Women at Work:

Lyrical Confessions of an Erstwhile Renegade 


Giselle Minoli

Winter, 2013

    I choose to have a public profile as a writer. I choose what to share about my private life. And I choose when and how to share whatever secrets (I admit to) with anyone I choose. After all, part of the intrinsic nature of a secret is that it might eventually be divulged or discovered. 

    Yet, no matter my choices, do I really have any control over how others perceive me, what they believe about me, and therefore how they behave toward me? Or in the social era is it pure folly to think that we are the architects of our own images?

    My recollection of a description of me when I was a young executive at CBS Records, written over three decades ago and printed in Esquire Magazine, is as clear as though I had read it yesterday, yet so much time has passed that part of me wonders if I made it up. A journalist’s portrayal of me as a ‘renegade marketing director,’ which my memory believes was the case, is such an ineradicable and juicy characterization that I have been a little reluctant to consider the possibility I might not have remembered exactly what was written all those years ago. Print magazines dating back to the 80s are not cached online so, without knowing the month or the writer’s name, a search had turned up nothing. Besides, tracking down the article would force me not only to test the accuracy of my memory, but also perhaps to let go of that colorful description in favor of something more banal. The difficulty in finding the article let me conveniently off the hook.

    The phrase ‘renegade marketing director,’ had been accompanied, as I recalled, by a reference to what I wore to a meeting attended by a journalist who was writing an article about Columbia Records’ marketing plans for an album by the popular Australian band Men at Work, which the label was releasing in the United States. There were several other women department heads in that meeting whose clothing for some reason did not warrant mention by the (male) journalist who zeroed in on my short, dark brown leather skirt (by Agnes B), my black fishnet stockings (by Betsey Johnson), my spike-heeled black leather pumps (by Walter Steiger), and my hand-me-down wool leopard print button-up-the-front sweater. 

    I remember the makers of my own music industry threads because they were the designers from whom I purchased the physical packaging––the costumes––I wore to my job as National Director of Customer Merchandising for CBS Records, one of the biggest and hippest music companies in the world at the time.

    At Black Rock, the imposing building on Sixth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets in New York City that was home to CBS, the power of costume was evident in the posters of the label’s artists, which graced the halls––among them Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and Cyndi Lauper––and were in the offices of nearly every employee, each artist with their own distinct style and physical look pulled together by a coterie of stylists, make-up wizards, press agents, photographers, managers, and anyone else who had a minute to weigh in on what a recording artist should wear on any given day. The department I ran designed the point-of-purchase materials for all the releases on CBS. It was a no brainer that as head of the department I should pay attention to my personal packaging, however, given the environment, with all the stars themselves dressed to the nines, I thought it odd that a journalist would even notice what a member of the marketing team was wearing.

    A writer’s pointed details about the dramatis personae in a stage play, novel or movie, for instance, are pure fiction, drawn to give the actors and director a roadmap to the personalities of the characters, who, if all goes well, the audience accepts as believable people. Off stage, however, we also play various roles throughout our lives, sometimes consciously and cooperatively, but just as frequently and unbeknown to us we are cast in certain roles by people who need us to play a particular part in their life scripts. Either way, these roles come equipped with their own character instructions––how we should dress, how we should speak, how we should wear our hair, how we should behave––and our choices about how to flesh out those roles figure significantly in how we are perceived, how people relate to us, even how successful we will be at any particular endeavor…such as a job, for instance. And to my surprise, as I discovered for myself, a deft choice of personal clothing might even get you mentioned in the press.

    I had always been keenly aware of the importance and power of costumes. At the age of ten I had had the good fortune to study modern dance with Elizabeth Waters, the esteemed choreographer for the University of New Mexico dance troupe, who cast my class of fledgling dancers in a University production of Hansel and Gretel. I remember the day she laid out on the wood floor of the gymnasium the leotards and tights we would wear in the performance––dyed in vivid hues of turquoise, emerald green, sun yellow, tangerine, melon, purple, mustard, red, azure blue––colors so delicious and inviting I wanted to wear all of them. I was, and still am, quite affected by color (even though I tend to almost always wear black, dark brown and admiral blue, with a little red thrown in here and there), and I could hardly decide which tone I liked best. I don’t remember wondering whether a particular color might have made me a better dancer, but I was keenly aware that Ms. Waters’ selection for our costumes was not about making a dancer look pretty on stage. In the end my own preference mattered not, because she made the choice for us. I was to wear a rose-orange clay color, a richer version of New Mexico desert sand that rather matched my hair and skin tone and therefore suited me just fine.

    The sophisticated ritual of costuming a stage production, as mysterious and magical as choreography itself, made a deep impression on me, and complemented the ceremonies my mother’s two closest friends, both painters, would engage in before setting to work––stretching their canvases and laying out their palettes, brushes, paints, wood, stone, clay and sandblasters with intense care, the same care with which they chose their clothing, jewelry, hats, make-up and hairstyles. Nothing was haphazard, sloppy or an afterthought. Each woman was, to me, a living embodiment of a work of art, rather like a human painting or a sculpture, beautiful and riveting to my eyes, yes, but also, like Elizabeth Waters as a choreographer, clearly aiming for something beyond the physical in their personal attire, maquillage and mien, which I could palpably feel the effect of, but which I certainly did not have the ability to achieve on my own. 

    Maybe one had to be an artist or a choreographer, I thought, with which skills would naturally come the know-how to create a captivating personal appearance. Or maybe one simply had to be older and wiser in order to put together an artistic personal look that added up to something more compelling than mere fashion. Or maybe one had to have a coterie of hair stylists, costumers and make-up aficionados, not to mention press agents and managers.

    I had my first opportunity to create a costume for myself several years later when I was cast in a production of Eugène Ionesco’s The Lesson, in which I played a less than bright student doomed to be murdered by her intolerant professor. During rehearsals I wore pants then skirts, shirts then sweaters, painted my eyelids a glittery blue one day, went pale-faced the next, tarted myself up, dressed myself down, rehearsed shod and shoeless, even going so far as to dye my naturally blond hair dark brown a few days before opening, much to the horror of my director, obsessed as I was with discovering how different looks and costumes made me feel in the part right up to the curtain rising on opening night!

    At my director’s insistence, I reluctantly returned my hair to its natural blond shade, eventually winning an award for my portrayal of The Student in The Lesson at a major regional drama conference. I was convinced that my costume, which was a tangible thing, had as much to do with getting that little statuette as had my performance, which was anything but tangible. The idea to dye my hair brown had come from being convinced that its natural color would typecast me as proverbially dumb, thus justifying my demise at the strangling hands of my professor, when I preferred to achieve that end result through my interpretation of the role. Alas, I will never know whether I would have succeeded had I been a brunette, but in the end it was irrelevant because I had experienced firsthand that all the world’s indeed a stage, in dress at the very least. I had learned something life changing––clothes could project how I felt at any given moment, as well as affect how other people saw me. And, if I was lucky, I might even take home an award.

    I thought about all of this – my mother’s artistic friends, dancing with Elizabeth Waters’ troupe at UNM, performing in a play at 15, and becoming a young executive at CBS when I was barely 24–when I read A Cold War Fought by Women, John Tierney’s article in the NY Times on November 18, 2013, about recent anthropological, and therefore supposedly scientific, evidence that young women, in their choice of dress, are primarily competing with one another for the attention of men, and that this mating dress tendency, which often leads to rather pointed non-physical aggression between women, wanes once a woman gets married and has found security within the structure of a marriage and family.

    “The existence of female competition may seem obvious to anyone who has been in a high-school cafeteria or a singles bar, but analyzing it has been difficult because it tends be more subtle and indirect (and a lot less violent) than the male variety. Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that this “intrasexual competition” is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance" (Tierney, 2013).

    I did a quick review of my private girls’ school and college years, and my many years in San Francisco and New York as a sexually mature single woman, who, as the study’s researchers would claim, was supposed to have spent considerable time dressing to compete with other women. Had it been true of me? Had I spent my time trying to out-sex, out-nubile, out––Va Va Voom other girls and women? Was it true of the seven years I spent at CBS Records, where there was male attention to be had round every corner? Did my fishnet stockings and black leather have nothing to do with my role as a department head at CBS, as I had thought, and everything to do with finding a husband without my having been even slightly conscious of it? Did I really get up every morning and dress to compete with other women for the attention of men? 

    There were plenty of high heels and fishnets in my wardrobe, but they shared closet space with sweatshirts, blue jeans and cowboy boots. The red lipstick cases and nail color bottles in my medicine chest stood side-by-side with jars of Vicks VapoRub and Vaseline. Whatever costume I donned in the morning, it suited the role I was to play that particular day.  

    I don’t recall spending a minute of my time figuring out what to wear to get the attention of a man. Nor did I think, all women being different from one another anyway, that it was even possible to compete with another female, whether I was one of a few in a crowd of men, or merely one in a coterie of women. The truth is that I was far too busy dancing, rehearsing, studying, doing the laundry, washing the dishes, working my way through college at any job I could get my hands on, or trying to win merchandising contests so I could get promoted at CBS, to have had time or interest to perfect the evolutionary game at which I was supposedly predestined to become an expert.

    “Results provide strong empirical support for intrasexual competition among women. Using independent raters, blind to condition, we found that almost all women were rated as reacting negatively (“bitchy”) to an attractive female confederate when she was dressed in a sexually provocative manner. In contrast, when she was dressed conservatively, the same confederate was barely noticed by the participants” (Vaillancourt, 2011).

    Had I somehow missed out on a fantastic and formative female power ritual, a sexual rite of passage in which everyone but I had participated? Or was the denominator used to define female competitive behavior in Intolerance of sexy peers: intrasexual competition among women, the study by Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, and the related paper, Female competition and aggression: interdisciplinary perspectives, co-authored by Paula Stockley and Anne Campbell, both of which were referenced in Tierney’s article in The Times, an essentially flawed denominator, such that the study’s conclusions were therefore statistically insignificant and meaningless?

    Prior to moving to New York I had been a Field Merchandiser for CBS Records in San Francisco, a job for which I traveled by car all over the North, South and East Bays and climbed up ladders to build displays for various CBS releases on the walls of record stores, hardly a position that would accommodate provocative dress. Jeans and T-shirts were de rigueur. Clogs rounded out the look and were easy to kick off if I needed to create a display in a store window in my bare feet. When I moved to New York as the head of the department, I ditched jeans and donned skirts and heels, sometimes stiletto, sometimes flat. I thought I had mastered the art of figuring out what the appropriate costume should be for whatever role I was playing at the moment––student, secretary, executive, actor, designer, writer––modeling the behavior of the many talented and accomplished women I knew during my childhood––when all the while my main focus, according to Tierney, should have been on eliminating my female competition. Who knew?

    I wondered what kind of women had been used in the study. I could not think of a single female choreographer, artist, photographer, writer, scientist, filmmaker, lawyer, doctor, business executive, entrepreneur, or any other woman I knew with a demanding full-time profession, having the time or interest to pretend to be a sexual rival to a group of women in a fake scenario for the purpose of “studying” female competitive behavior. At its core, the study seemed manipulative and entirely without any connection to real life.

    I wondered about the ages and life experiences of the female scientists who devised these studies. I wondered about the ages and life experiences of the women who participated in them. And I wondered what the results would have been if such a study had used a large group of women who were fine artists or writers, for instance. My mother’s physically striking women artist friends did seem to compete with one another, but it was about their work as artists, not about which woman was the more sexually hypnotic. And, Yes, I too have felt scrutinized by other women, but it has never had anything to do, to my knowledge, with what I look like or how I dress. Instead, it has always been my ambitions and goals in life that have come under scrutiny – being an executive at 24, deciding not to have children, marrying late in life, and choosing to become a private pilot when there are so very few women in general aviation. What do you want to do that, for? I have been asked by women over and over again. 

    My age, what I look like, and how I dress have always seemed to me to be irrelevant. What I do with my time––not how I look or what I wear––has always been much more of a threat to women whose main focus is to nab a fella. The studies, it seemed to me, should have been designed to understand how women behave toward one another when marriage and children are the goal, and how they might behave toward one another when a professional career is the goal. The underlying assumption within the studies––that women’s goals in life have not evolved an inch beyond their presumed evolutionary purpose to procreate––is more than a little disturbing. I mean, after all, the women who are authors of these studies do something more than procreate with their lives, don’t they?

    I felt compelled to track down that Esquire Magazine article to see if there was a meaningful context within which that journalist had found it essential to mention my dress. After reading an obscure reference to an article about Men at Work in the July 1983 issue of Esquire, I found a copy on BackIssues.com, and emailed them to see if they could tell me if that issue indeed contained an article in which I had been referenced and, if so, whether I might purchase a PDF. The answer came back Yes and No, so I turned my attention to eBay, where I found an issue in relatively good condition. I was promised I would have in three days if I paid with PayPal. Sure enough, three days later my mailbox offered up a pristine copy of Esquire Magazine, July 1983, Volume 100, No. 1, dressed in plastic wrap and backed by a stiff piece of protective cardboard. The original issue had cost only $2.00. I paid $12.50, shipping included, a small price to go back in time, set my memory straight, and probe the subtext of my personal dressing habits.

    I flipped to the Contents page under The Esquire Review and found an article on page 105 entitled Music Caution: Men at Work on Men at Work, by Bob Spitz, a six-page account of a month spent with senior staff as they planned their marketing support of Men at Work’s second album, Cargo. The reference to me, on page 107, turned out to have been slightly different, but just as juicy as what I had remembered. What Spitz actually wrote was the following:

    “She [a colleague in product management] sat down next to Giselle Minoli, a marketing confederate, who sat     conspicuously in a short skirt and black stockings.”

                                                         Esquire Magazine, July 1983

    Should I have been relieved to discover that I had not been perceived as a renegade, but rather as a bona fide confederate? Boy oh boy had Spitz been prescient, granting me early membership in the club of (supposedly) attractive female confederates dressed in a sexually provocative manner who would be mentioned in Vaillancourt’s and Sharma’s Abstract on female aggression more than thirty years later.

    Suddenly I found myself comparing the meaning of the words ‘renegade’ and ‘confederate.’ It had always made sense to me that I remembered myself as a renegade. After all, I had taken over a department at CBS Records that had traditionally been run by a man, entirely dispensed with his version of in-store merchandising and replaced it with my own vision of how to market an artist in record stores. I had not gotten there by luck, accident, because I had known someone, or because of what I wore. In fact, I had won both the regional and national merchandising awards for CBS Records. That alone, as a woman, made me a renegade in that organization in the early 80s. So I was relieved that my memory hadn’t entirely failed me, the nouns ‘renegade’ and ‘confederate’ connected in meaning by suggesting a distinct individual temperament:

Renegade, noun:

a person who deserts and betrays an organization, country, or set of principles.

a person who behaves in a rebelliously unconventional manner.

Renegade, adjective:

having treacherously changed allegiance.

Confederate, noun:

a person one works with, especially in something secret or illegal; an accomplice

(Confederate) a supporter of the Confederate States of America.

Confederate, adjective:

joined by an agreement or treaty.

    Of the two words, however, I preferred ‘renegade,’ because I had always been known to have my own ‘set of principles,’ and it was a set of principles that I assiduously applied to better my company, certainly never to betray it. But Spitz had called me a confederate. In what sense of the word, exactly? He could have been using ‘confederate’ in the primary sense of co-worker, or member of a marketing team, a “person one works with” or “an accomplice,” which I doubted, not only because ‘confederate’ wasn’t a word used in common lingo at the time, but because he swiftly added the questionable phrase “who sat conspicuously in a short skirt and black stockings.” 

    Although I assumed Spitz had not been writing in the political sense (I had been raised in the Southwest, not the South!), he might have been using the word ‘conspicuous’ to define ‘confederate’ because he saw my clothing as a uniform of sorts. After all police officers and military personnel are conspicuous, aren’t they? But that didn’t make sense either, because there on the page, in an unavoidable J’accuse! sense, lay the dreaded words “short skirt and black stockings.”

    Spitz claiming that I “sat conspicuously,” and then mentioning what I was wearing on the lower half of my body when he had not so described any other woman with a speaking part in that marketing meeting, instantly turned me into the suspect, up-to-no-good sort of woman intentionally using her dress for some provocative end as described in Vaillancourt’s and Sharma’s abstract. Perhaps even the sort of woman who does something “secret or illegal,” which implies some sort of devious agenda. What a trickster Spitz perceived me to be, with a capacity to be conspicuous and secret at the same time!

    But was I? 

    Had I been a female recording artist, I wager Spitz would not have noticed my short skirt and black stockings, unless it was within the context of that artist’s image. In Elizabeth Waters’ production of Hansel and Gretel no two dancers wore the same costume. In director Robert Pickett’s production of The Lesson, each actor dressed according to their interpretation of the role they played. And at CBS Records, I dressed in sync with the vibe of a company whose mission was to create and develop the public image of its performing artists, and in sync with my particular job, the core task of which was to design merchandising materials that made our artists stand out in-store. In San Francisco I just happened to have worn jeans and T-shirts to do that job, and once in New York, my staple-gun and ladder days behind me, I switched to skirts and heels.

    Spitz’s article was about the dilemma Columbia Records faced in marketing a faceless, image-less, personality-less band to an American audience. The article was about the importance of creating a look, a style, and an image so identifiable that it would hook an audience’s attention and not let go. The article was about talent vs. getting noticed. Having the former doesn’t necessarily imply the latter. I would bet my last nickel that had every woman in that marketing meeting been dressed as I was, I wouldn’t have rated a mention in Spitz’s article. As it happened, however, I was conspicuous to him because I was the only woman wearing a short skirt and black stockings. And I therefore was a confederate because there must have been something underhanded in my choice of clothing. 

    But was there?


 Esquire Magazine, July 1983

    Real life is also about having talent vs. getting noticed. Are there women (and men) who are short on talent but long on other qualities that might get them ahead and get them noticed, such as good looks and a compelling figure? Of course. Is it wrong to use one’s looks to get ahead if that is what one has to work with? Of course not. But Spitz did not write, ‘...Giselle Minoli, a marketing confederate, who had won two merchandising awards before taking over the NY department.” Instead he focused on my clothing, which is exactly what Tierney focused on when he wrote about “standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance” as the tools of intrasexual competition among girls and women. On the one hand Spitz casually notes my mode of dress in Esquire Magazine, no doubt fully aware of the power words can have on a reader, and on the other hand, Tierney, in the New York Times, simply accepts at face value the causes, correlations and conclusions drawn by the ladies Vaillancourt, Sharma, Stockley and Campbell, passing that information along to his readers as though those studies are reflective of all women everywhere.

    What I find truly disturbing about the referenced studies, aside from their questionable science, is that they treat all women as though they were simple evolutionary animals driven by the same motive––to procreate. Were that even remotely true, all women would be married and have children, and the road to getting there would be paved with the bodies of provocatively dressed women because they would be perceived as the enemy.

    We know nothing about the professions, talents, brains or abilities of the women who were studied, which was of as little interest to Tierney in 2013 as my professional background was to Spitz in 1983. Sadly, the way women are perceived, as opposed to the way they really are, has hardly evolved, which would explain why there seems to be such an effort made among often very young girls and certainly mature women to dress in a decidedly ‘come hither’ manner, perhaps because of the incessant media message that having talent is irrelevant and that all that matters is a woman’s looks. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t want to look her best. But when it comes to having talent, I don’t know a single truly talented woman who would put her abilities on the back burner to looks.

    Perhaps Spitz just had a thing for short skirts and black stockings. I don’t blame him, so did I. But my fetish had nothing to do with competing with other women. When I woke up on February 16, 1983, the day Spitz sat in on our Columbia Records’ marketing meeting, I selected that particular costume to wear to my job as a woman at work on Men at Work

    Perhaps Spitz, in titling his article for Esquire: Caution: Men at Work on Men at Work, was making the point that a woman had no place in that endeavor? It might have been a clever word play that worked in the context of his article and the magazine, but it was far from accurate.

    Flash forward to 2006, when Ron Strykert, lead guitarist for Men at Work, wrote a song called People Just Love to Play with Words. Ain’t that the truth?

    I can choose my own words, thank you very much. 

    And I’m sticking with renegade.

People Just Love To Play With Words 

Lyrics by Ron Strykert, Men at Work

I'm not tryin' to impress you with my lines

They don't mean nothin' at all

It's just another expression of mine

It don't mean nothin' at all

Mystifying, oh no, crystallizing, you know

People just love to play with words

People just love to play, haven't you heard?

People just love to play with words

People just love to play, haven't you heard?

There are two sides, a win or loss

What's two down and four across?

Analyzing and implying, you know

People just love to play with words

People just love to play, haven't you heard?

People just love to play with words

People just love to play, haven't you heard?

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play

People just love to play


Stockley, Paula. (October 28, 2013). Female competition and aggression: interdisciplinary perspectives.


Tierney, John. (November 18, 2013).  A Cold War Fought by Women. New York Times. Retrieved from:


Vaillancourt, Tracy.  (September 19, 2011). Intolerance of sexy peers: intrasexual competition among women. 


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About the Author:  Giselle Minoli

    I am a writer – a writer who has been an executive in the music and fine arts businesses, as well a dancer, actor, theatre director and fine jewelry designer, each of which endeavors are individual forms of storytelling.

    I am working on a book inspired by many things, among them my father's Italian ancestry. My nonfiction personal essays can be read on my official writing pages at http://www.giselleminoli.com/writing, and my line of jewelry can be seen at http://www.giselleminoli.com/jewelry/.

    I am married to a man with three adult children, and spend my spare time flying small planes, ballroom dancing, cooking for my husband, traveling, and dreaming about Italy. I have lived in New York City since January 1979.

    I am honored to be the new Editor-at-Large for The Journal for Social Era Knowledge, and look forward to finding exciting writers and artists for coming volumes.

About the Artist:

     José Toledo Ordoñez is a Guatemalan sculptor, painter, movie producer, and art and literature promoter. This multifaceted profile has allowed him to expose his sculptures in 22 individual exhibitions, in places as prestigious as the José Luis Cuevas’s Museum and Diego Rivera’s Museum, both in Mexico, the Art Gallery of the International Development Bank in Washington, D.C., and now at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. He has also unveiled 10 urban sculptures in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

     In his Geneva exhibition, the Ambassador of Guatemala, Carla Rodríguez Mancia, stated: “No better place could have been chosen for this première than the city of Geneva which is internationally known for its commitment to peace, security, and development, seat of the Office of the United Nations, a global message for a global city and a global word. Many have also approached me for an explanation on the title of the exhibition: Dangerous Sculptures. I can really assure you tha
t the only danger that you might face while admiring these sculptures is the danger of changing your mind and your attitudes in a way that will surely contribute to a better world for all.”
    Finally, the artist quoted: “My message goes against the destruction of nature and the degradation of human relations in all senses: violence, war, injustice, and of course, the destruction of art itself associated with truth and human values. Hence the name of this expo: Dangerous Sculptures, because truth hurts and the search of freedom threatens human race oppressors”.

The sculpture that introduces this article is entitled, "Suspended," and is 46 x 43 x 18.5 centimeters.