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The sexism of temping

The sexism of temping

The sexism of temping

It’s a stereotype that we’re all aware of; the ‘sexy secretary’ with her open blouse, short skirt, high heels and gorgeous hair, topped off with a string of pearls and a pair of glasses. It’s a joke, something that’s laughed about and perpetuated in the media and films by office flings and high profile characters such as James Bond’s Moneypenny.

Last week, a company called ICS thought that it would recruit would-be secretaries with a shocking advert. If the description wasn’t terrible enough “Secretary required in Mayfair. Stockings optional! 35K. Ready to Assume [sic] the position?’ the accompanying picture of the classic ‘sexy secretary’ imagine of woman in tights bending over with her legs crossed was utterly degrading.

I do not need to analyse the imagery or the choice of language as the fact that it is coated in sexism is just obvious. The advert made is explicit that the job being advertised was for an office pin up, a rent-a-fitty who could answer the occasional email, make a few phone calls, and make all of the days of all the people who work there a little bit brighter as she leans over to reach the photocopier.

Apart from being misogynistic and inappropriate, the advert is just lazy. It cannot be bothered to engage in any real discussion about the professionalism of the woman applying for the job, and indeed it assumes that it will just be women that would want to apply for a secretarial position. It utterly undervalues the service that this job would provide by reducing it to sex. And not just any sex; sex that this secretary would willingly provide for £35,000 per annum. It is blatantly obvious that whoever would take on this role would be implicitly obliged to flirt for England, wear her skirt a little too high, and to probably eat phallic shaped foods on a Friday

It is shocking because, although this is a prevalent stereotype and the source of many jokes, it should not a reality anymore. Women in the work place are as professional as men and must be treated that way. They must be afforded the same level of respect if they are to be able to work together. Whatever a job a woman has, she must be treated with the care and diligence that anyone would want to be treated with. This objectification is unacceptable and should not be part of anyone’s working day.

In my experience of bar work, I’ve been told to smile more, wear shorter skirts, get my ‘baps’ out, to take off my top, to bend over, and had my bum slapped whilst clearing glasses. Working in a bar, of course you have to take the banter, have a laugh and enjoy your time there. That I did, really. But I became tired of being told that the kind of behaviour and comments that I listed above were appropriate from friends, customers, even family.


If you are in a professional environment, and by that I mean any kind of working environment, then women should be afforded a certain level of respect, no matter what the job is, that means that they are free from sexual harassment and objectification. If a company is highlighting that you cannot expect that from them, as ICS did, then there is cause to be concerned. As a society we have a duty to allow all people to achieve their potential and archaic  ways of thinking need to be eradicated if women are going to find an equal place in the workforce.


Madeleine is a final year student at the University of Exeter studying BA English with proficiency in French who has developed her writing and editing through her involvement with Her Campus Exeter. In her free time, Madeleine loves discovering new music in preparation for the UK festival season and searching for opportunities which can broaden her horizons, most recently this was volunteering as a teacher in Beijing, China, where she was immersed in Chinese culture and tradition. There are few things in this world that bring Madeleine more joy than glitter, velvet and sequins and her ideal dinner party guests would be Queen Elizabeth I, George Orwell and Taylor Swift. Currently, with graduation looming, Madeleine is exploring the idea of taking time out to travel the world on a shoe string before embarking upon a career in international humanitarian aid.


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