I still remember when I found a used copy of Helen Gurley Brown’s landmark 1962 bestseller, “Sex and the Single Girl,” nearly 40 years after its heyday.
By then it was the era of Carrie Bradshaw and “Sex and the City,” but as a newly single woman myself (fresh from a broken engagement), I reveled in Helen Gurley Brown’s campy, fearless tips about making the most of your freedom—and your assets.
In an era of Kennedy-esque elegance and Marilyn’s pinup appeal, Brown—who died Monday, at the juicy age of 90—once admitted that she wasn’t “bosomy or brilliant.” She had grown up in a poor family. She dubbed herself a “mouseburger.”
Yet Brown unleashed an era of liberation for women that was unprecedented. And despite 32 years as the racy editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, it wasn’t just a sexual revolution.
Above all Brown championed women’s self-sufficiency. “A job is where the money, the success and the clout come in,” she once said. She worked hard for the glamorous life she created, and she believed Everywoman could do the same.
A year after “Sex and the Single Girl” came out, Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” officially launching the feminist movement’s intellectual side.
But I often wonder whether Friedan would have gotten as much traction, if Helen Gurley Brown hadn’t blazed a trail first—wearing fishnets and a mini-dress, no less.