In the pink: the New Girlies

Here they come, fluttering their eyelashes and giggling sweetly. The Daily Mail praises their fluffiness and two new business guides recommend their style. Watch out - the New Girlies may be heading for an office near you. Report by Hester Lacey
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"Sex sells cars, sex sells cigarettes, sex sells beer," points out Karen Salmansohn, a former advertising executive, in How To Get Ahead In Business Without A Penis, a new title aimed at working women, published later this month by Pan (pounds 9.99). "Why shouldn't it also be true that sex sells a business report, sex sells a business deal, sex sells a raise?" Her key strategies include sporting a canyon-deep cleavage at the office and always speaking sweetly on the phone. "I am recommending flirting one's way to the top," comes her clarion call. "Everybody benefits. A man can feel like a studmuffin. And a woman can get her dollar-for-a-man's-dollar salary."

Salmansohn's hints for mobilising one's feminine wiles have proved popular in the US, where her book is a bestseller. "While a man is busy thinking about you giving him head, you can be getting ahead," she chirrups. To this end, get pretty: work out in the gym and stock up on Donna Karan suits.

Business publisher Harriet Rubin in The Princessa: Machiavelli For Women, also published later this month by Bloomsbury (pounds 12.99), does not go as far as recommending that you make your boss feel like a studmuffin (whatever that may be). But one of her soi-disant Machiavellian strategies involves bursting into tears when things aren't going your way, in time-honoured girlie fashion (Machiavelli must be rotating in his grave). Sit up close to powerful men; female physical proximity is guaranteed to throw them. And nice frocks are given due emphasis. Rubin remembers a woman who turned up at an important meeting swaddled in an unlikely combination of long black dress, hat and sunglasses. Such was her air of feminine mystique that when she unswaddled herself, the whole meeting fell at her feet (no, not helpless with laughter, helpless with awe).

Forget about the Inner Child; suddenly Inner Girlies are bursting out all over. There is a particularly rich lode of it in the Fluffy Club. The Fluffy Club is run by Cherri Gilham, ex-page three girl, ex-Benny Hill girl, and ex-wifelet (number 54) of the Marquess of Bath, and the mission of the Fluffies is to "giggle, pout, flirt and coo our way to emancipation". "The best way to disarm men is to be adorable and alluring, not brittle and abrasive," she wrote in the Daily Mail last week. Hundreds of letters poured in from closet Fluffies; Gilham likes to quote from them at length. "`I am a woman in the true sense of the word!,'" she declaims breathlessly from one. "Here's another, from a 20-year-old student: `I love capitalising on my feminine magnetism'! Isn't it brilliant?"

Certain types of woman have always fluttered their eyelids to get what they want, and many bunny-rabbit types conceal a steely toughness. Princess Diana may have a heart of titanium but she has always managed to look like a sweet little angora fur-ball. Felicity Kendal, Anouska Hempel, Goldie Hawn, Jane Asher and Amanda Wakeley are

all fluffy princesses, while Dame Barbara Cartland is the great-great- grandma of them all. The current crop includes the likes of Anthea Turner, Julia Carling, the journalist Petronella "Petsy" Wyatt and the ubiquitous "It" girls. Cherri Gilham has written these girlies a Fluffy Manifesto. It runs as follows: "Don't contradict a man - even when he's wrong. Never be strident or aggressive. Flutter your eyelashes. Speak softly, don't shriek. Think kindly of men - they can't help it. Never mention the F word (feminism)."

There is a grain of truth in this last point. Old-style feminism is deeply unfashionable among younger women; and few are convinced by the feeble Nineties version - the Spice Girls' cartoonish "girl power" stance. This leaves space for a wave of New Feminity. Scientists have found evidence that male and female brains develop and function differently; men and women think and behave differently. Hence, perhaps, this spirit of "vive la difference", heralding high heels in the office, men politely opening car doors and carrying bags, soft voices and pink-lipsticked smiles.

Few object to men holding doors open for them, but young professional women react with horror to the idea of flirting their way through their career. "It's a ludicrous idea," says Ruth Bayliss, 28, who works in direct marketing. "I would feel completely demoralised if I saw someone flirting with a senior manager and it worked - I'd lose all respect for the management in the company."

"I wouldn't accept a job where the length of my skirt was an issue," says Susan Evans, 29, a corporate lawyer. "There's nothing wrong with being feminine, but women who rely too much on being flirtatious find themselves isolated. And what do you do when you get too old ?"

Fluff at work gets short shrift from the next generation, too. Marny Hunt, 18, is studying for her A-levels. "It's not the way to go about getting respect. It's giving men the right to walk all over women. It would be embarrassing to work with women like that; men wouldn't treat them equally and it would rub off on all women." But she does not consider herself a feminist. "I totally agree with looking feminine - we all like skirts and blonde, long hair - but we want to be treated equally." Eve Richards, 20, who plans to study law, says: "I like to look pretty and wear make-up and leather trousers, and I like to be treated with respect. I'd hate to be the token office girlie."

But are men really taken in by the pelmet skirt, big hair and false lashes? Up to a point, maybe. "Acting like this is pervasive in business at different levels and many women have found it quite effective, but only in the short term," says Mary Spillane of CMB Europe image consultants. "It's a way to shoot yourself in the career foot - you make so many enemies. If you use this technique to patch over your weaknesses, you're doomed."

Olwyn Burgess, assistant director of career counselling at CEPEC human resource consultancy, points out that you could end up with more than you bargain for if you flutter your eyelashes one time too many. "I do a lot of harassment work and we see the end result of this kind of behaviour. Misreading of signals often happens."

Salmansohn is quick to rebut such boring cavils. "I can't state strongly enough how much I disagree with the idea that I am anti-feminist. I think feminism should, in fact, be feminine-ism. If a woman gets attention by being attractive, then backs that up with great ideas, all power to her."

Gilham also dismisses criticisms as "humourless". But fluffiness, she says, has its serious side. Her ultimate aim is to save the world. "The end of society is the way we're going. It is a question of survival - if men become women and women become men, we won't be able to procreate, will we? Fluffiness is not just about bum-wiggling. Our femininity is our most potent asset."