Elevate Difference

Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown

I read Cosmopolitan. I have even been known to love it. I am the very working professional who Helen Gurley Brown addressed in her endless array of public statements about and to women. Now these ideas are wrapped in a new, critically written package. I am thankful, through Jennifer Scanlon’s recovery of Brown, that my infatuation of Cosmopolitan doesn’t make me unfeminist.

Where Gloria Steinem and others once tried to take over Brown’s offices at _Cosmopolitan, _declaring her and the magazine anti-feminist, Scanlon is reclaiming Brown and her space in history as an ally of feminism. This space is, according to Scanlon, also a space Helen Gurley Brown crafted in such a way as to make her timeless and ahead of her time.

Bad Girls Go Everywhere takes a unique approach to biography by creating a nexus of Brown’s public history, her published statements, and Scanlon’s own cultural and historical criticisms to weave together an understanding of feminism that is perfectly befitting our historic moment. We live in a time where iconic references to feminism are not as simple as a bra burning or an equal rights protest. Rather, they encompass images of feminist action as varied as a Guerrilla Girls rally to the Coyote Ugly bar in Nashville, and Scanlon’s recovery of Brown as more feminist friend than enemy, and unique in her personal activism, seems more than appropriate.

Bad Girls Go Everywhere approaches Brown and her history as one that “has largely been left out of established histories of postwar feminism’s emergence and ascendance.” Scanlon argues that Brown’s own political voice is one that was “more likely practiced by single women than by housewives, and by working-class secretaries rather than middle-class college students.” Brown’s Sex and The Single Girl is framed as political simply with the gesture of aligning it with the publication of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique just one year later

It is with this gesture that Brown is reclaimed as a feminist trailblazer. Scanlon recognizes Brown’s life as worthy of examination for many reasons, but perhaps the most important is what an analysis of Brown’s life and work might add to fill in the gaps of understanding between the second and third waves of feminism. Bad Girls Go Everywhere is particularly useful and timely both as an incredibly captivating understanding of an extremely influential life, but also because of the conflagration of feminist ideas that collide in mass media under the moniker of third wave (and even fourth wave) feminism. Scanlon’s work is outstanding in that it doesn’t simply position Brown’s life as a history that helps to tell the story, but critically aligns Brown with notable feminist moments and fixtures in order to shine a light on a woman who once was so troubling to feminism.

This fresh look at Brown honors her work in a theoretical way that brings not only an excellent example of how to “do” contemporary feminist writing to the table, it also brings forth a new version of an old feminist.

Written by: Dr. Julie E. Ferris, September 6th 2009

You have to admire her for publicly pushing the idea that women deserve sexual satisfaction, especially in an era where that was considered anti-feminine and scandalous. We have a lot to thank her for!