There’s More To Helen Gurley Brown Than Sex

The first biography of Helen Gurley Brown, who was Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief for three decades, hits stores today, and we’ll be snapping up a copy after work. Written by Jennifer Scanlon, a professor of gender and women’s studies at Bowdoin College, Bad Girls Go Everywhere looks at Helen’s life from her start in an Arkansas town in the Ozarks to her rise from secretary to advertising copywriter to editor-in-chief. Scanlon compares Brown to feminist figures like Betty Friedan. Brown believed sex was a “powerful weapon” for single women and changed the Cosmo format so it addressed real women’s lives — sex and all. (However, she omitted certain realities from the magazine, including children and AIDS.) While Brown cared about looking put-together and slept with her bosses, she didn’t let those things replace any of her substance. To her, hard work was always the most important thing in getting what you wanted — making the most of your features and getting your dream job. I read Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl in college, after picking it out of a sale pile at Barnes & Noble. For the ’60s, it was advanced. Despite the title, Sex and the Single Girl is less about sex and more about being a single girl. In it, she shares tips (some outdated, others eternally useful) on how to save money, get the job you want, and live the good life. While her advice is capricious, it’s always well-intentioned. Whether or not she is a feminist on par with Friedan is up for debate, but at least she advanced our lives by making it OK for women to talk about sex. [NY Times]