Not everyone sees Helen Gurley Brown as a great feminist. Some, in fact, see her as completely the opposite of that. As the editor of Cosmopolitan for 32 years, she celebrated sex and consumption. And in her interviews and bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl, she advocated for men footing the dinner bill and women using their feminine wiles as a weapon.
But a book by Jennifer Scanlon argues that Gurley Brown was, in fact, one of the great trailblazers, right up there with Betty Friedan (The Feminist Mystique) and Gloria Steinem. Entitled Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, the biography inspired us to look back on some of the late, great editor's wisest words, and the lessons we can take away from them.
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1. "Good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere." While Helen Gurley Brown wasn't the first to utter these words (that honor goes to Mae West), she certainly popularized them for a new generation in her 1962 book, Sex and the Single Girl. A bad girl herself, Gurley Brown bucked the social norms of the post-WWII era by moving away from her family (in the Ozarks) at a young age, holding off on marriage until she was 37 years old, and in the years before (and after) then, working her way up—from the secretary pool to the director's seat—in the male-dominated fields of publishing and advertising. Bonnie Fuller Interviews Helen Gurley Brown
2. Women can have it all . . ."love, sex and money." Plenty of women these days see the notion of "having it all" as more oppressive than liberating. But let's remember something: unlike today's version of having it all, Gurley Brown's did NOT include well-adjusted kids, a devoted husband, a clean house, two cars, an advanced degree, an impressive career, hobbies that display creativity, vacations in the south of France, and a yoga butt. No, her version of having it all was much simpler, much more attainable, and yet totally revolutionary for a generation of women who were raised to have few aspirations that were entirely their own. By "having it all" she was really saying, "you can have all the things that men have."
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3. "You can't sleep your way to the top or even the middle, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. You have to do it yourself, so you might as well get started." Sure, she slept with few of her bosses, and yes, she dated some famous men (including Jack Demspey and, of course, her husband, film producer David Brown), but Helen Gurley Brown knew that without wits, tencacity and talent, no amout of playing the system would get her—or anyone else—very far. Read on...
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