Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What Was It Like to Work at Playboy in the 1960s...as a Woman?

When it launched, Playboy was a literary power and a force for change. The magazine’s offices also happened to be an interesting place to work—for women. Jessica Francis Kane interviews her mother about life as a secretary in 1960s New York City, care of the Morning News.

From the piece...

JFK: What was the office environment like?
Mom: Sexual overtones were in the air, like breathing. It was the culture, not just at Playboy. Women were objects of desire, period. However, this was the office of a highly successful magazine and we were expected to work well and professionally and we all did. There were, as I remember, five of us, including the head secretary. We sat in a line at our desks in a large room and the ad men’s offices opened behind us. Each ad man had a small office, but with a window overlooking Park Avenue, a nice desk, chairs for visitors. We each worked for two or three ad men directly. There was flirting, innuendo, double entendre all the time, but rarely was it serious. It became serious only if the woman allowed it in the work place and this hardly ever happened. Not at Playboy while I was there, but certainly somewhere, and abortions were illegal. I knew one young woman who flew from New York City to Mexico for one.

JFK: How did people react when you told them you were a secretary at Playboy?
Mom: Men with double takes, truly, and undisguised curiosity. Women with a “You are kidding, how awful” attitude. I quickly changed their thinking. It was fun working there, Jessie, and fun seeing people’s reactions. There was another firm on our floor and we would sometimes meet those secretaries by the elevator and they would mumble and actually lower their eyes! We thought it was hysterical.

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