How to get ahead at the office -- in 1976

"Not unlike a geisha, leave your flip-flops at the door and step into those Jimmy Choos." Mmmkay.

Published June 30, 2008 7:05PM (EDT)

"Powerful men are readily seduced by the attention and devotion of clever women for whom flirting is an art form," writes Betsy Perry, a proud mentee of Cosmo founder Helen Gurley Brown, in a recent article on flirting in the workplace. "Not unlike a geisha, leave your flip-flops at the door and step into those Jimmy Choos -- a sexy gait is worth a little hamstring ache in the long run, don't you think?"

Not unlike a geisha. Just let that sink in for a minute. Perry is telling women how to succeed in high-powered careers -- you know, the kind where being taken seriously is often a prerequisite for advancement -- and her advice is to behave "not unlike a geisha." Mmmkay.

To illustrate why flirting in particular and beauty in general are indispensible tools in the modern career gal's kit, Perry fondly recalls A) Bill Clinton feeling her up, B) getting "raunchy late night calls qualifying every bit as 'sexual harassment,'" from the "hugely sexist, hard-drinking bunch of outlaws" with whom she covered Watergate, and C) watching a female senior producer feed a male anchor stories and make "him look smart all in the name of what she was getting after the credits rolled." Boy, where do I sign up for all that? Here I was worrying about making myself look smart and thinking the respect of my peers is more fulfilling than having my boob grabbed in the elevator! Duh!

Perry's thesis is that "you can still get ahead" by flirting, but despite her own successful career, the article sounds like she left for a three-martini lunch in the mid-'70s and hasn't seen the inside of an office since. These days, the phrase "sexual harassment" doesn't come with irony quotes, and raunchy late-night phone calls from co-workers are potentially in violation of stalking laws, let alone workplace policy. Also? Gross. In Perry's day, flirting shamelessy on the job may have somehow recalled Pamela Churchill Harriman and Jackie Onassis, as she claims, but today, it's more evocative of Pamela Anderson and Jackie Collins. And while I'll grant that their careers aren't hurting, I still think I'll stick with my trusty "do good work and demonstrate self-respect" strategy. Much easier on the hamstrings. And the soul.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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