her a chance to get ahead."
Nobody is asking you to forget your college education or what you really want to do in life. But maybe the way of achieving what you want is offering to do something somebody actually needs now. (The way to becoming a man's wife may be skinning halibut with him on a live-bait barge, even though you don't expect to be doing that when you're Mrs. Halibut.)
A cosmetics company tycooness once told me, "Some very important men will throw their arms around you if you're a good secretary but they wouldn't let you in the place if you did something else. Once you're in, you look around and plot." Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller worked in his office, but we're not talking about marrying the boss. That could be merely a fringe benefit compared to the other splashy rewards of a happy work life. Anyway, there's no better known "in" than being a Miss Girl Monday through Friday. (Probe below the surface, and you'll find about 72 per cent of all female tycoonesses have a secretarial job somewhere in their past.)
If you plan to use secretarial work as a wedge to get elsewhere, there are two ways to go about it:
1. Do tell them what you have in mind for later.
2. Don't talk about later but just get in. Sometimes advertising your goal makes people nervous, and it's better just to get in on any basis and be your own lookout. If you do take Route 1 and agree to be a secretary temporarily, don't pin them down "Yes, but when will I start writing editorials?" That kind of dialogue before you've even started the filing is a sure sign of a malcontent. Who needs a sour face at the file cabinets?
Always remember that as a beginner you need them more than they need you. Sure, they require typists and run lots of ads for them. In fact, I never saw anything like the ads for secretaries in The New York Times—"Glamorous job with magazine publisher. Beautifully decorated offices. Short hours." ... "Be an integral part of top television show. Meet interesting, famous people." ... "We guarantee two trips to Europe a year—all expenses paid. Teach you a foreign language." For a girl who got her first secretarial job when lines were still forming for them, this kind of talk sounds like a white-slave invitation. But never mind that they're begging you to come in. You need their arena to work out in if you're to become a full-fledged gladiator.
WON'T YOU GET STUCK?
Some people think that once you're a secretary a company will never think of you as anything else. I'm convinced the only people who get stuck in secretarial jobs are happily or willingly stuck. Would you believe it—good companies prowl like tigers to find people they can move upward. Secretarial work isn't a bad thing to be "stuck" in, anyway. Executive secretaries are close to some of the most glittery men in the world and have great lives.
Very well, you may use this spot to stay happily "stuck in" or to spring forward from, depending on your tastes and talents.
I asked the fashion director of one of America's biggest fabric companies how to make secretarial work your tool. (It was an important one for her.) "While you're a secretary," she said, "learn as much as you can about whatever the company does, whether it publishes books or packs sausages. Snoop and study and volunteer to work on any kind of little project they'll let you in on. Be everybody's helper. When you go to look for another job, you may not have the actual title to your credit, but you can say, 'Look, my name doesn't appear on this report, but I actually interviewed most of the people in it.' Save every scrap of paper that will authenticate your participation."
More about moving out of secretary-hood later. First, let's say you are a secretary, with or without other plans in mind. How do you get the sexy most—which is to say the successful most—out of this job?
REQUIREMENT NUMBER ONE
If this is to be that most satisfactory of all man-woman relationships—the one that transcends all others—the first thing to do is hire the right boss. You may hire several wrong ones while you're young, but after you're experienced, you certainly should be able to hire a rich, successful, beautiful, kind, wonderful, lovable employer with fabulous friends. This eliminates most bosses under thirty-five (who are so selfish, nervous and irritable most of the time that about the only way you can get along with them is to keep them under sedation), but it still leaves a rather large field to choose from.
If after careful screening you've still managed to hire a loser—and it's long after the time when you should have to put up with such a thing because you yourself are now efficient—the kindest thing to do is fire him. Give him a couple of weeks' notice and a set of character references that he can show to his next secretary if she wants them.
DO BOSSES MAKE LOUSY LOVERS?
What about actually falling in love with or being in love with your boss? It's heady for a while—being in his arms all night and in his good Eames client chair all day taking dictation and exchanging soul-looks. The trouble is that this sort of thing so often ends badly. You either marry each other—not the worst disaster but it can spoil the best boss-secretary relationship—or he is married and you can't stand booking their steamship tickets, or he doesn't marry you and you're depressed by the other girls who call him up. I think it's better to keep this darling as a friend, someone who may from time to time advise you about other men. (A divine boss of mine once gave a very good cocktail party so that I could impress a beau.)
You may succumb to a boss or two—they are attractive—but once you've finally picked one to be your dearly beloved friend, how do you care for him so that your office life will be all the lovely things we've promised?
You must love him like crazy. Denying love and devotion to a good boss who spends eight hours a day with you would be like a yellow-breasted mother swamp finch denying worms to her yellow-breasted swamp-finch babies. Other people give the man trouble. You must be there to help him gird on his armor for battle and then bind up his wounds when he returns. You can't be as aggressive about this when you're a shy baby worker but you can at least seem to be concerned.
I don't feel there's any justifiable cause to criticize a boss ever. The fact that he is somewhat overextended at Alfred Dunhill and every bar in town is really none of your business. If he wants to make it your business and discuss these indulgences with you, you are his conspirator, not his caviling Aunt Sarah.
You are for all his schemes, up to and including his taking over the company. It's easier for you than for his wife, who may see his power play costing her the cabanas, the flagstone and the swimming pool.
Adrienne Sausset, devoted secretary to California's Governor Pat Brown, sent out five thousand letters over her own name, on her own time and with her own postage, telling other secretaries to vote for her boss in the last election. That—among other things—got him re-elected.
Another friend of mine has had her bags packed, her apartment sublet and new homes found for her cats six times, on the strength of her boss expecting a presidential appointment. No action yet but there's always another election, and she's staying packed.
A chic Beverly Hills secretary I know found herself hawking avocados one spring. She had shown such enthusiasm for her boss's ranching ventures, he decided she was just the person to unload his bumper crop of little cuke-size fruit at the Farmer's Market. She was relieved of duty when she backed his station wagon full of little cukes into a bakery truck one afternoon. He reluctantly decided she was more use to him at the office.
You shouldn't think twice about embracing any cause dear to your boss provided it won't land you under federal investigation. I became a Republican to impress my boss, advertising executive Don Belding. It was either that or go underground. Actually, I liked the party so well I only switched back to being a Democrat last year.
Other girls have embraced Zen Buddhism, the International Kite-Flyers Society and World Federalists without any harm to their psyche or integrity.
Bosses get their feelings hurt just like hostesses when nobody comes to their parties. Encourage your boss to over-invite for all cocktail soirees and luncheons. Try to get him to give the party at the poshest place instead of economizing on second poshest. More people will show. If an invited guest turns you down, see if he'd like to send somebody else from his company.
Many bosses are on a diet. He'll adore you if you slip him almond mocha roll and Danish crullers, but that's a good way not only to fatten him up but also to kill him off. Even though you may rather fancy a Big Daddy boss weighing close to three hundred, I think you have to choose in favor of having him around for a while.
Don't assume that because a man is just sitting in his office staring out the window that he is available for conversation or can even be interrupted. My friend Ernest Lehman, who wrote the movie version of West Side Story and nine other film hits, once overheard his secretary tell someone on the phone, "No, Mr. Lehman isn't busy. He's just thinking."
BE THE BEARER OF LOVELY TIDINGS
Most bosses are insecure (along with the whole human race) and need to be told somebody loves them. It doesn't necessarily have to be you. Reassurance that management cherishes them (based on inside poop from chatting with the girls) could be exactly what's needed. If you can imply that the prettiest girl in the filing room has a secret crush on him, your profit-sharing might really amount to something by Christmas. A very young or newly-hired secretary may not be able to execute these blandishments immediately, but she'll soon learn how.
Once, when things were extremely sticky for my husband at Twentieth Century-Fox studios (because of the death of the studio head, the old regime was out and the new regime was hacking away at the "leftovers"), a lovely steno-pool girl got to be a kind of legend in her time by soothing the beleaguered and once-powerful.
Excerpted from Sex and the Office by Helen Gurley Brown. Copyright © 1964 Helen Gurley Brown. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Helen Gurley Brown (b. 1922) is a bestselling writer and editor considered one of the most influential figures of Second Wave feminism. Editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan for thirty-two years, Brown transformed the magazine from a staid, behind-the-times women’s publication to one of most widely read magazines among young women in the United States. Brown’s trailblazing book Sex and the Single Girl jump-started the sexual revolution when it was published in 1962. Her fun, flirty, and unabashed advice helped a generation of women navigate the changing cultural norms both inside and outside the bedroom, and inspired the follow-up book Sex and the Office (1965). Brown lives in New York City.
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I loved this book. With each chapter, I found it hard to put down. It was very easy to relate and understand. Step by step information made it easy to understand relationships at work, how they work and where they are going. And how to handle the not so right relationships at work. Great book for the single at heart.