Siyonara, Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

The Miss Havisham of patriarchy enforcers.  Photo: The Daily What

Someone on my twitter feed was angry at the  “piggy” obit for Helen Gurley Brown in the New York Times, because “snide is not the same as clever”.

Not sure what the reasoning is there.   Does she mean this?

She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.

Or this?

“She went on to hold a string of secretarial jobs — 17 by her own count — and discovered the measure of security that sex could bring. At every office, or so it seemed, there were bosses eager to fondle and dandle. In exchange, there might be a fur or an apartment or the wherewithal to keep her family going a little longer.”

Or:

“Ms. Brown was not shy about disclosing the fact that in her 32 years with the magazine, her husband wrote all the cover lines.”

Or this:

In the 1990s, when prominent men like Justice Clarence Thomas and Senator Robert Packwood were facing accusations of sexual harassment, Ms. Brown publicly disdained the charges, arguing that sexual attention from men is almost always flattering.

Should no woman ever be criticized under any circumstances, even if that woman spent a long lucrative career in the beauty-industrial complex?  Is it antifeminist to say that Brown made big bucks by sleeping her way to the top, “serving her husband like a geisha”, and inducing anxiety in readers in order to sell them expensive, useless beauty related shit?  While insisting that the sex class is nothing but happy fun times?

Is it “snide” if we point out some of the many ways that Helen Gurley Brown made the world a shittier place for women?

Margalit Fox, the obit writer, states: “Ms. Brown routinely described herself as a feminist, but whether her work helped or hindered the cause of women’s liberation has been publicly debated for decades.”

This isn’t all that hard to understand, unless you’re one of those women who think things like stripping and wearing high heels liberate you.  If you’re one of those, congratulations!  You’re the same kind of “feminist” Helen Gurley Brown was.

And if you’re one of those, everything looks confusing when you’re wandering the shadowy maze of self-delusion.  A simple clue that may help:  If what you’re doing is so empowering, why aren’t the men lining up to do it?  Don’t they love to feel powerful?  So why aren’t they tottering around in five-inch heels?  Why don’t they slap on a layer of clown paint every day? Why aren’t they engrossed in magazine articles with titles like “How To Trick Her into A Commitment”?  Would a man brag about how he serves his wife “like a geisha”?

When you have little or no actual power, and have to get by on crumbs of attention or approval from those who do have it, it’s a sufficiently painful situation that it’s very tempting to lie to yourself about it.   When you start to lie to others about it, you’re throwing those others under the oppression bus.

Helen Gurley Brown may not be to blame for struggling to get by in a world that hates women – but she didn’t just survive, she prospered by the perpetration of oppressive beauty standards.   She took pride in an emaciated figure that other women kill themselves trying to attain, and made endless body-shaming comments about other women.  Her magazine is full of overpriced luxury crap, stupid sex tricks, and endless articles advising women to do whatever men want, no matter how humiliating or degrading it is.

So when a handmaiden of the patriarchy shuffles off this mortal coil, are all women obliged to bow their heads in reverence, or be stung by the “antifeminist” lash?  And if so, is it because Brown really deserves respect for keeping women down, or is it because we’re expected to love our oppressors unconditionally?

9 thoughts on “Siyonara, Helen Gurley Brown

  1. I should have paid her more attention over the years, I guess I never really considered her as anything but Helen Gurley Brown, period. Most because of the industry she was involved in of which had little if any appeal to me and not because am male. If I have would paid more attention I surely would be more in tune as you are. I thank you for showing me the light. Am curious when say world who do you mean? Do think the world today hates women or are indifferent? Indifference seems to be the plaque in many cultures around the world. I hope you get some interesting discourse on this as it is over due given the ills of countries around the world. This needs to be raised now more than ever to keep things moving forward. Just when you think things are moving from negative to positive along comes an economic downturn and I fear a haze is drifting back in.

    • It’s pretty obvious to me that the world hates women. This is much more obvious when one is a woman than if one is not, but there are still quite a few women out there who have no idea how much the world hates them.

      HGB lived a far longer and richer life than many of the benighted women who follow her beauty/fashion/relationship advice will. While she was technically a human being, I just can’t bring myself to don the sackcloth and paint myself with ashes for somebody who would have openly hated me had she ever met me in person, because I don’t fit her miserably narrow template of what a woman should be.

      • Actually, I don’t blame you one bit for feeling that way you do towards her. To be truthful, am always skeptical of those who label themselves as activist for this an that cause. Just curious, if you think there is one person ‘today’ who would standout as a modern day Helen Gurley Brown? And. Who might be a modern day opposite of HGB who seems outwardly someone you could identify with? – I mean it could some completely obscure from the mass media – I know for myself, a while back on a friends site, she had some poems and stories sent to her to be posted on her site from an Iranian women poet. I thought upon reading the pieces, how this was women who see’s as what they are an not how should be. If that makes any sense at all.

  2. She looks creepy.
    Never heard of her and couldn’t care less for people like this, I wish more people would not care about her.

    What bugs me the most is that there are way too many definitions of what a woman is or is supposed to be. As a woman myself, I should know who I am am but I can’t define myself, I just am and do whatever I feel like (and I don’t give a shit really -oh excuse my language, a woman shouldn’t talk like this, lol). My life. Period.
    The hardest part is to fight an idea (about a woman) that is just made up by some ignorant people like this creepy ghost.

    Ok, gotta go, my husband needs me :)

    • I don’t criticize womens’ appearances in general, but I couldn’t help pointing out the difference between what Brown herself was and what she was selling.

      Reminds me of how almost none of the high-ranking Nazis looked like the Aryan archetype they were so fond of.

      I wonder if this isn’t just ironic. Did the awareness of their own inadequacy drive these people to overcompensate by forcing their fascist ideals of The Perfect Being on others?

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