Ode to Helen Gurley Brown: R.I.P., Sexy!

Helen Gurley Brown died today.  Here’s a re-print of a post I wrote about her earlier this year:

Helen Gurley Brown turned 90 this past February 18.  I discovered her when I was a teenager and became an instant fan. She was a woman ahead of her time; I hadn’t heard another woman with her message. I was certainly familiar with (and appreciative of) feminists who were trying to empower us, but Helen was coming at it from a whole ‘nother angle:  it’s okay for a woman to be single, and really ok for her to have and enjoy sex, to have fun, to have a full life.  I didn’t know anybody else who was saying this quite that way.

I bought her book, Sex and the Single Girl, and read it at night after I went to bed so my mother wouldn’t catch me with it.  Helen was 40 when she wrote the book so she wasn’t some young, flighty girl being wistfully naive.  This woman had lived.  She went on to showcase her perspective as editor of Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years.

Katie Roiphe wrote an article in Slate magazine acknowledging HGB’s birthday and celebrating her accomplishments.

From the article: “It has now been 50 long and eventful years since the publication of Helen Gurley Brown’s feminist classic, Sex and the Single Girl, in which she made the groundbreaking observation: “I think a single woman’s biggest problem is coping with the people who are trying to marry her off.”  

True then, still true.  But I’m trying to do my part to help chip away at this notion that a woman must be married to have real worth.  I certainly know this “you must marry” sentiment has softened since she wrote this book…but it hasn’t softened enough.  Just last week I patiently explained to my new doctor how it was possible that I was “really ok” without a husband or kids.  He said he couldn’t understand how a woman could feel that way.   And he’s only 40, so I can’t even blame it on him having grown up in a different time.  I like him, though, so I teasingly reminded him that it’s the 21st century and the old rules don’t apply.  I hope I gave him something to think about.

Anyway, happy belated birthday to Helen Gurley Brown and many thanks to her for helping enlighten me as a teenager.  I’m hoping that one day some young girl will say the same thing about my book —The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree–which will be out on March 15.  I can only hope.

How did you come to the conclusion that being single is ok?  Or have you?

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This entry was posted in Cosmopolitan magazine, dating, Helen Gurley Brown, Katie Roiphe, Single, Slate magazine, spinster, The Spinsterlicious Life Book. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Ode to Helen Gurley Brown: R.I.P., Sexy!

  1. Stella says:

    Congrats eleanore- 15th March. I'm certain one day a young woman will read your blog and think of you as the new HGB. (Course she won't know that's what she's thinking.)
    As you know I'm conflicted about being single BUT your blog has, of course, helped me recognise that it's a good state of being.

  2. Aumoe says:

    Congratulations on the book!

    I think I was kind of the opposite of most women. I grew up planning for a life by myself. I did say that if I ever found someone I could actually fall in love with and marry that I wouldn't turn my back on it, but it never seemed likely. So, to me, it's never been a good or bad thing. It was more like Plan A and Plan B.

    Also, my older sister is happily single and intends to stay that way. She gets a lot of crap about it, especially from our dad. Though, oddly enough, she's given me plenty of crap about having a childfree marriage. No matter what choices you make, someone else will always have a problem with it.

  3. Aunt danny says:

    I have espeically enjoyed each of the comments on this particular subject “Makine Single Sexy and Fun.” Janine you are right on it. I particularly like your comment about having a baby not being an achievement. It's done all day long and requires no real effort or knowledge. Everyone is so well versed and Eleanore you are doing a great job on informing us with such delightful topics.
    Aunt Danny

  4. olivia says:

    I loved Sex and the Single Girl too – but in my case, my mum gave me my copy so I didn't have to read it in secret! It is amazing how much of the advice still holds strong, I think.

    I think we will know there has been a genuine social shift towards acceptance of single living when it is possible for a book/film to have a happy ending that is not all about pairing people up. I long for there to be a film like Amelie, or Shirley Valentine, or It's Complicated or Under a Tuscan Sun, where the happy ending is just that the woman ends up living in a beautiful place in a gorgeous home, doing exactly the things she always wanted to do.

    That is a happy ending that would suit me fine and I would love to see it celebrated!

  5. Noodle's Ate says:

    I have always felt that being single is my true path but I “allowed” influences stemmed from my upbringing (i.e., culture, religion, and opinions/desires of close family and friends) to “make” me believe that being paired up with a man would be the ultimate joy. I am finally owning and acknowledging that I LOVE being unattached and that desiring great sex with a wonderful guy friend (who shares a similar perspective on relationships)is truly the closest I will get to being “coupled”. I have frequently expressed to friends and family that my approach to relationships (with men) are uncoventional. However, they will occasionally insist that I “deserve someone special”. I will vomit the next time I hear those words being uttered. With regard to children, I was/am that awesome babysitter and super auntie. I cherish these roles but feel relieved that I can “return” my nieces and nephews to their parents 🙂 Thank you for your blog, Eleanore. You have validated for me that my “normal” is uniquely my own which makes me that much more grounded and happier!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have been OK with it for a very, very long time. As far back as I can remember, I've never had any desire to have children (the tale told is if given a doll , even at a very young age, I would look at it, not take it out of the box, then go put it in a closet)I outgrew the “not having a boyfriend makes you abnormal” in the midst of high school. Now in my early 40s, I still get those ?s that just baffle me…the “are you married/children” follow-up ?s, in no particular order…HOW old are you?? or Why NOT? Are you a lesbian? (this is asked outright less often, but you can see it in the eyes of those not literally asking) I'd have to assume they think it rude to ask that last one…personally I think the 1st 2 are just as, if not more, rude.;)

    And a side note, Janine…I knew at least 3 people in college who were there in part hoping to meet their future husband…and that was “87-91…some things may NEVER change.

  7. Rhona says:

    How exciting about the dropping of your book and so soon! I am happily awaiting to purchase my copy.
    I came to the conclusion that it was ok to be single when I read a book (forget the name now) on women buying their own homes. This was about 10 years ago I guess. My mom actually called me into her bedroom to watch the author talk about her book in citytv. Ever since then I realized that being single and creating a life for myself is okay. It took me a while to grasp this concept personally but since then (about 3 years ago or so) I have been full on board. I don't date or have sex or anything really. Never have and don't care to start but I am really interested in reading Helen Gurly Brown's book soon.

  8. Janine says:

    Congrats on your book, Eleanore, and rest assured those of us in the child-free community will be spreading the word. I assume your off-shore customers can get hold of it too?

    I know of Helen Gurley Brown, of course – with her “outrageous opinions”, she was an inspiration to generations of women.

    It is hugely disappointing that society still places so much emphasis on marriage and babies, as if it's the 1800s. I'm reading 'The Help', and you can see there's been obvious progress since 1962, when college (at least down South) was seemingly something a girl did to bide her time until she found a suitable husband, whereupon she would swap education for gossiping and organising committees, or so it seemed. While the shame factor is no longer what it was, I find the current mania for placing parenthood on a pedestal tedious. All these celebs trotting out cliches in our interviews along the lines of, “All my gold medals/Oscars/PhDs are worthless compared to my children – they are my greatest achievement.” Such utterances tend to sting for me, as they're suggesting that my life and all my achievements are worthless because only babies count. I'm sorry, but I still have a hard time viewing a baby as an “achievement”. Doing what the birds and bees do does not a genius make. That is one way they deliver the message these days, and women are still armed from girlhood with the tools to “catch and keep a man”.

    Yes, it'll take a long, long time before society accepts that one size does not fit all, but at least we can say we tried to change it. I personally think giving birth to a book would be a lot harder than giving birth to a baby, so good luck with spreading the good message!

    PS. Good luck, too, M.E., and great to see the positive attitude to your new situation. You are free – enjoy it!

  9. M.E. Anders says:

    I'm a newbie to your blog, since I am a newly divorced woman. I've been enthralled by this world of spinsterlicious living and have been reveling in my new freedom. Your book is on my must-read list for 2012. 🙂

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