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This Struggling Feminist Salutes Helen Gurley Brown

August 14, 2012

We wanted to pay respects to the late Helen Gurley Brown who died Monday at ninety years old.  Brown played an important role in the transformation of the modern sexual woman.  In the early 1960’s Brown wrote “Sex and the Single Girl,” where she was famously quoted:

“I think a single woman’s biggest problem is coping with the people who are trying to marry her off.”

A high percentage of the feminist movement generally critiques Brown’s work and editorship at Cosmopolitan for its ultimately patriarchal tone, but in the criticism let’s not overlook what Brown did to also regain the sex life of average women.

Brown explored how a woman could find personal happiness and yes even sex without a husband, which was momentous for the era in which she wrote.  She was a pioneer because she not only lived this lifestyle but also shared it.  Today in general, women (single and married) demand much more personal satisfaction in all parts of their romantic life.  It was unconventional and even shocking for a woman to be happily “single.”  Today, being unmarried does not make a girl a social outcast…which is pretty great I’d say because now we have time to worry about other things, like school and a career.

Brown wrote before the official feminist movement but thanks to her cultural stamp, we have many more choices­– to be married early, live on our own, or maybe a mixture of both.  And choice, after all, is inherently feminist.

That is not to say Brown didn’t have influence pushing the magazine towards what it is today.  The magazine has, especially recently, been largely rejected from the feminist movement, criticized for its push to make women appealing for the sake of pleasing and attaining a man.  Brown is famous (or infamous) for putting beautiful women with sizable cleavages on the cover of the magazine.  Glancing at the magazine rack we see a lot of headlines telling women how to score men, or how to make a man happy…

The thing about Helen Gurley Brown is that while we may critique Cosmopolitan and probably many of Brown’s attitudes toward beauty and power in preference of a wider definition of beauty and value, (i.e. professional power and education) sex and feeling appreciated and satisfied in your sexual life is an important feminist feat.  That we don’t have to take lines from the Dazed and Confused hazing scene Will you marry me? I’ll do whatever you want? is something we owe in part to this woman and for that we truly thank her.

Peace and Love,

M

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2012 2:44 am

    Great post coming at a great time while my feed is filling up with mourners who have been missing some of the complexity behind this woman’s legacy. Thank you!

  2. August 14, 2012 3:05 am

    After studying Sex and the Single Girl I admit I’ve got mixed feelings on her, but this is a great post. It’s important to remember what she did and the context as well as consider her very imperfect role in feminism.

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