Office Piranhas

Watch out, middle-aged men: They’re gonna getcha.

They are identifiable not by their short skirts or heavy make-up but by their unflinching devotion to their male bosses. They will work late for them, pick up their dry cleaning and even buy birthday presents for their relatives. They are single women who, stuck in their search for a personal partner, are ready to give their all to a professional one. What they want is a high-earning, high-flying, high-virility man – and one who they can drag to the altar. Welcome to the world of the “office piranha”.


Where to start? First, unless you were hired as a personal assistant, your boss probably shouldn’t be asking you to pick up his dry cleaning or buy birthday presents. Second, who’s the one with more power here? The boss, or the employee? I hardly think that legions of devious women are “dragging” older men into marriage.

We all know the story: women are supposedly taking control, marrying later and “putting off” motherhood until well into their 30s or early 40s. But scratch below the surface and you’ll find that many of these career-minded Amazons are only tolerating singledom while frantically scanning the horizon for an old-fashioned knight in shining armour. The trouble with 21st-century knights though is that they tend to be middle-aged, middle-brow and midway through a lifetime commitment to their childhood sweetheart.

I love the language: “supposedly” women are taking control; putting off motherhood is in scare-quotes; women who work are “Amazons.” They’re “frantic” for a husband, and truly hate being single. And the article naturally employs the age-old tactic of pitting “good” women against the bad ones — the childhood sweetheart vs. the selfish careerist. Need it be pointed out that if a man leaves his wife for someone else, it’s most logical to blame him?

For the office piranha, however, such a situation is an advantage. Here is a man who doesn’t shy away from the M word, who has produced two healthy children, is financially well-off and is at an age where a mid-life crisis is just dying to happen. Just the kind of man, who would be worth prising away from domesticity towards a more exciting life with a younger wife.

Yes, he is the innocent victim, simply duped into having an affair and leaving his wife by a woman with ambitions.

For an ambitious thirtysomething woman whose biological clock is ticking loudly, joining a large firm of accountants or solicitors can be more advantageous than a dating agency. As a divorce lawyer with 25 years experience, it amazes me how many powerful, rich and intelligent married men have been rendered powerless and significantly poorer by what they imagined was a “harmless fling” with their PA or the temp along the corridor. Many have gone on to marry their new lover and raise another family, only to see that marriage, too, end in tears. While four in 10 first marriages fail, 50 per cent of second marriages hit the rocks. Men are notoriously susceptible to flattery, especially when they are past their prime. How many middle-aged executives have paused to wonder just why their nubile PA finds them so irresistible?

The biological clock, of course! And again with the poor, innocent, powerless men. It wasn’t they’re fault! They were seduced!.

Read the whole article. It’s from a German paper, and demonstrates pretty clearly that sexism and woman-blaming are popular pasttimes the world over.

Thanks to Katie for the article.

Author: has written 5265 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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34 Responses

  1. Dustin
    Dustin June 5, 2006 at 3:32 am |

    Didn’t “9 to 5″ put this kind of stupidity to rest two decades ago?

  2. junk science
    junk science June 5, 2006 at 3:56 am |

    Dude, if your husband leaves you for a younger woman, he’s a fucking jackass. It hurts like hell, and it’s natural to blame the other woman, but don’t let the asshole off the hook like that. There are better ways to deal with your pain than to write ill-advised articles about how much you hate other women. Really.

  3. christina
    christina June 5, 2006 at 5:46 am |

    I hear you. It’s not a man hate, or woman hate, kinda thing, this is the way it is and it’s so all around us junk science & CO can not even see it.

    love.

  4. Freeman
    Freeman June 5, 2006 at 6:45 am |

    The personal bias forms a crust over the top of this article, like skin on old pudding.

  5. June
    June June 5, 2006 at 6:57 am |

    I really can’t believe a woman wrote that.

  6. Marian
    Marian June 5, 2006 at 8:36 am |

    Is it so much the woman’s fault, or is it the fact that a lot of execs will only hire that type of woman to be their assistant? I know that as a married woman, I’ve had tremendous trouble getting a job as an administrative assistant (I always mysteriously get the interview but can’t make it past that stage), but the types of women who do get the jobs fit the “piranha” description. They do sleep with their married boss. They do flirt with him. They do make coffee and keep a social life with him outside.

    I don’t think it’s a single woman looking for a husband so much as a man looking to use work as an opportunity to get laid and cheat on his wife.

  7. TheGlimmering
    TheGlimmering June 5, 2006 at 9:09 am |

    From such a nonsensical article, the only thing I really fear is that they’ll coin a disparaging term like “office piranha” and get it mainstreamed. Considering how many older, married “childhood sweetheart” women are in the office, has it occurred to the author that they’re simply breeding office strife? The last thing I need, being the young, nubile, apparently loose-moraled (unwed and pregnant) woman in the office, is for someone to get the impression I’m after my happily married boss and to make ill-advised confrontations about it. Granted, no one in their right mind would target me with that bunk, but I could see this meme being leveraged against honest, working women out of spite almost anywhere.

  8. Thomas
    Thomas June 5, 2006 at 9:14 am |

    Ghost written by the patriarchy, this piece is an attempt to foment hostility between professional women and the wives of their male colleagues. Just another example of a divide-and-conquer system that defeats the majority by turning women against each other.

    I am a professional man, and I have female colleagues, many junior to me. I am responsible for how I behave towards them, full stop. I should not be looking at them as potential sex partners, and if I’m attracted to them it is my obligation to keep it to my damned self. If I learn that they are attracted to me, that does not give me an excuse to ignore my obligations to my wife, or to my employer.

    (My never-okay position on office flings gives me a reputation as a bit of a prig at work; which is pretty ironic. It also causes me to bail out of the firm holiday party the minute the lights go down and the dance floor opens up.)

  9. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax June 5, 2006 at 9:14 am |

    Men can resist flattery just fine from women they don’t actually want to sleep with.

  10. zuzu
    zuzu June 5, 2006 at 9:25 am | *

    Keep in mind that this is from Germany, which is trying to get women to start having babies. Here’s an article describing the very traditional gender roles there:

    Critics of the current child care system say it reflects a nation that has been clinging to traditions that prescribe the man as breadwinner, woman as procreator. The discomfort of being compelled to chose between the two extremes apparently is influencing women to remain childless.

    “The new Germany runs on a very old-fashioned model in which the mainstream ideology dictates women as housewives,” says Gisela Erler, founder of a Berlin-based private company that acts as a go-between consultant for women and their employers. “There is no way out except to provide more child care.”

    The persistence of the “kindergeld”–a federal income tax break that began in 1955 in West Germany–is another symptom of what critics see as the country’s adherence to traditional gender roles. The break goes to married couples in which one of the couple–in practice it’s usually the mother–earns no salary.

  11. Magis
    Magis June 5, 2006 at 9:33 am |

    Dustin:

    Didn’t “9 to 5″ put this kind of stupidity to rest two decades ago?

    No, stupidity is immortal.

  12. Niles
    Niles June 5, 2006 at 10:44 am |

    This week from KTEL!

    The classic anti-work-outside-the-home woman screeds of the 60s and 70s. All top hits! All the time! Remember this goldie?! “The crime rate will rise from the cascading effects of the motherless, unguided, latch key kids!” And who can forget — “When a man comes home from a hard day at work, he needs a woman focused on stopping the office at the door, looking her best at all times and never bothering him with her petty complaints!” The real hits live on in our hearts forever!! Order now and we’ll send you a free personally embossed pin money safe disguised as a rolling pin! He’ll never find it there!

    I’m sure someone else could do the sarcasm better, but the trips the neocons are making to the ‘scare’ fridge are really coming up with the containers covered in green fuzz. Is that all they’ve got left? Are they going to import stories on the importance of suttee widow suicide to preserve family honour next?

  13. Broce
    Broce June 5, 2006 at 12:01 pm |

    This line was a full stop for me “Here is a man who doesn’t shy away from the M word, who has produced two healthy children, is financially well-off and is at an age where a mid-life crisis is just dying to happen.”

    A midlife crisis is dying to happen? It’s an independent, thinking thing that has a desire to happen to poor, innocent men, who cannot be expected to keep their pants zipped once said crisis “happens.” I’m only surprised the author did not refer to a midlife crisis as a she.

  14. junk science
    junk science June 5, 2006 at 12:27 pm |

    I don’t think it’s a single woman looking for a husband so much as a man looking to use work as an opportunity to get laid and cheat on his wife.

    So in this little environment, it’s women who get cheated on, women who don’t get hired unless their bosses want to fuck them, women who get labeled as “piranhas” when they do get hired, and men who get to cheat on their wives and not get blamed for it because they’re “only” men. Must be nice.

  15. Marian
    Marian June 5, 2006 at 12:48 pm |

    Junk science–That’s about right. And yes, it sucks and is beyond unethical, esp. having been on the prospective-hire end of it.

  16. bmc90
    bmc90 June 5, 2006 at 1:31 pm |

    Thomas, word about the office holiday party plus ‘firm retreats’ where I go in my room at 10 and lock the door, dragging with me any wasted female colleage who I think could become a target. I avoid all those situations, too. Those who don’t then wonder why they get talked about so much (did you see her dancing with the boss?). What floors me, and always has, is that men ultimately run all the firms I’ve worked for. You don’t have to be the producer of Animal House to know what happens when you combine booze, late nights, no spouses, and nothing else going on, so why do they keep planning these events for their workers? The question answers itself.

  17. Marian
    Marian June 5, 2006 at 1:40 pm |

    BMC–Add to that the greater difficulty we have in getting promoted, made permanent (if a temp), or even hired in the first place if you aren’t willing to partake in that stuff. I actually had a guy throw me out of an interview once when I (accidentally) divulged that I had a fiance. Googled the guy later and discovered he has a reputation for sleeping with his female associates and that he only hires single, female, under-25′s. Had another interview where the guy was looking for “women who have graduated college recently” (to me that again says young, single, and under 25, at least in NYC). I passed on that interview.

    Supposedly this stuff is illegal, but it’s widespread and not being prevented very well at all.

  18. junk science
    junk science June 5, 2006 at 1:47 pm |

    I actually had a guy throw me out of an interview once when I (accidentally) divulged that I had a fiance.

    The hell? How is that kind of naked assholery not punished somehow?

  19. bmc90
    bmc90 June 5, 2006 at 1:54 pm |

    Marian, the office manager at one firm used to “laugh” about the fact that many of the men would peek in the lobby at secretarial candidates, and nix the homely/old ones without even interviewing them. Several partners’ marriages predictably melted in the heat of the Fantasy Island THEY created with their hiring policies. Also, as a young associate, I once had to ask my husband to come downtown to a firm celebration (I had passed the bar) because one of the partners had run around all day talking about getting me drunk, and I was afraid to go alone. I am now super lucky that my male partner and I are good buisness partners and nothing else, and I have a great relationsihp with his wife. Not interested in jumping back into the shark tank that is most law firms.

  20. Marian
    Marian June 5, 2006 at 2:43 pm |

    The hell? How is that kind of naked assholery not punished somehow?

    Don’t know. I had sent a complaint through their website after the interview, and never got a response. I guess i could have pursued it further, but didn’t see it as worth it.

    Basically what happened was that I was a psychology major interviewing for a recruiting position, and most of the recruiters interviewing me were psych majors (a lot are and it’s directly related to the field; a sort of corporate psych job!). The guy had called me in for an interview, then during the interview he asked a whole battery of (what I now know to be illegal) questions–What do my parents do, how do I know anything about sales/recruiting, etc. (The “how much do you know” question was legal; the parents questions were not). Being naive I told him my “future father-in-law” owns his own business (bad move), upon which he’d seen the ring.

    Started asking about had we set a date, etc., and I naively said yes (again, silly me). He then told me “You know what, this isn’t the kind of thing we’re looking for. Your experience is mostly in psychology, and we’re looking for sales and marketing experience” (EVEN THOUGH HE HIRES PSYCH MAJORS, and the ad SAID “No marketing experience necessary”).

    Then proceeded to escort me out the door after excusing me, with all these questions: “So. What’s his name? got a dress yet? Going on a honeymoon? Where? Planning on any children? When?” (as I studiously ignored him, then later sat in Bryant Park and had a good cry).

    I think nowadays I’d have ended the interview at the personal questions point.

  21. Marian
    Marian June 5, 2006 at 2:47 pm |

    Marian, the office manager at one firm used to “laugh” about the fact that many of the men would peek in the lobby at secretarial candidates, and nix the homely/old ones without even interviewing them

    .

    See, the fact that I’m married to someone of a different ethnicity, which is obvious in the name, may cause problems for me. They call me up expecting a young, single girl of that ethnicity, and they get….me (the whitest of the white folks with an Asian/Middle Eastern-sounding last name, meaning that I’m obviously married). I wonder if that hurts me any? I’d love to be a mouse in the corner of HR and find out.

  22. Erin M
    Erin M June 5, 2006 at 3:20 pm |

    Broce: I’m only surprised the author did not refer to a midlife crisis as a she.

    Since this article is in German, the author would have. “Krise” is a (grammatically) feminine noun.

  23. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 June 5, 2006 at 3:36 pm |

    Office politics.

  24. Kyra
    Kyra June 5, 2006 at 3:46 pm |

    Read the whole article. It’s from a German paper,

    Feministing has a post from a couple months ago about how Germany is “particularly hostile” to working mothers. Via the same source, Germany has the highest proportion of women who are intentionally childless, which also draws a great deal of hostility.

    One wonders if perhaps the former is a significant cause of the latter?

  25. Erika
    Erika June 5, 2006 at 3:51 pm |

    I have to say that I’m relieved this article didn’t come from the Washington Post.

  26. Dreamweasel
    Dreamweasel June 5, 2006 at 5:35 pm |

    > Taking a younger model for a wife means the shared history that a man had with his first partner of a similar age is glaringly absent. “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” is likely to elicit the response, “Who’s Kennedy?”

    There are so many unquestioned fallacies in this piece of work that I can see how hackery like this particular quote might slip through the cracks. But I’m guessing that (a) the percentage of the population sharing memories of where they were 43 years ago has probably slowed to a trickle, and (b) any woman driven enough to be an “office piranha” would surely know who the hell Kennedy was.

    I’m surprised they didn’t dig out the old “I never knew Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings” urban legend and be done with it.

  27. inge
    inge June 6, 2006 at 6:58 am |

    Erin: It’s not in German, it’s in the “Business English” (aka “Learning English for Managers”) section of the ftd (Financial Times Germany) and written by (if I’m reading this correctly) British divorce attorney who, it seems to be argueing based on her clients’ tales of why they need a divorce.

    zuzu: “Kindergeld” is a kind of tax credit that AFAIK doesn’t depend on the parents’ marital or working status. The main intstrument to encourage women to earn no money are tax splits for married people, which do not depend on the existence of children. (The rest of the topic disappears beyond my reckoning in the arcane abyss of tax code.)

    Not arguing that the Geman binary approach to motherhood is of no use to anyone except pundits, though…

  28. Hershele Ostropoler
    Hershele Ostropoler June 6, 2006 at 7:27 am |

    Do women actually seek and relish the role of the Other Woman? I mean, I suppose it’s a power thing for women whose sense of self-worth is based on being attractive to men in the first place: “I’m so hot I can even ‘get’ a man who’s already committed to someone else!” But ultimately I think that would tend to pall for women with brains and suchlike.

    Marian:

    They call me up expecting a young, single girl of that ethnicity

    And everyone knows how subservient those women are, too.

  29. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl June 6, 2006 at 8:55 am |

    It seems like a wasted effort to think too hard on this article–because it oozes with resentment and personal grudge, but what the hell… I’m game.

    I don’t think that this article is really aimed at businessmen so much as their wives. With a few minor changes, it could be an article in Self or similar mag… “How to keep your man from straying with the Office Piranha!” After all, the man is attracted to the O.P. for her “utter devotion” to him; particularly her attention to detail in his personal life. The tasks that the O.P. perform are the “personal assistant” tasks that a full-time-wife were supposed to perform so that her husband could devote all of his energy to pursuing his career to the fullest. But if the wife works, these tasks are naturally left undone (heaven forfend someone pick up their own damn laundry), which will naturally lead a man to seek out a more suitable, laundry-fetching mate. This is the same argument about a wife’s professional achievements coming at the cost of the marriage only from a slightly different angle.

    Funny, I was utterly devoted to my last male boss. I never picked up his laundry, but if he’d asked me to run a personal errand for him, I probably would have done it out of friendship. I hung out with him outside of work, even went for drinks. Of course, his partner was with him, as was mine with me. But I suppose that doesn’t count, and I’m still a vicious Office Piranha. :p

  30. Please wear that short skirt to work tomorrow  at  Within / Without

    [...] – you just slept your way through to the promotion. Your choice? Slut or Fish. Feministe has a wonderful response to this.

    [...]

  31. Fraser
    Fraser June 6, 2006 at 3:43 pm |

    On the Kennedy-was-shot theme, I’ve always scratched my head over that. As an SF/comics fan and occasional stage actor in his forties I have more to talk about with people who either love theater or read the same material than people my age who do neither.

  32. Hugo
    Hugo June 6, 2006 at 3:57 pm |

    Oh Lord. More of the same “men are fundamentally weak and led astray by devious nubile temptresses” crap. Sigh.

  33. Dustin
    Dustin June 6, 2006 at 8:01 pm |

    Kyra:

    Germany is “particularly hostile” to working mothers… Germany has the highest proportion of women who are intentionally childless, which also draws a great deal of hostility.

    One wonders if perhaps the former is a significant cause of the latter?

    In East Germany, the birth rate plummeted after the German Unification, which cost East German women: legalized abortion, 3-year paid maternity leaves, “mommy days” (one day off per month, with pay), union/Party representation, and low-cost child care. As noted, the West German regime imposed in East Germany was explicitly aimed at driving women out of the work force and “back” into the home; of course, most East German women in 1989 had spent their adult lives as workers *and* as homemakers (the Communist regime did little to question that patriarchal values that held most house work to be “women’s work, so most women had a “double shift”). The far more draconian labor regs in the New Germany essentially robbed East German women of half of their identities, and much more than half of their social and political power.

  34. sonitus.org
    sonitus.org June 7, 2006 at 2:38 am |

    Office Piranhas

    Watch out, middle-aged men: They’re gonna getcha.

    They are identifiable not by their short skirts or heavy make-up but by their unflinching devotion to their male bosses. They will work late for them, pick up their dry cleaning and even buy birthday…

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