Thursday, August 16, 2012

Morning Thoughts: Helen Gurly Brown

It's the morning of what promises to be a beautiful day; warm but with low humidity.  I'm sitting by the pond enjoying the prospect of a low key morning with nothing scheduled before noon.

I've been thinking about Helen Gurly Brown, the well-known editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine, who died earlier this week.  In the early 1960's she wrote Sex and the Single Girl, which put forth the then-novel idea that single women could have full, rewarding lives without marrying.   I was just entering my early teens and did quite a lot of babysitting on the military base where I lived.  Being an avid reader, I'd regularly browse the shelves of the homes I was working in after the children were asleep and often found interesting reading material such as Penthouse, The Kinsey Report, and-- my favorite --Sex and the Single Girl.  At that age I loved advice books, and Brown's book was first and foremost an advice book giving all sorts of pointers on how a single girl could have a rich and interesting life.  In her words:

     "The message was: So you're single. You can still have sex.  You can have a great life.  And if you marry, don't just sponge off a man or be the gold-medal-winning mother.  Don't use men to get want you want in life--get it yourself."

In Brown's view, paid work was the key element in creating such a life.  She taught "girls" how to be successful in business: Get into an entry level job, work hard, do more than what was required,  be nice to everyone, seize every opportunity that came your way, and enjoy your success.  You have to remember that way back in the 1960's, it wasn't the norm for women to be in professional, well-paid jobs.   Brown was one of the voices of the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960's that propelled women into the workforce and into colleges to prepare for professional work.

During this period I was a young teen.  My age coupled with my Mormon/Military upbringing made me a sponge for soaking up the new ideas about what women could do and be.  Helen Gurly Brown was one of the great influences on me as a teen, along with Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, and Gloria Steinem, editor of the feminist magazine Ms.

Brown's later writings, and especially the messages she delivered through Cosmopolitan, never affected me the way Sex and the Single Girl did, and over time I began to see her coyness with men, her devotion to pursuing youth and fashion, and her total lack of interest in family and children as something sad rather then something to admire.  But there's no denying that she had a great influence on my life.  So in honor of her passing, I'm sharing a few choice quotes from Helen Gurly Brown.

"What you have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.” 

“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”

"I hope I have convinced you that the only thing that separates successful people from the ones who aren't is the willingness to work very, very hard."
"Beauty can't amuse you, but brain work--reading, writing, thinking--can."  

"Women want what men want --to be treated equitably, to be cherished, respected, adored, and encouraged in their work."

"Men are not the enemy; a woman is not a 'victim.'  Only laziness, fear, and not getting started with goals can keep you grounded."

"There is no substitute for brains plus charm and hard work." 

And last but not least, one of my favorites....

"Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody." 

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