The idea that men can be secretaries is very hard for some people to process. In the listening comprehension portion of our final exam, my students heard a story of Jose, a secretary who is so great at what he does that everybody at the company where he works is grateful to him and couldn’t function without him.
In their responses, even students whose listening comprehension skills are perfect, transformed Jose into a woman. Some renamed him into Josefa. Some allowed him to retain his name but used feminine pronouns and adjectives to describe him (adjectives have gender in Spanish.)
This would sound like a funny little teaching anecdote if it weren’t for the story about a real male secretary that my sister shared with me. He was a very efficient and responsible person who loved his job. Being a secretary was his calling and he took a great pride in it. However, it was next to impossible to place him in a position because of his gender. Companies were begging my sister as a recruiter to find them a skilled secretary with all the necessary qualifications but as soon as she suggested this man, they would reject him sight unseen saying, “A man? A male secretary? No, that’s just weird.” They probably thought his penis would get in the way of his typing or something. Or maybe they feared that his innate brutishness and aggression would prevent him from answering the phones politely and professionally.