Secretaries and Chinese-Americans: books read (#SFWApro

SWIMMING IN THE STENO POOL: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office by Lynn Peril follows the same formula as College Girls and Pink Think, using a mix of pop fiction, how-to guides and personal accounts to show the life of the female secretary in the 20th century, when it was one of the stereotypically female professions (having swung away from predominantly male, as it had been until the late 19th century). As in previous book, Peril’s interest includes the unease many people had about a woman having any career — would she quit as soon as she found The One? Would she become a frigid bitch, unable to love? — and the many stereotype such as the “office wife” who also manages her boss’s personal life, the randy seductress and the ice-princess spinster. Good, but too specialized to be as fun as the first two books.

THE YELLOW PERIL: Chinese Americans in American Fiction, 1850-1940 by William F. Wu is highly specialized but worth reading if the topic is of interest (it was too me). Wu shows how the widespread Chinese immigration starting in the late 19th century inevitably triggered real-world hostility and the birth of multiple fictional stereotypes: the cringing, pidgin-spouting servant, the opium addict, the sinister decadence of Chinatown and the monstrous evil of Fu Manchu and the ruthless Chinese “dragon lady” (which Wu argues began with Fu Manchu’s daughter). It shows the persistence of bigotry that Chinese were suspect no matter what they did: the opium smokers were corrupting American morals, but hardworking Chinese immigrants were just as bad (competing with white workers!). Also very depressing to realize how many of these cliches continued into the days of my youth.

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