“Good Girls Go to Heaven — Bad Girls Go Everywhere.” – Helen Gurley Brown
“I think marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life,” she wrote. “During your best years, you don’t need a husband. You do need a man of course every step of the way, and they are often cheaper emotionally and a lot more fun by the dozen.” [Washington Post]
THE GRAPHIC ABOVE is what Cosmopolitan magazine looked like before Helen Gurley Brown got her hands on it. Ms. Brown was a believer in women “having it all.” She was the birth mother of “Sex and the City” through her book Sex and the Single Girl, which exploded in 1962. She lived to the ripe age of 90.
Brown believed you didn’t have to be married to have sex, something Hugh Hefner espoused for men when he created Playboy in 1953, that feminists like Gloria Steinem and others felt benefited males at the expense of females. Steinem went on to prove that Hefner’s clubs weren’t exactly beacons of equality in the workplace, which remains the front line battle of women around the world, a cause Brown believed important as well.
Feminists may howl, but they’ve howled about Helen Gurley Brown for years. After she turned Cosmo into a loins-and-lingerie hit, Betty Friedan described it as “quite obscene and quite horrible,” monthly embracing “the idea that woman is nothing but a sex object.” Brown replies, “One thing I do quite well is deal with reality.” There are more women than men, she notes, which means that a true mouseburger (who must have a man in her life) has to use tactics that would put a geisha to shame. “If you are a mouseburger you do have to try harder with men,” Brown says. “You can’t not flatter, you can’t not please. Maybe Ursula Andress can be terrible to men, but it is not possible to be a mouseburger and sit back and do nothing.” [People]
When I came through the modern feminist revolution Gloria Steinem’s looks and message were a marvel and a guide, and it was Helen Gurley Brown’s sexually aggressive magazine that represented a life beyond convention that I’d never seen. An independent person on her own and crafting her own path who flaunts what she’s got and isn’t apologetic about doing so, using brains, talent, body and looks, if you’re lucky enough to have them, to get what and where you want and doing it with a style that matches your fearlessness for life. Brown’s advice column was called “Woman Alone.” My advice column back in the mid-90s was called “What Do You Want?”, a title I trademarked at the time, because as the 20th century closed women still needed guidance on how to go get what they wanted where relationships were concerned.
Helen Gurley Brown turned the failed Cosmo into “manual for anxious, ambitious, man-hunting single women,” as People described it back in 1982. She used her own persona, which she unflinchingly tried to mold, sculpt and form into the sexy single girl she would write about, inventing the term “mouseburger” for herself to provide a handbook on how women like her can get a man and get ahead and have lots of sex while doing it.
“Helen is a fanatic. The perfection of her body is a form of religious fanaticism. She saw herself as very unattractive and felt she could rise above it.” Pause. “And she did.” – Liz Smith in People
In an era today where women are whining about having choices, making them, then complaining about where it’s landed them, while warning women to be careful what you wish for you may get it, Ms. Brown wanted what she got and provided a workbook for women to expand on for themselves.
Helen Gurley Brown was a cultural force of nature.
“I am a feminist,” Mrs. Brown told the New York Times in 1982. “Cosmo predated the women’s movement, and I have always said my message is for the woman who loves men but who doesn’t want to live through them. ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ was controversial at the time because it said a woman could be a sexual creature and not have a wedding band on her finger.” She added, “I sometimes think feminists don’t read what I write. I am for total equality. My relevance is that I deal with reality.” [Washington Post]