Sex and the Office


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A History of Gender, Power, and Desire

Julie Berebitsky

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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 since the 1860s, when women first took jobs as clerks in the U.S. Treasury office.

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 of Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown and Ms. 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. This range of evidence and the study’s long scope expose both notable transformations and startling continuities in the interplay of gender, power and desire at work.

Julie Berebitsky is professor of history and director of the Women’s Studies Program at Sewanee: The University of the South. The author of Like Our Very Own: Adoption and the Changing Culture of Motherhood, she lives in Sewanee, TN.

Sex and the Office brings critical new historical insight to the sexual culture of the white-collar office. Culling an impressive array of sources, Berebitsky explores gendered office practices, including men asking employment agencies for ‘pretty blondes,’ women using sex with ‘superiors’ to supplement their wages, alienation-of-affection lawsuits waged by wives of adulterous bosses, and feminist attempts to name and address sexual harassment. A rich, important read.”—Jennifer Scanlon, author of Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown

“After reading this book we gain a clearer, more well-defined understanding of the ways sex has saturated the white-collar office and the implications this has had for men as well as women who worked there. By giving sex in the office a history, Berebitsky provides valuable insights into the nature and meaning of sexual harassment today.”—Ava Baron, Rider University

“Erudite, lively, and compellingly argued, this important book deserves a broad audience among scholars, lawyers, policy-makers, and general readers who want to understand the ways in which progress in gender equality has—and has not—changed sexual attitudes and behaviors in the workplace.”—Margaret Marsh, coauthor of The Fertility Doctor: John Rock and the Reproductive Revolution

“Berebitsky…makes thorough and thoughtful work of the material at hand, showing how sex is never just about sex; it’s often about money, too.”—Jennifer Szalai, Slate

“Both an interesting read and a valuable resource.”—Shelf Awareness

“A very original book.”

“One of the most interesting history books I have read for a while and especially striking in its lack of opinion.”—Heather McGregor, Management Today

ISBN: 9780300118995
Publication Date: April 17, 2012
376 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w illus.