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Sex and the Office

Sex and the Office: A History of Gender, Power, and Desire

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Sex and the Office
    Book Description:

    In this engaging book-the first to historicize our understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace-Julie Berebitsky explores how Americans' attitudes toward sexuality and gender in the office have changed from the 1860s, when women first took jobs as clerks in the U.S. Treasury office, to the present.

    Berebitsky recounts the actual experiences of female and male office workers; draws on archival sources ranging from the records of investigators looking for waste in government offices during World War II to the personal papers ofCosmopolitaneditor Helen Gurley Brown andMs.magazine founder Gloria Steinem; and explores how popular sources-including cartoons, advertisements, advice guides, and a wide array of fictional accounts-have represented wanted and unwelcome romantic and sexual advances. By giving sex in the office a history, she provides valuable insights into the nature and meaning of sexual harassment today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18327-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-20)

    In 1891 a member of the first generation of white-collar office women published her “Memories” in theNew York Sun. This typewriter—the term referred to the machineandto its operator—had recently retired from office work to take her place as a wife in a cozy suburban home. The new setting and circumstances had not erased from her memory either the many hours she had spent taking dictation or the “risks, and temptations and trials” she frequently had faced as a typewriter who possessed “beauty of face and form.” She recalled the time an older man had chased...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Dangers, Desires, and Self-Determination: Competing Narratives of the Sexual Culture of the New, Gender-Integrated Office
    (pp. 21-59)

    “Has left his wife—Picard Loved Miss Berry,” read the front-page headline of the July 29, 1904,Boston Daily Globe. According to his wife, Alfred L. Picard, fifty, had sold his prosperous electrical contracting business to start a new life out west with his typewriter, Ella Berry, because he “could not live without her.” Destitute, Mrs. Picard was now working as a stenographer and had not heard from her husband since he left in early June. Their marital trouble had started two years before, when Picard had hired Berry, thirty, at seven dollars a week. Within a month, Mrs. Picard...

  6. CHAPTER TWO White-Collar Casanovas: Gender, Class, and (Hetero)sexuality in the Office, 1861 to World War II
    (pp. 60-94)

    In 1889 J. Edgar Engle, a supervisor in the U.S. government’s Pension Bureau, turned to William T. Ford, another supervisor, and, drawing his attention to one of the women clerks, declared his eagerness to “have a piece of that.” According to Ford, Engle ultimately succeeded in seducing the virtuous girl and then bragged about it. Ford, an attractive man of fifty-five, told this story to a congressional committee, which was investigating accusations of immorality in the bureau, and it is possible that this story was untrue, an effort to get Engle in trouble. Ford, meanwhile, had troubles of his own....

  7. CHAPTER THREE Betwixt and Between: New Freedoms and New Risks in the Sexually and Psychologically Modern Office
    (pp. 95-116)

    In 1926 helen woodward, a successful advertising copywriter, published her memoirs, liberally spiced with the amorous adventures of her coworkers. Everyone, it seemed—from the plainest typewriter girl to the loftiest executive—had a turn at office hanky-panky, and, in Woodward’s eyes, such adventures were just the amusing asides of an ordinary day at the office. They certainly did not merit any hand-wringing or any effort to protect pure womanhood: “So much nonsense has been written of the dangers and temptations to young girls in business offices,” she chided. “Girls find temptations when and where they are ready for them,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Gold Diggers, Innocents, and Tempted Wives: The Skyscraper in Fiction and Film
    (pp. 117-140)

    The first time david dwight, the villain of Faith Baldwin’s 1931 novelSkyscraper, gets Lynn Harding, the beautiful young heroine, alone, he muses about the building in which they spend their days. “A skyscraper is a little city, it is a little world, it is … a phallic symbol.” When Lynn blushes, the reader knows she is a good girl—and that her workplace is distinctly sexual. In the early 1930s millions of Americans heard this message: Baldwin’s novel was initially serialized inCosmopolitan, then reprinted as a pulp paperback, and finally made into a film,Skyscraper Souls, in 1932....

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Morals and Morale: Managing Sex in Business, World War II to the Early 1960s
    (pp. 141-176)

    In june 1959modern office procedurespublished “Love-in-the-Office,” urging companies to develop policies to tackle this “explosive” personnel problem. And problem it was. In the late 1950s individual corporations and American big business as a whole saw their reputations soiled by sordid scandals and began to realize they could no longer ignore love’s “cost.” An affair between two married coworkers could demoralize other workers and hurt efficiency. An irate spouse’s outburst in the lobby—“Your company is wrecking my home!”—could lead to gossip or make clients think twice about how well a business was run. The stakes were too...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The White-Collar Revolution: Helen Gurley Brown, Sex, and a New Model of Working Womanhood
    (pp. 177-205)

    Offices, helen gurley brown announced in 1964, are “sexier than Turkish harems, fraternity house weekends … or thePlayboycenterfold.” Everyone was at his or her best at work—clothes, brains, energy—which led men and women to wonder what the other was like in bed. This observation was not completely new, but that Brown saw nothing wrong with sexy workplace waves—even when they became actual (and possibly adulterous) office affairs—certainly was. This was just the latest in what was already a career of provocative declarations. Brown had burst onto the scene in 1962 with the publication of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Desire or Discrimination? Old Narratives Meet a New Interpretation
    (pp. 206-250)

    In april 1970how to make it in a man’s worldhit the book-stores. Written by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the publicist who had told Helen Gurley Brown about “The Matinee,” it borrowed Brown’s formula of snappy prose and provocative anecdotes, though Pogrebin counseled readers against using their sexual attractiveness to advance. Instead, she urged them to make an “unspoken resolution” with their male colleagues: “You’ll notice me but I won’t make you squirm, I promise.” Although the husband-hunting sections that had punctuated Brown’s get-ahead books in the early 1960s were missing, Pogrebin’s career advice trod roughly the same ground, showing...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Wanted and Unwelcome Advances After “Sexual Harassment”
    (pp. 251-286)

    In 1979 lori redfearn asked a feminist organization to recommend a book on “non-sexist business behavior.” Redfearn worked for “truly an equal opportunity employer,” but the idea of equality was still new, and problems occasionally surfaced. She was to draft an interoffice memo emphasizing that the company required all employees to “treat each other with respect. No servile behavior is expected … no arrogant behavior will be tolerated … [and] manipulative behavior is a thing of the past.” Redfearn described the three situations she found most troubling. First was the “business of married male executives snuffling after pretty young clerks...

    (pp. 287-298)

    Sex and the office has changed since the last decades of the nineteenth century. Most notably, women who find themselves at the receiving end of an either-or proposition or in an environment too hostile to endure now have options. They do not have to pack up their things and go. Nevertheless, Americans’ attitudes toward workplace sexuality have remained startlingly consistent from one generation to the next. The primary question Americans asked in the late nineteenth century is the one they still debate today: Who really needs protection from the predatory intentions of the opposite sex—women or men? Put differently,...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 299-350)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 351-360)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)