Re: secretaries

Subject: Re: secretaries
From: Roger Mallett <roger -at- CSICAL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 13:43:50 -0700


You write:
>". . . I think you probably
>mean well, but simply don't
>understand the dynamics of
>the situation."

You are correct, my intentions are positive. It is because I do have a
general (guessable??) understanding of the dynamics of the situation
that I wrote. If Melissa reacts to her co-workers/employer the way it
seemed to me she might, she could very well be out of a future.

Furthermore you write:
>Your words are the sort black people
used to hear all the time, from
>well-intentioned whites and blacks
>who didn't want to challenge the racist
>assumptions that blacks were inferior.
>Note that you don't hear words like that
>very often any more.

>I think you owe Melissa an apology
>for what you said.

Oh Please !!!! Elna (and especially Melissa) I don't think it is in
Melissa's best career interest to make her stand on this situation.
Tell me Elna, do you think this is a great topic for Melissa to stake
her career on?

As for an apology, FOR WHAT? For caring about another Tech Writer's
future? I gave what I think still stands as good advice.

Again, I wish Melissa well.

>From: etymes -at- lts -dot- com[SMTP:etymes -at- lts -dot- com]
>Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 1998 1:14 PM
>To: Roger Mallett
>Subject: Re: secretaries
>Roger -
>I'm writing this off the list to you because I think you probably mean
>well, but simply don't understand the dynamics of the situation.
>Since Roger is a male name, I'm going to assume you're male. By
>definition, then, you've never experienced the kind of deprecating
>attitude that most women experience - sometimes more, sometimes less -
>in the work force, an attitude that comes mostly from men. This is
>sexism, and it still exists, though not as blatantly as it did as
>as 10 years ago.
>Sexist attitudes lead to assumptions that females are not as capable as
>men. Some people who display sexist attitudes assume that ALL females
>are less capable than ANY male. More people who display sexist
>attitudes are somewhat more selective - men can do this better because
>[...x, y, z] but women are better at detail work, raising kids,
>expresing feelings, [...x, y, z]. In the engineering industries, one
>the most common sexist attitudes gets expressed as some form of "women
>don't understand technical things as well as men."
>The fact that technical writers write, and therefore get very
>at word processors, makes them LOOK to the undiscerning eye as if they
>do the same sort of work a secretary does. If these undiscerning eyes
>then go on to make further assumptions about the skill levels and
>intelligence about technical writers, based on this wrong assumption,
>follows that one or more people, probably even acting with the best of
>intentions, think that sending a Secretary's Day card to a professional
>technical writer is a nice thing to do, never comprehending why doing
>would be such an insult.
>Here's what's wrong with that logic:
>1. Would this person send a Secretary's Day card to a male technical
>writer? Not all technical writers are female. There are even some
>secretaries. Assuming that a female writer is equivalent to a
>is like assuming that because you know how to link a computer to a
>printer, you're qualified to be a network administrator.
>2. Technical writing generally - though not always - requires a
>degree AND some demonstrated ability to write and to explain technical
>processes. You can get a job as a secretary if you know how to type -
>not necessarily how to create error-free prose from scratch - and to
>answer the phone, take messages, and handle office supplies. You can
>get a job as a secretary before you're out of high school. I've never
>heard of a tech writer landing that kind of job without at least some
>3. In engineering-dominated cultures, knowledge of how things REALLY
>work is one of the keys to respect from peers. Technical writers have
>long been accorded lower status because, being writers and not
>programmers or engineers, they were assumed to only know things at a
>relatively high level, not down in the details. Sometimes that's true,
>sometimes not - we learn what we need to for the project at hand, and
>frequently don't have the time to get to the nitty gritty. Look at any
>national salary scale, and you'll find that technical writers generally
>are paid $10-$40,000 less than programmers and engineers. If pay is
>measure of respect, then you understand the constant battle for
>respectability by technical writers. To demean a technical writer by
>assuming she/he is like a secretary is to reinforce the lack of
>peer-level respect that translates into hard dollars.
>I'm one of the wizened old folks who've been in this business since
>1968, I've written 30-something published books, tons and tons of
>manuals and training materials and other stuff, and I own a company
>that, among other things, creates documentation on contract for an
>assortment of Silicon Valley companies (our current
>leap-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound project is at Sun, doing the
>public docs on JavaSoft; one of our other projects is doing most of the
>strategy and implementation for Oracle's online docs, help files,
>training, etc.). I've seen firsthand the problems associated with lack
>of respect, with mistaken assumptions about abilities and intelligence,
>and with sexist attitudes. I make more money now than almost any
>technical writer I know, and most programmers - but I've also learned
>how threatened programmers and engineers behave when they find out I
>do. I'm not about to yield an inch of the ground I've gained to accept
>the condescending behavior of someone who thinks I'm "like a
>> You don't want to give others (especially dept. heads, etc.)
>> the impression that you are a complainer, thin skinned, easily provoked,
>> etc. (the "etc"s are for all of you who were long winded on the previous
>> thread). If your career is determined by those who offended you, then
>> prove yourself by ignoring it, for a reaction is certain to seal your
>> fate. If your career is determined by others, then leave it alone, for
>> exacting retribution (through words, etc.) will be certain to find its
>> way back to those who really do count, or who may count in your future
>> (especially if those involved were innocent and didn't mean to hurt you)
>Your words are the sort black people used to hear all the time, from
>well-intentioned whites and blacks who didn't want to challenge the
>racist assumptions that blacks were inferior. Note that you don't hear
>words like that very often any more. I think you owe Melissa an
>for what you said.
>Elna R. Tymes, president
>Los Trancos Systems

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