Swimming in the Steno Pool: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office

Overview

Feed your boss’s ego. Dress for success. And don’t let your heels trip you up on the corporate ladder.
Millions of women have held the position of secretary, alternately lauded as a breakthrough opportunity and excoriated as dead-end busy work. From the female pioneers who infiltrated Capitol Hill offices during the Civil War to today’s tech-savvy administrative assistants, secretaries have withstood criticism for abandoning their rightful sphere (the home), weathered the ...

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Swimming in the Steno Pool: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office

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Overview

Feed your boss’s ego. Dress for success. And don’t let your heels trip you up on the corporate ladder.
Millions of women have held the position of secretary, alternately lauded as a breakthrough opportunity and excoriated as dead-end busy work. From the female pioneers who infiltrated Capitol Hill offices during the Civil War to today’s tech-savvy administrative assistants, secretaries have withstood criticism for abandoning their rightful sphere (the home), weathered the dubious advice of secretarial guide- books, taken hits from feminists and antifeminists alike, and demanded the right to resist making coffee—all while making their bosses look good.
In Swimming in the Steno Pool, author-secretary Lynn Peril profiles the various incarnations of the secretary, from pliable, sexy mate of the “office husband” to postfeminist executive-in-training, drawing inspiration from a wide range of “femorabilia” and secretarial guidebooks of yesteryear. Featuring an array of fabulous illus- trations promoting office equipment and office girls alike, Peril delivers a feisty, witty celebration of the women who’ve been running the show for decades.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A secretary herself, Peril (Pink Think) presents an informative if sporadically lively history of the secretary and her woman's arts as well as a humorous guide for those currently catering to their bosses' whims. Chapters detail the various pitfalls secretaries face on the job—and the uphill battle women fought to get a foot in the door—interspersed with sidebars containing historical trivia, excerpts from old advice books such as 1954's Secrets of Charm, and anecdotes from her own life. Peril's potted history includes the first female secretaries, who in 1862 filled slots of male clerks fighting the Civil War, and the early 20th-century arrival of secretarial training schools, most notably the Katherine Gibbs School, which taught decorum and math along with typing and shorthand. Peril also elaborates on secretarial stereotypes (one pulp paperback cover, Very Private Secretary, shows a buxom woman in apparent ecstasy), and also men's reappearance in the "steno pool" in the late 1970s. It all becomes a bit repetitive. But Peril's smooth tongue-in-cheek survey accented by entertaining period photos and ads will especially appeal to fans of Mad Men. 42 illus. (Apr.)
Library Journal
A freelance writer who has herself worked as a secretary, Peril (College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-Eds Then and Now) continues her accessible study of gender-related topics. In this offering her focus turns to women in the workplace, specifically, gender relations and pursuant expectations in the business office environment. Drawing on her examinations of the primary literature, Peril covers the American workforce from the late 19th century to the modern era, with a focus on the early to mid-20th century. While not a "guide" per se, as the subtitle seems to suggest, Peril's book shows research that clarifies the limited roles women were expected to play and the stringent dictates that governed women's behavior in the office. Though not from a strictly feminist perspective (there's little analysis or commentary) and despite the occasionally intrusive sidebars, this engaging volume adds to existing scholarship at the fascinating intersection of gender, labor, and cultural studies. VERDICT Recommended for general readers, including YA, as well as undergraduates interested in gender studies, business, or American popular culture.—Jewell Anderson, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ. Lib., Savannah, GA
Kirkus Reviews

A humorous guide to exploring the changing definition of a woman's role in the workplace.

What label best classifies the post of secretary—"sex bomb" or "office wife?" Peril (College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens and Co-eds, Then and Now, 2006, etc.) delves into the stereotypes that continue to plague secretaries. Running the gamut from vampy vixens to officious career gals, secretaries have always been varied personalities with varying abilities; some were able to use their position as a stepping stone while others hit the glass ceiling. The author's study is packed with witty anecdotes drawn from multiple eras, and lavish images and illustrations accompany her lively prose. Peril examines the changing perspective of female competence in the workplace, from its start in the battlefield to the offices of the future. The author highlights the challenges women faced at the office, and the problems women must still reckon with even in the most forward-thinking companies of this era—including the seemingly insignificant question of whose responsibility it is to put on a pot of coffee. While it's safe to say that the days in which secretaries were viewed as little more than husband-hunting sex kittens are extinct, Peril argues that today's professional women are still changing the rules of femininity, adopting traits previously only owned by men.

A great choice for ladies climbing the corporate ladder from the bottom up.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393338546
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/25/2011
  • Pages: 291
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lynn Peril is a secretary and the author of Pink Think, College Girls, and Swimming in the Steno Pool. She lives in Oakland, California.

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