Should We Be Offended That The Term ‘Secretary’ Is Making A Comeback?

Well, hello there, ladies.

I have never been a “secretary.” I have been an administrative assistant and an office manager, but never a secretary. When I held those positions in the past and was mistakenly called a secretary, I pretty much freaked out, screamed some rhetoric that I had read somewhere about the term being offensive and out-dated, then went back to my game of solitaire on the computer. I was not a secretary. I would never be a secretary.

In my mind the word “secretary” conjures up thoughts of skirts in 1970’s hues of orange and brown made of gabardine with hems that are just below the knee. It also makes me think of offices that are a sea of typewriters, and firms that are entirely run by men where the only women in sight are secretaries who are at the beck and call of those men in charge. Frankly even before seeing Mad Men that was exactly what I saw when I heard that word, but in my mind it was far less stylish.

However thanks to Mad Men the term “secretary” is now on the rise. Basically what we have is a television show (and a great one at that) kicking feminists’ efforts back several decades. Although the word started to lose popularity after World War II, it was the years that followed (most notably the 60′s and 70′s), when the importance of gender equality became a concern for everyone, that the word started to be pushed aside. According to Ray Weikal, a communication specialist at the International Association of Administrative Professionals:

“With the cultural change of the 1950s through the 1970s, women increasingly wanted to have titles that better reflected their status as fully professional members of their office team. It was a matter of recognizing they weren’t merely secretaries, but that they were equal members of the team that made corporate America work.”

The “Mad Men effect,” as IAAP calls it, could be contributing to the fact that the usage of the word “secretary” has doubled in the last two years, and for the first time in several years the title “secretary” is included in the top three administrative job titles. Could Don Draper and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce really be the reason that decades of hard work to be viewed as equals be unraveling because one particular show makes that world look glamorous? What’s next? Having our asses smacked and our breasts complimented every time we do “good?” Will this also mean that pointy bras will be making a comeback? Because that’s definitely something I can’t get behind. I’d feel like Madonna circa 1990-something if that is going to be the case, and I don’t want to feel that way! I’d be knocking people out left and right with my cone boobs and it will not be a pretty sight.

Allowing “secretary” to come back into fashion is not only giving an OK to uncomfortable undergarments, but also opening the doors back up to orange gabardine suits and more importantly fucking with something that should not be fucked: gender equality. No one can possibly think any of this is a good idea, now matter how great Mad Men is — or am I wrong?

Sorry! This poll is now closed.


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    • Lindsey

      So what’s the problem?

      If you were an office manager and an administrative assistant but claim never to have been a secretary. Are you saying a secretary is a completely different position? One that you happen to be above?

      Or are you saying that secretary is a synonym for administrative assistant, but you find the term derogatory and want to be called something that sounds more important but is the same work?

    • Church Secretary

      I call myself a church secretary, although that’s not my title. My job title is actually very long and was originally 2 different jobs but I’m so awesome I do it all. I don’t keep the pastor’s calendar, but I do answer his private line and screen calls. Secretary-ish. I do file…but only receipts for the fund that I manage.

      So basically…I don’t know. I guess I use secretary because my job is complicated (I also coordinate all worship services, funerals, and weddings at the church) and I think it’s funny that I’m a young, attractive, highly educated woman who works as a church secretary.

      But if someone ELSE called me a secretary without being aware of the realities of my job, I would be offended.

      That doesn’t explain anything, I guess, but there you go. Those are my feelings on the word.

      • Amanda Chatel

        “Church Secretary” does have a very fun ring to it! I’m also picturing reading glasses on a silver chain around you neck..

        But I agree. If I want to call myself a secretary, fine; if someone else wants to, then that’s not OK by me. Granted, my feelings on the matter don’t explain anything either, but I was curious, after having read the study, how other women might feel about it.

      • Eliteus999

        I hate that title of “Secretary” – it has a negative connotation – and images of a woman painting her nails while in an office setting come to mind. Very unprofessional. I prefer personal assistant or administrator. As “secretaries” we get very little respect by the way. Any HR supervisor will lie during an interview and tell a prospective “secretary” that they are treated as equals (what bullshit!)…and within months–after working there, one will see that they are viewed beneath management and excluded from activities and firm events attended by other office personnel (very factual and common in most firms). As a “secretary” in a law firm this type of segregation is even more pronounced! So much for morale or basic respect. It’s demeaning. Both management and some attorneys come across pompous and callous. But then again, that’s how attorneys are by nature. most, not all. One has to have a thick skin to be a legal secretary – based on how they are treated. Keep in mind that some “secretaries” are quite intelligent, efficient, and formally educated. These idiot attorneys are the ones that come across as ignorant asses based on their egotistical attitudes.

    • MM

      I’ve been an “administrative assistant” for a few years and I have never used that term outside of resumes and job applications. “Secretary” is easier to say and doesn’t have the same ring of bullshit business-speak.

      • Sam


      • Sarah!

        Yes, I was a secretary for a little over a year and half although my official title sounded super bullshit business. I think it was “office administrative staff II.” When people asked what I did I would say, “I am a secretary. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s get drunk now.”

      • Lisa

        I’m with you guys. While I have been an administrative assistant on my resume, when talking with others I’ll use the term secretary. It’s easier, and people generally have an idea as to what you do, which was nice since people generally had very little ideas as to what the company actually did.

        I can see where people would become a bit offended by the title, but honestly, there are worse ones out there (I’m currently a “Day Services Floater.” Yeah.). I also kind of put this whole topic in the “people are being hyper sensitive today” category. I was a waitress; I’m female, I’m cool with the -ess suffix.

        I’m hoping my point came across, even in a roundabout way.

    • Sabs

      I am an Office Manager and I was once called a secretary and was highly offended! But I think that stemmed more from the fact that my job duties far outreach an office manager’s regular job description. We are a small start up company and I literally do it all… office managing, bookkeeping, registration, marketing, public outreach, etc.

      I think if I was a secretary, I would prefer to be called an administrative assistant, but more for the fact that I wouldn’t want a man calling me his secretary. Not because I think the job itself is demeaning in any way (not that I think that’s what you’re saying Amanda, because I agree with your point) but just throwing that out there for anyone who might think that’s what I’m saying…

      • Amanda Chatel

        Agreed. Once you throw in a man calling you “his secretary” it just gets yucky. “Yucky,” of course, being a very grown-up and appropriate word.

      • Lindsey

        Would you be a woman’s secretary?

      • Sabs

        Lindsey, I think I would be uncomfortable being called anybody’s secretary, male or female, mainly because of the negative connotations that are tied with it because of sexism. I think it’s more respectful to be called an administrative assistant, if for at least the very basic reason of your boss (male or female) is trying to show you that they respect you and show that they’re not putting you in a sexist position. I feel like my point is getting lost in my words now lol…

        I can see how a word is a word, and who cares, but I think the very act of using the newly accepted titles is a gesture of respect.

      • Civilian

        Sabs, you really need to look a bit more in depth about what the actual profession of a “secretary” really is. While I do agree that it has received a negative connotation of being a gender-biased profession, you also forget that even the lower level “administrative assistants” still require some advanced technological skills. Regardless of the gender of the boss, being called a secretary should not be something highly offensive. Also remember that the “administrative assistant” is just another term for “secretary.” I get that you want a more respectable title, but understand that being called a secretary should not offend you. I have family member (female) who has the title of “Senior Secretary.” She finds no offense to the title, and in fact she is happy to receive the promotion and title. Embrace the fact that a company is hiring you because of your technological abilities, and less on how people refer to you. “A rose by any other name sounds just as sweet.” Secretary is just a more well known title that gives people and idea of what your work is.

      • Eliteus999

        A “Senior Secretary”? What I think of – is a “Secretary that is over the age of 65!” lol. Seriously? What makes a secretary “senior” – knowing how to answer a phone better? Having 20 years typing as opposed to 5 years? I prefer “assistant”…because that’s what a secretary does – assist. Technical skills? Like – MS Word, Powerpoint and Excel? I actually taught myself those programs. By the way, secretary or admin. assistant –same thing–we don’t get ANY respect. Especially when you work for egotistical overly pompous people.

      • Amanda Chatel

        Again, I agree with Sabs on this one. It wouldn’t matter if it were a male or female boss… but I also don’t think a female boss would use that term because of the negative connotations associated with it.

      • Lindsey

        I was being a devil’s advocate for that question. The article and some comments seem to say “I won’t be called secretary, I’m not some man’s secretary!” …But people have lady bosses, too. And there are male secretaries. The word, by definition, isn’t gendered. Like, the connotation is probably female, but I wouldn’t bat a lash if a man told me he was a secretary, just like I wouldn’t if he was a nurse, elementary teacher, or make up artist.

        Obviously saying someone is silly for their feelings. And people are allowed to call themselves whatever they want, like a Productivity Unicorn, or the term queer.

        My biggest reaction was basically for the part about calling people who do a certain kind of work ‘secretaries’ is setting back feminism decades. Because no, feminism isn’t about calling traditionally female jobs something respectful… It’s about women being able to pursue any career they want.

      • BeckyGrey

        It’s amuses me how you say “But people have lady bosses, too. And there are male secretaries.” Lady bosses but male secretaries, why not Female bosses and Male secretaries? I would tend to disagree with you on the term “queer” just as I would with “that’s so gay”. Meanings of words do change, because they are the reflection of society’s changes.

    • Eileen

      I don’t think that “secretary” is any more offensive than “assistant.” “Secretary” sounds like a career, a profession, to me – as though there are things you do and things that aren’t in your job description – whereas “assistant” sounds like it’s your job to do whatever parts of his job that your boss doesn’t want to do.

      Of course, I am colored here by my own experiences…

      • Amanda Chatel

        Agreed. I was an assistant for a bit and it was doing all the things that he didn’t want to do or thought were beneath him. Why should he have to wait on hold when I can do it for him then let him know when the hold period is over?

        Honestly, I just want to be a “lady who lunches.” I know that might seem lazy and wrong, but I think I’d be really good at it.

      • Eliteus999

        “Secretary” is very offensive. And when I have engaged in conversations with people who discuss their careers–they have even said they don’t consider being a “secretary” a career. Again, people can be callous. Either way–it’s mind-numbing work!

    • jimmy kraktov

      I wonder if Obama’s press “secretary” is upset with his title, or is this just a woman thing.

    • Me? I’m not.

      Yeah, I too feel offended any time they say “secretary of state” on the news…

    • Naomi

      This article would’ve been much better with a still from the Maggie Gyllenhaal
      movie instead. Mostly because of James Spader.

      • Amanda Chatel

        Honestly, I considered it for that very reason. I do love the James Spader.

    • The Truth Fairy

      You seem to have attributed negative connotations to the word secretary, but you do not provide a persuasive argument as to why it’s an offensive term (other than the fact that it makes you think of particular clothing items). In fact it is simply a job title.

      Even though you never articulated this, perhaps you find the term secretary offensive due to its gender identity. You might be interested to know that the term secretary was originally a title for MEN that has its origins traced to the Renaissance. This late 14th century term, derived from Latin term secretarius, means a “person entrusted with secrets”.

      I would remind you that Latin-based languages (including French, Spanish, and Italian) are based on gender and the English use of gender specific titles is derived from this. Americans have been trained to respond negatively to gender specific terms ever since the concept of being politically correct went absurd. But if you examine the semantics and the origins of most terms, you will wonder why you have developed a negative attitude towards them.

      • Nicole

        Well put; The first secretary I met since this ‘secretary renaissance’ was a man! I think it’s also important to keep in mind that a word can only have as much power as you give it and that words often change in meaning over time.

        I think the taking back of the word secretary as an equal gender word is amazing, and a great testament to how far women’s rights have actually come.

    • Mia

      If you do not like being thought of as a secretary get a new job.

      • Eliteus999

        Easier said than done…when you have financial obligations to address. And the entire resume is related to being a “secretary”.

    • Clio

      I have no problems with this term whatsoever.

    • aubrey

      If the bras and skirts are the reasons why you don’t like the term, “secretary,” then we should change all professional titles that existed in the 60s when people wore things that aren’t in style now. I’m going to school to be a secretary, or an administrative assistant (same thing if you ask me). Don’t make me have to feel ashamed for pursuing a career in this field. Do you think I’m going to make my employment decisions based on if my title is Secretary or Administrative Assistant? Absolutely not. Secretaries and Administrative Assistants work damn hard and deserve respect, regardless of their title. The title of Secretary, deserves respect. These people (mostly women–sorry to break it to you), regardless of their title, are the backbone of business. Businesses and corporations would fall apart without them. If people are going to be called secretaries, I say we exalt them and their titles so they can be proud of what they do.

      • Eliteus999

        Unfortunately, I can attest to the fact that being a “secretary” in most types of firms – especially law firms lends to getting absolutely ZERO respect in the work place. We may no longer have to deal with sexual harassment–but in terms of being valued…we are not! And forget about appreciation. When you work for callous, egotistical attorneys–”secretaries” are viewed beneath them. But then again, attorneys in my view are assinine and ignorant and lack manners. most attorneys have exhibited that characteristic. If I could do it over…I would NEVER be a secretary/admin. assist. Same thing by the way. Go to school? For what? To learn how to answer a phone, and a few software programs? They actually have courses to be a “secretary”. The attorneys need to go back to school – to learn how to communicate effectively and be less demeaning. There is absolutely ZERO growth in law firms or in corporations as a secretary. Very little mentoring too.

    • EA

      I consider myself a secretary – not an administration assistant (I don’t just do administration), not a PA (I don’t just organise meetings/travel, etc). Secretary covers the lot and I don’t think there’s any sexism about the term. If I was to have a title that accurately described what I do, it would be “undervalued office minion who does everything that her boss can’t be bothered to do (or simply can’t do) for very little thanks, very little pay and for a good kicking for the one thing you get wrong out the 1000 things a day you get right” – but that’s a bit long to put on a CV.

    • Devara

      Administrative assistant is just a term coined by some hypersensitive secretary. I’ve been a secretary for years, and while I hate it, I hate being called an “AA” by the A-hole I work for.

    • Daisy

      I don’t think the word ”Secretary” is what is offensive. I don’t know how anyone doesn’t see how sexist Mad Men is. They use the fact that the 60′s was sexist to use that as their main storyline to degrade women because it is what happened then. However if all men where really like that then we couldn’t have made the progress that we have. I.E. The Mary Tyler Moore show was created by two men. Two men made a very feminist show. Sorry but I don’t buy into the fact that every single man in the 60s committed sexual assault on a daily basis. They also do nothing to show anything other than men being degrading to women. I don’t see them telling people it’s wrong. Sure many of us think it is but so many people are influenced by what they see.

    • Danielle

      My Goodness, what are you??

      Quote: “I have never been a “secretary.” I have been an administrative assistant and an office manager, but never a secretary. When I held those positions in the past and was mistakenly called a secretary, I pretty much freaked out and screamed some rhetoric”


      “then went back to my game of solitaire on the computer. I was not a secretary. I would never be a secretary”

      Not a secretary, uhm, lazy maybe? Hyper sensitive. Insecure? And then you end this piece by saying how much you love Mad Men? So much hatred girl. Take a deep breath and relax …