Monday, August 13, 2012

Cosmopolitan: Helen Gurley Brown's Legacy

Helen Gurley Brown - 1964
1922 - 2012
Helen Gurley Brown, world-renowned editor for Cosmpolitan Magazine, passed away at the age of  90.

Ms. Brown was a pioneer in a field dominated by men and became a success by not following the standard tried-and-true formulas of magazines geared towards women.  While it is hard to dispute that the magazine is a lot of fluff and advertisement now, and has been for years, it is indisputable that Helen Gurley Brown tackled "taboo" subjects in magazine articles with refined elegance.

For many young women, the topics and divergent views from the previous generation was empowering. The raised eyebrows and curiosity kept people reading and helped shaped the discourse of what it meant to be a woman.  Cosmopolitan stood out on the shelves.

The vast majority of magazines geared to women tackled the difficult issues of housekeeping, recipes, and how to become a Donna Reed clone. In essence, they boxed women into an inescapable, but acceptable container of societal comfort.  Cosmopolitan magazine made the other publications geared toward women seem antiquated. Great care was taken to print articles that were relevant to the realities of single women.

Johanna  Lasic - Miss Argentina
Cosmopolitan gave women a window to "something else" - Something besides the marriage track, kids, and dutiful homemaker.  The glossy ads of flawless (air brushed) models in Park Avenue hair, make-up, and evening wear created a vision of "more and better" that translated well into designer sales.

Beauty salons were not only inspired to do things differently, but services that involved pampering, rejuvenation, hair removal, and many others, emerged and thrived. In short, and entire industry profited from women giving themselves permission to embark in professional careers and be as sexy as they wanted to be at the same time.

She tackled sexuality outside of the confine of marriage and created an uproar when she published  Sex and The Single Girl: Before There Was Sex in the City, There Was (Cult Classics) Ms. Brown.

Helen Hurley Brown is largely responsible for women believing that "having it all" meant having it all at the same time. As we have found out with passing generations, having it all at the same time is not a one-size-fits-all, nor do we get to enjoy all of it. However, she made it possible for women to think and act outside of societal constrains. This made a huge difference to a generation of women that did not think twice about persuing their passions in science, music, research, and yes, CEO's of companies. - Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money Even If You're Starting With Nothing


Helen Gurley Brown quotes on women's sexuality:

"Good Girls go to Heaven, bad girls go everywhere."

"Cosmo is feminist in that we believe women are just as smart and capable as men and can achieve anything they want. But it also acknowledges that while work is important, men are, too. The Cosmo girl absolutely loves men!"

"One of the paramount reasons for staying attractive is so you can have somebody to go to bed with."

"... If you did not have a husband you might as well go to the Grand Canyon and throw yourself in..."

"...If you were having sex with a man and you were not married? Well, your reputation was just shot."

On her thoughts about work: 

"I care, I care a lot. I think of Cosmopolitan all day and I run scared. So it is a combination of frights, caring and anxiety."

"My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense."

"Beauty can't amuse you, but brain work - reading, writing, thinking - can."
"I was mousy on the outside but inside I am this tiger and I have to get on with it."

Rest in PEACE and thank you for empowering a generation of women.

Legendary Editor Helen G. Hurley Brown Dies

Image Credit: Silhouette  Johanna Lasic: By Creator:Johanna Lasic (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


Richard said...

This is a great article about a woman who made a real difference. H.G. Brown was perhaps the first woman who made me believe that it will and important day when women finally take over the world.

Women have, in many ways, always been the more interesting sex. Now that they feel empowered, thanks to women like H.G. Brown, we are beginning to see what a difference women are making.

I should point out that these comments are coming from a guy.

Olivia Emisar said...

I never understood the fear of women's equality. we are very a cooperative bunch and cam make men's lives a lot easier.

Thank you Richard.

sandinbrick said...

I love this because I was there, when women's issues started,but now we fight for our rights under republican rule. I hope the young women are paying attention because I won't be here after the election of President Obama. Thanks Oliva.