“Think about it. If you are single, after graduation there isn’t one occasion where people celebrate you.” – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
Helen Gurley Brown became the first female editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1965 with no experience in magazine publishing. The story of how this happened is, I think, reason enough to pick up this book. Women aspired to be secretaries in the 1960s – if they had any career aspirations or dreams of financial independence at all. The employment “glass ceiling” prevented women from being promoted to anything higher than a secretary, which was perpetuated by a tangled web of early marriage, accidental pregnancy, limited social mobility, a lack of education, inequality in the workplace, sexism, societal pressure to raise a family and stay in the domestic sphere, or even just a desire to raise a family and stay in the domestic sphere. Twenty-something women happily raised children, folded laundry, and kissed their working husbands on the cheek when they came home everyday at six.
Helen Gurley Brown was not one of those women. At a time when women typically married between the ages of 16 and 22, Brown waited until she had an established career and married “the perfect man” at 37. Encouraged by her husband, Brown revealed to the world how she had spent her single years in one of the most controversial books of the 1960s, Sex and the Single Girl. The original Sex and the City, Brown’s memoir-like book instructed single women riding the beginning of the second wave feminist movement how to get ahead despite their serious disadvantages. Brown explains in her famous colloquial and energetic language (now seen splashed across the colorful pages of Cosmopolitan) that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” The book urges using men and the luxuries they can afford for personal gain because the caste system wasn’t going to change overnight. According to Brown, sex was power, not a weakness.
Helen Gurley Brown’s name doesn’t resonate like Betty Friedan’s or Gloria Steinem’s as a major player in the feminist movement because she argued for using the system instead of changing it. Instead of preaching about throwing away makeup and the beauty myth she wrote about mascara tips and how to be the most frugal with stockings. Instead of claiming men were the enemy she claimed they were the naive allies who could buy us dinner and presents when we were too broke to do it ourselves.
Image Source: Fushion Mag