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EST. May 2000 (AD)




The Joy of Being a "Girl"

By Jennifer Gravel Vanasse

Executive Assistant. Administrative Professional. Medical/Legal Secretary. All politically correct terms for the woman who has chosen as her career the difficult task of supporting someone else's profession. This time honoured occupation, once held only by men, was infiltrated and eventually usurped by our fore-sisters. No longer relegated to working as a maid, nurse or primary school teacher, our ancestors forged another avenue for women with marketable talents. Women could also be "Girls".

These days, administrative professionals seek unprecedented amounts of respect. No longer willing to stand in the shadows, they seek equal standing with those they assist. They expect, if not demand, recognition and status as professionals. Has the job changed so much that it merits this name change? No, it is the women who have changed. We have become so ashamed of being Girls that we conjure up new and longer titles to prop up our self-esteem. This is exactly what the stay-at-home Moms did, when they began calling themselves Domestic Engineers.

But why the longing for titles and prestige, along with which comes such a heavy burden of responsibility? In this hectic world of overwork and stress, wouldn't it be nice to revert to a simpler time, when a man was Boss and a
Girl could bask in her position of subservience. The way employers used to
refer to their assistants had a ring of class and distinction, even romance
and mystery. "I'll have my Girl set up that appointment," the hat-wearing
manager would say crisply. At the other end of a monstrously large
intercom, a white shirted, pencil-skirt wearing Girl would scribble the instruction on a note pad using an ever-sharpened pencil. Tottering around on four-inch heels, so as not to be labelled "dowdy", she would complete her task with quiet efficiency, knowing that she was better seen than heard.

Even more important than her keen sense of fashion and deportment, a Girl had to know the secret code of all secret codes: shorthand. In fact, her skills were far superior to ours in many other ways. There was no magic spell-checking system to proofread her work before it was printed. For a Girl, no errors were allowed for at all, lest she had to correct all of the copies by hand. Copies were created by messy carbon paper slipped between the letterhead and the sheets of onionskin that were rolled into the carriage of the Girl's clunky cast-iron typewriter. Perfectly manicured fingers had to be strong to successfully push those keys through seven layers.

But, in those days gone by, a Girl would pick up her clutch purse, put on her hat and gloves and jauntily head out the door of the office at the stroke of five. She was not responsible to stay late and find solutions to corporate problems. Thinking was the role of the Boss. A Girl was only expected to take dictation,t
ype without errors and make coffee. With her filing done, she could go home with her thoughts unburdened by the cares of the office. Her spare time and excess energy would allow her to focus on taking care of her family, or if she was unmarried, to focus on herself and ensure she stayed in tiptop, marriageable state.

Why then did it stop being okay to be a "Girl"? Why do we insist on trying to be more and do more, all the while suffering from a vague sense of dissatisfaction? We women have enough to do in our lives, without taking on so much responsibility at work. Self-esteem doesn't come from a title. Self-love comes from knowing who you are, regardless of your title. So why not lower your expectations and raise your spirits. Pressure? You don't have to feel it. Overtime? You don't have to do it. Fetching coffee? Take it as a break, not a form of degradation. Throw away the administrative professional yoke. Straighten your shoulders, take pride in your heritage and with confidence declare: "I am a Girl!"

©2005 Jennifer Gravel Vanasse


Jennifer Gravel Vanasse has been writing all her life, though for the past 17 years it hasbeen in the course of her employment with a highly successful law firm in Ottawa. She has had articles published in the Ottawa Association of Law
Clerks Newsletter and friends, family and acquaintances seek after her original and customized poetry. Jennifer's goal is to branch out from making judges cry and to enter the world of mainstream fiction. She currently lives in Ottawa with her husband Randy and stepson Nick and their huge dog, a Lab-Newf mix named Zucchini.

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