“The Secretary Chant” by Marge Piercy

Table of Content

The Secretary Chant, written by Marge Piercy, speaks about a female secretary who compares herself to a myriad of office supplies and gadgetry, in effect saying that she is viewed more as a piece of equipment rather than a person. While the narrator mentions specific body parts, the emphasis is on the object to which the body part is associated with. Using everything from the most mundane office supplies to complex tasks, the narrator covers plenty of ground to show how misconstrued people of her profession are: “My hips are a desk”. (line 1)

Desks, for most of the time, occupies the most space in an office, just as the hips are when we refer to the human body. A possibly fitting example to further substantiate this would be a cramped subway station, where a passenger would try to squeeze into a seat, just so as to have a comfortable ride.

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It is also a common misconception that, should anything be needed, the secretary is always the person to ask. Not only is the secretary the keeper of all things related to the office, but most often, they are expected to provide the required supply in record time. This is straightforwardly expressed by the narrator in the following lines: “From my ears hang chains of paper clips. Rubber bands form my hair. My breasts are quills of mimeograph ink. My feet bear casters”. Buzz. Click. (lines 2 – 7)

There is no argument in saying that one of the responsibilities of a secretary is to make sure that all tasks are executed in a very organized manner. Without a secretary, who else would take care of all the appointments of the often busy boss? Who would make spur-of-the-moment decisions regarding small matters that do not warrant the boss’s attention? Who would make sure that the audience would be amazed by the boss’s eloquence when he delivers that speech on Friday night? Who would determine the importance of a phone call or a visit, ensuring that no time is wasted for idle chatter or trivial matters?

These are but some for the reasons why secretaries are heavily relied upon. And because of this, the secretary is thought of as being impervious to disarray and chaos. But the narrator disclaims this by saying that: “My head is a badly organized file. My head is a switchboard where crossed lines crackle. My head is a wastebasket of worn ideas”. (lines 8 – 12)

If movies like The Iron Man are to be believed, the secretary holds far more power than we can hope to imagine. Just to provide an example, in the movie mentioned above, Pepper Potts directly tells her multi-billionaire boss, Tony Stark, that he does not even know his own Social Security Number, hence will not be able to handle affairs that need to be taken care of, if business were to run as smoothly as possible.

Overall, the narrator of the poem would like to clarify the misconceptions thought of secretaries. She wants everyone to see her not as a mere mechanical contraption that can perform tasks whenever required to do so. She wants other people to see that, although they are burdened with very high expectations, she is still human, prone to mistakes just as other human beings are. Using a flourish of sarcasm, she closes the poem by asking that, if there is no way for her to be seen as a person, then, “File me under Wbecause I once was a woman”. (lines 24 – 27)

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“The Secretary Chant” by Marge Piercy. (2017, Feb 24). Retrieved from


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