Author and publisher Helen Gurley Brown passed away yesterday after a brief illness. She was 90.
After a successful career as a copywriter, Brown came to international prominence half a century ago with the release of her book Sex & The Single Girl which, for better or for worse, played a significant role in fomenting the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
In 1965, Brown took over the reins of Cosmopolitan magazine and would remain in that role for more than three decades until she was unceremoniously ousted in 1997.
Brown was derided equally by both conservatives and liberal feminists. Case in point. Regarding Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court twenty years ago she was asked if there was sexual harassment at Cosmo. She said in jest, “I certainly hope so. The problem is that we don’t have enough men to go around for harassing.” At around the same time, Brown also came to the defense former liberal Republican Senator Bob Packwood after multiple accusations of sexual harrassment. She remarked, “My darling, would you please remember that he was one of the congressmen who supported legal abortion. He was one of us, so we have to forgive him for being a jerk.” These remarks would in part lead to her dismissal from Cosmo five years later.
Yet what is interesting about the Packwood remarks is how similar they were to remarks made at the end of the 1990s by Gloria Steinem, a frequent critic of Brown. During the Monica Lewinsky Scandal, Steinem wrote an op-ed in The New York Times which became known as the “first grope is free” defense. Yet Steinem was never ostracized for her defense of Clinton as Brown was for her defense of Packwood and Thomas. The only difference is Brown made the mistake of defending Republicans and for that she was a bad girl.
But Helen Gurley Brown had a long life and it took her everywhere.
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