Synopses & Reviews
Born in Arkansas to a family of modest means, Helen Gurley Brown worked at countless secretarial jobs and was an advertising executive before writing the 1962 international bestseller Sex and the Single Girl, marrying the love of her life, becoming the diva of the New York magazine world, and editing Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years. In her farewell column in 1997, Brown offered her Cosmo readers three pieces of advice: every woman has something that makes her unique and gifted; men are not the enemy; and sex is among the best things in life. With these brief directives Brown summarized the philosophy that made her such an important and contested figure throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
Imagine the life of a single woman in 1962. Women were encouraged to attend college primarily to obtain an Mrs. degree, newspaper ads listed jobs by sex, women could only obtain credit through their husbands, and unmarried women became suspect by the time they reached their mid-twenties. Along came a firebrand named Helen Gurley Brown, who had remained single into her late thirties and who had the audacity to encourage her unmarried sisters not to grab a husband, or to hide their single status, but to live, instead, in what she called "superlative style." Her 1962 book, Sex and the Single Girl, became an overnight and international sensation for its frank look at single women's work lives, financial lives, and, of course, sex lives.
To conservatives, Brown's books and magazine released the single woman from all social and sexual constraints, making her a threat to the institution of marriage. To many in the women's liberation movement, Brown's views enhanced men's rather than women's lives by turning women into sexually available playmates rather than making them powerful in their own right. For her legion of fans, however, Helen Gurley Brown represented another path, one that let women pursue heterosexual relationships yet remain independent, work at being beautiful yet call themselves feminists.
Jennifer Scanlon's book is the first biography of Helen Gurley Brown, an icon of contemporary women's history and popular culture. Brown's irreverent and daring life and work challenge the stereotype of second-wave feminists as frumpy and humorless, while foreshadowing the sex-positive, lipstick-wearing--Cosmo-reading--third wave. Because Brown both bought into and utterly transformed advertising and consumer culture, this book will interest not only a female trade audience, but scholars in women's studies, American studies, popular culture studies, sociology, and history.
"Bad Girls Go Everywhere is a faithful presentation of the amazing Helen Gurley Brown and her much-deserved place in the pantheon of twentieth-century women who were part of the feminist revolution. Helen did her own thing, insisting on proving that sexual freedom, self-assertiveness, and raging ambition could pay off for females at the same time as they had mad sexy fun with men of all stripes. Scanlon doesn't stint on Helen's quirks, peculiarities, fetishes, dedication, her stringent stinginess and the shocks she administered to a staid magazine culture. HGB was in a class by herself and deserves this book! It's lots of fun." -- Liz Smith, syndicated columnist
"...thanks to Ms. Scanlon's careful and insightful study, Mrs. Brown has finally been accorded her due."--The Washington Times
"In her entertaining new biography of Ms. Brown, Bad Girls Go Everywhere, Jennifer Scanlon, a professor of gender and women's studies at Bowdoin College, charts her subject's rocketlike rise out of the Ozarks. She also argues, convincingly, for Ms. Brown as a feisty, pivotal and too easily dismissed pioneer of the American women's movement, one who dismayed more serious feminists with her breezy tone, her refusal to see men as the enemy and her belief that sex is not only great fun but also a 'powerful weapon' for single women."--New York Times
"For the past 40 years, as Jennifer Scanlon points out in Bad Girls Go Everywhere, her cracking new biography of Brown, serious feminist have derided the longtime Cosmopolitan editor's claim to a version of feminism. But Scanlon makes a solid case that, apart from her easy-to-satirize excesses, Brown is a genuinely important figure who pioneered a feminism that championed women as cheerful, self-empowered individualists, that held that 'every woman has something that makes her unique and gifted; pursuing beauty can be a delightful endeavor, not just a preoccupation; sex is among the best things in life; and men are not the enemy.'"--Naomi Wolf, The Washington Post
"Jennifer Scanlon delivers Helen Gurley Brown's 'delightfully knotty life story' in a neat and satisfying package.... this is not chick lit but cultural history, the first serious biography of the woman who, in Scanlon's view, 'ushered in and has long continued to define the feminist mainstream.'"--Florence King, The National Review
"In Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, Scanlon charts Brown's trajectory and provides a balanced, revealing analysis of her refusal to allow feminism to suppress sensuality during the second wave of women's liberation advanced by leaders like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem."--The Seattle Times
"In reading Jennifer Scanlon's well-researched Bad Girls Go Everywhere, one cannot come away without believing Brown was indeed a trailblazer for women and tireless advocate for her own brand of feminism.... a fascinating look at just how the original Cosmo Girl has worked tirelessly to get women to treat themselves well first. And if they wear a little lipstick and find a good man, all the better."--Chicago Sun-Times
"...this is a serious academic reconsideration of a figure who, Scanlon argues, has been slighted by feminist history, and deserves a place in its pantheon.... happy to see Brown getting her due as a pioneer of libidinal equality.... Scanlon's portrait reminds one it has never been easy to be both a woman and a person--that femininity (like masculinity) is, to some extent, a performance."--The New Yorker
"...in Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown...Scanlon posits Brown -- convincingly -- as a provocative pioneer of feminism's second wave.... Unlike Cosmo, Bad Girls is not a breezy read, but it's a well-researched corrective that puts 'lipstick feminism' in its proper, valuable -- and colorful -- place in modern women's history."--Barnes and Noble Review
"In Bad Girls Go Everywhere, the first, unauthorized biography of Brown, the notoriously opinionated editor emerges as a populist champion of the everywoman."--BookForum
"The author argues that, despite her notoriety during the movement's most turbulent decade, Brown 'has largely been left out of established histories of postwar feminism's emergence and ascendance.' This book--part biography and part cultural history of Brown's role in shaping contemporary ideas of career women and their sexuality--serves as a corrective to that historical omission.... An informed reassessment of Brown's public life, more satisfying as a cultural study than as a biography."--Kirkus Reviews
"Brown is not commonly cited as a feminist trailblazer, an error Scanlon corrects with real firepower in this incisive biography and explication of Brown's philosophy and accomplishments."--Booklist (starred review)
"Helen Gurley Brown, best known for her 32 years as editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, gets the full feminist icon treatment in this lively, engaging biography from gender studies professor Scanlon.... Scanlon skillfully avoids caricature, depicting instead an intelligent and complex woman who, for all her talk of wild sex and steamy affairs, remained happily (and monogamously) married, lived as frugally as possible, encouraged women's independence, and frequently educated readers on vital issues like contraception, queer culture, abortion and rape."--Publishers Weekly
"Bad Girls Go Everywhere delivers an 'intelligent, rounded picture' of a still controversial flag bearer."--The Week
"...Brown's life is a great story, and Scanlon tells it clearly and without academic jargon."--The Weekly Standard
"Brown's life is a particularly rich, interesting subject, and Scanlon does a good job of recounting her transformation from ambitious working girl to influential promoter of the power of the feminine and, in Scanlon's view, feminist consciousness. Highly recommended."--Library Journal (starred review)
"Scanlon's lucid take on the role HGB played in 'women's lib' long before the phrase came into vogue is immensely refreshing and goes a long way to counterbalance the mockery the poor woman has subsequently endured.... [This] biography, both scholarly and readable, is an excellent treatise on the subject."--Irish Times
"Jennifer Scanlon's magnificent and exhaustive biography effectively makes the case for Gurley Brown taking her place in the feminist pantheon, alongside such better-known heroines as Betty Friedan. [Brown's] kind of practical feminism, seasoned with a heavy dose of pragmatism and driven not so much by ideology as by necessity, is in many ways less pure - but all the more human and appealing for it."--The Times (London)
"The first to focus on Helen Gurley Brown, Scanlon's intriguing biography accords Brown a place among the early leaders of the second wave of the feminist movement. In Bad Girls Go Everywhere, Scanlon's impressively researched portrait shows us that Helen Gurley Brown is a woman of fascinating contradictions, carving out her own unique philosophy of pragmatic feminism, a philosophy that defines the lives of millions of women today. Scanlon's perceptive account of this shrewd public figure tracks the collision between sexual politics and commerce, providing new insight into the social forces that shape modern life. To read it is to better understand how feminism operates in our day-to-day lives."--monstersandcritics.com
"Scanlon's lucid, authoritative biography of the misunderstood icon and feminist trailblazer Helen Gurley Brown is a welcome corrective to those who wrote Brown off as insufficiently political or serious. This book demonstrates that living an independent, brave, and full life is the essential revolutionary act for women." -- Jennifer Baumgardner, author of Manifesta, Look Both Ways and Abortion and Life
"Helen Gurley Brown reimagined work as sexy, sex as vital, and singlehood as an adventure to be savored. Few feminists think of the woman who transformed Cosmopolitan into the 'fun, fearless, female' cliché it is today as one of 'us,' but after reading Jennifer Scanlon's absorbing, comprehensive, and very enjoyable biography, perhaps we'll all reconsider." -- Andi Zeisler, co-founder and editorial/creative director of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture
"Scanlon's shrewd biography reveals a woman of contradictions...a strategically racy cultural pioneer."--O Magazine
"Scanlon is to be applauded for her revisionist approach. The book moves at a cracking pace and is mercifully free of academic jargon."--Liz Hoggard, Evening Standard (London)
When reviewing the great figures of feminism, few would call to mind the creator of the Cosmo Girl, but as Jennifer Scanlon argues in her fascinating biography Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown
, the longtime editor of Cosmopolitan
and diva of the New York magazine world powerfully changed the way modern culture views the single woman.
From Brown's first book, Sex and the Single Girl, a bold precursor to today's unapologetic Sex in the City, to her editing of the most widely read women's magazine in the world, Brown defied traditional mores to proclaim the unmarried woman's right to happiness. The first woman to publicly say there was another role available in the conservative context of the 1960s, Brown offered American women a revelation that resulted in a revolution. Scanlon tracks the trajectory of Brown's career as a frank, fearless champion for women, from her support for abortion rights to her demands that freedom of choice for women include everything from fashion to politics, showing how Brown has advocated for women while achieving great commercial success.
The first to focus on Helen Gurley Brown, Scanlon's intriguing biography accords Brown a place among the early leaders of the second wave of the feminist movement. In Bad Girls Go Everywhere, Scanlon's impressively researched portrait shows us that Helen Gurley Brown is a woman of fascinating contradictions, carving out her own unique philosophy of pragmatic feminism, a philosophy that defines the lives of millions of women today. Scanlon's perceptive account of this shrewd public figure tracks the collision between sexual politics and commerce, providing new insight into the social forces that shape modern life. To read it is to better understand how feminism operates in our day-to-day lives.
About the Author
is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College. An award-winning teacher and scholar, she has published widely on consumer culture, popular culture, and women's history. She is the author of Inarticulate Longings:
The Ladies' Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture
; and editor of Significant Contemporary American Feminists
and The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader
. She lives in Brunswick, Maine.
Table of Contents
1 Growing Up Gurley, and a Girl
2. Work Life, Romantic Entanglements
3. David Brown
4. Sex and the Single Girl
5. Sensationalist Literature and Expert Advice: Selling Sex and the Single Girl
6. Sexy from the Start: The Early Years of Second Wave Feminism
7. Packaging a Message--and a Messenger
8. Normal Like Me: The Single Girl on Television
9. Good Girls Go to Heaven--Bad Girls Go Everywhere: Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmopolitan
10. Sexual Liberation On Whose Terms? Defining the Second Wave
11. Aging, Resisting, Redefining
12. An Editor Steps Down, Reluctantly