Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, the Woman Behind Cosmopolitan Magazine

Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, the Woman Behind Cosmopolitan Magazine

by Jennifer Scanlon


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Helen Gurley Brown called herself a "mouseburger: a young woman of average looks, with some intelligence, more likely working in a job than pursuing a career." But as the author of the revolutionary Sex and the Single Girl and the longtime editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Brown changed the way women thought about sex, money, and their bodies in a way that resonates in our culture today. Jennifer Scanlon offers a mesmerizing picture of an often overlooked figure, relating Brown's escape from her humble beginnings in the Ozarks to her eyebrow-raising exploits as a young woman in New York, and her late-blooming career as the world's first "lipstick feminist."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143118121
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/31/2010
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 592,779
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jennifer Scanlon is a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College. An award-winning teacher and scholar, she has published widely on consumer culture and women’s history.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 Growing Up Gurley, and a Girl 1

2 Work Life, Romantic Entanglements 24

3 David Brown 42

4 Sex and the Single Girl 60

5 Sensationalist Literature and Expert Advice: Selling Sex and the Single Girl 83

6 Sexy From the Start: The Early Years of Second-Wave Feminism 98

7 Packaging a Message-and a Messenger 117

8 Normal Like Me: The Single Girl on Television 138

9 Good Girls go to Heaven-Bad Girls go Everywhere: Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmopolitan 149

10 Sexual Liberation on Whose Terms?: Defining the Second Wave 175

11 Aging, Resisting, Redefining 201

12 An Editor Steps Down, Reluctantly 222

Acknowledgments 237

Notes 241

Index 277

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Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
LeslieMorganSteiner More than 1 year ago
Curvaceous, suspiciously symmetrical cleavage bursting out of a tight bodice, heavy eye makeup, long lush hair...a bod and a come-hither look that begged for ravishment.Those Cosmo cover girls once represented, for me, the epitome of female sexuality. At the time, I also found it flattering when my boyfriend forbid me to wear a bikini. So take my view with a large grain of post-feminist cynicism. But even so - as a young girl just beginning to understand my sexuality, I was captivated by Cosmo girls for good reason. This book explains exactly why. Bad Girls Go Everywhere traces the life of Helen Gurley Brown, creator of those uber-sexy covers as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Author Jennifer Scanlon, a women's studies professor at Bowdoin College, describes how Brown, a poor Ozarks girl, hit the New York City magazine scene just as birth control and legalized abortion freed women to enjoy sex without constant pregnancy risks. In every issue of Cosmo and her landmark book, Sex and The Single Girl, Helen Gurley Brown extolled the power of women's sexuality unencumbered by maternity (Brown never had children, so she knew). Birth control = freedom sounds like a simple equation. However, access to the Pill, abortion and other forms of pregnancy prevention resulted in critical and complicated freedoms that allowed women to educate ourselves, pursue longterm careers and time the births (and amounts) of children in our lives. To appreciate the importance of Brown's message, think for a minute about your life without birth control. What kind of balance can anyone have if you had a baby every two years since you became sexually active? Being candid here, for me that would mean at age 43 I'd have close to 15 children instead of three. Goodbye, English degree from Harvard. Ditto for my MBA from Wharton and 10 years of work experience at Johnson & Johnson and the Washington Post. Doubtful I'd have written two books or this column. And perhaps most important, during my four years with my physically abusive ex-husband, I probably would have had at least two babies instead of zero, dooming me and my children to a lifetime of physical and psychological torture. Goodbye, second chances. Goodbye, happy endings. On the surface, Helen Gurley Brown celebrated women's bodies. But the sexy Cosmo girl was as much a metaphor as New York's Statue of Liberty. She represented women's choices, our freedom in finances, careers, relationships, lives. Move over, Thomas Jefferson - Helen Gurley Brown's signature should be on the Declaration of Independence. Instead, life being what it is, she had to settle for her signature being in every issue of Cosmo, another declaration of independence. By Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Crazy Love and Mommy Wars Originally published on Mommy Track'd (
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl saved my life when I read it at age 13 by inspiring and empowering me to strive to become all I could be. There were other options for me besides suicide, and HGB showed me what to do to live a rich, full life. Scanlon writes that formal feminists derided Brown as fluffy and detrimental to the movement, but that Brown prevailed with women who were not college-educated and who had to start work as underlings. True: although I was a member of NOW and other womens' rights groups, Brown had more appeal to me than the judgmental, dictatorial Gloria Steinem. Maybe we "underlings" were tired of being judged and dictated to and felt sympathy for HGB as she stayed true to her -- and our -- vision of what a woman could be. Scanlon's research is thorough and entertaining. Although HGB has been forthcoming about her own life, Scanlon gives us lots of background, from her bleak beginnings to the heights and denouement of her later years. Helen, thanks for all you've done. Jennifer, more books please.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For me, the book is too dry and reads more like a thesis paper. Given the meaty detail of a rich life lived, the author had alot to work with here in telling the story of HGB and chose to tell it in almost bullet style writing. I'm struggling to get through the boring timeline details and facts that dont seem necessary for the reader to know (unless you are a professor grading a paper). Im doing alot of skimming to get to the good parts. Not the book i was hoping to read. But yes, HGB was a trailblazer!
kristenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This would be a great choice for an ambitious book club, because I spent a lot of time going "Yes, but..." and frustrated that there was no one around to actually discuss it with. I did read Sex and the Single Girl about a year ago, which provides some really helpful context. The academic defending-a-thesis tone of this isn't too heavy, although it leads to some distractingly odd (ivory tower?) statements (by the author, not by Brown) about things like why women dye their hair, what is a healthy daily calorie count, and what a grain elevator does. Lots of interesting cultural history and context, and I ILL'd several books from the bibliography. Love that she suggested a tv series set in an advertising agency and the studio said no one would be interested in that setting. Totally unsurprising that Cosmopolitan is currently most successful in Russia. Would have liked more explanation of why she thought college never would have worked for her. Impressive that she tried (if not very hard) to get positive pieces on abortion and homosexuality published way before their time and insisted on leaving in the career and finance columns even when reader polls said they didn't care. Useful discussions of how class privilege enables social protest, but it still seemed like Scanlon was too lenient with the whole courtesan thing, not to mention the infidelity angle. Scanlon was also surprisingly accepting of the 'universal' fear of the 'ravages of aging.' And what the heck was with the spoon bending?Now to go read the Caitlin Flanagan review in The Atlantic that's generating so much discussion.
aardvark2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was an avid reader of Cosmopolitan magazine in college and have read most of Helen Gurley Brown¿s books, so I was delighted to find that there was finally a biography of this interesting woman. I found the book uneven reading, though. Instead of being a straight biography, parts of the book read like a textbook, attempting to relate Brown¿s beliefs to the feminist movement, and comparing and contrasting her ideas with those of other feminists like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Analysis of her stands on working women, abortion, birth control, sexism, and other feminist issues seem to occupy an inordinate amount of space in the book and, to me, come across as somewhat dry and uninteresting compared to the straight biographical sections, which I found very absorbing. The author is, according to the book jacket, a professor of gender and women¿s studies, so it is easy to see where her interest lies. There are very few photos included in the book¿I would like to have seen more. Worthwhile reading for fans of Helen Gurley Brown.
mahallett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i agree exactly with aardvark.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kaeveland More than 1 year ago
I just didn't care for it...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago