Yesterday I did an interview on CBC’s On the Coast, guest-hosted by Matthew Lazin-Ryder, on the death of Helen Gurley Brown and what her legacy means for feminism. You can listen to it here but you’ll have to skip ahead to just after the 1:00:00 mark after clicking the “More” button (audio will start immediately):
When you’re doing radio interviews the time always goes much faster than you expected, especially on a topic that you could go on and on about. So I do feel like I left some things out of this interview. The main thing I wish I’d mentioned was that her advice in her book and Cosmo was very much geared not just to straight women but white women. I also wish there was time to explore in greater detail her devotion to consumerism and the idea that any woman can succeed if she works hard enough. Although HGB herself did achieve success coming from a modest background, she fails to consider how other forms of inequality (sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, having responsibility for child or elder care) impact one’s ability to succeed.
As I researched HGB I became more and more fascinated with the ways the things she said contradicted themselves. For example she preached financial independence and not settling for a relationship that does not provide romantic and sexual fulfillment, but then also is famous for saying: “My own philosophy is if you’re not having sex, you’re finished.”
She also said: “Beauty can’t amuse you, but brainwork—reading, writing, thinking—can,” but in her later life talked frankly about her plastic surgery and advocated cosmetic procedures and weight loss, saying: “One of the paramount reasons for staying attractive is so you can have somebody to go to bed with.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Helen Gurley Brown and her complex views and legacy, I recommend checking out: