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Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown 1st Edition

3.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195342055
ISBN-10: 0195342054
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 (Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies' Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture). Brown invented the term "mouseburger" to describe herself-a "young woman of average looks, with some intelligence, more likely working in a job than pursuing a career"-but grew into a New York media diva after finding her niche penning women's articles and, later, best-selling books like Sex and the Single Girl. Combing girlish banter with a frank, no-nonsense attitude toward sex, Gurley's trademark voice gained her popularity and, eventually, the editorial gig at Cosmopolitan. There, she resuscitated the flailing publication with a sexy, transformative makeover. While contemporary 1960s society considered Brown the antithesis of feminist stars like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, Brown's push for freedom in the office and the bedroom presaged feminism's approaching third wave. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. In the early second-wave feminism of the 1960s, Helen Gurley Brown made it her mission to argue that "good" girls were independent, hard-working, successful, and perfectly happy not being wives or mothers, instead enjoying casual sex, wearing make-up and high heels, and receiving expensive gifts from their lovers, some of whom may be married to others. Scanlon (gender & women's studies, Bowdoin Coll.), a feminist scholar, has written the first biography of the famous Cosmopolitan editor, whose views were certainly considered unconventional by both general society and the emerging women's liberation movement. As Scanlon's timely book shows, we're likely to be familiar with Brown and her famed "Cosmo girl" through their latter-day embodiment in characters in Mad Men and Sex and the City. 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.—Theresa Kintz, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195342054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195342055
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,765,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Helen Gurley Brown is a "bad girl" in the very best sense. She built her spectacular career on challenging the status quo, especially for women who had jobs outside the home and were expected to respect the limits of the glass ceiling pressing down on their heads.

Jennifer Scanlon's revealing biography portrays Helen as a pioneer feminist who not only encouraged young women to enjoy themselves in and out of bed but also supported safe and legal abortion, equal pay, and successful careers based on solid achievements.

At the same time, Helen could be controversial. For instance, she was not opposed to single women having affairs with married men who could help their careers. And she had a bit of a fetish about staying ultra-thin. (I know this well because I wrote "The Dieter's Notebook" column for Cosmo for several years.)

Yet because Helen kept her fingers on the pulse of a much larger group of women than did high-profile feminist leaders with less room for men in their lives, she expanded feminism. She was the one helping women to move forward while still enjoying their lovers and husbands as well as their own good looks and their rewarding careers.

Carrie Bradshaw and her friends are at least as much the daughters of Helen Gurley Brown as of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Dare I suggest that so, in important ways, is the chic, lively, accomplished Michele Obama? Read the book and decide for yourself.
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Format: Hardcover
Having worked in the magazine industry, I find HGB fascinating. This book, however, wasn't for me. I don't want to take away from the author's accomplishment; judging by the number of end notes, the author read every shred of information saved in HGB's papers. The book reads like a thesis on HGB's contribution to the women's movement and how she was the original Candace Bushnell/"Sex in the City" woman. I was hoping for something more about her as a person and magazine legend and how she got from point A to point B.
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Format: Hardcover
I saw this book sitting on the library shelf and then memories flooded back: the first few issues of Cosmo were so controversial. We'd hear people say, "Nobody in New York reads Cosmo; it's just a fantasy for young women in the boonies." I remember when we had the big discussion about the Cosmo centerfold. Now it's like, "Who cares?"

The book jacket identifies Jennifer Scanlon as a women's studies professor, so it's not surprising to find meticulously referenced details of every aspect of Helen Gurley Brown's life. For ordinary readers, these details will be way too much. I got bogged down in the background of Helen's childhood.

A major premise behind this book is that Helen Gurley Brown deserves attention as part of the history of women, at least in the US. Yet it's hard to see her in the same realm as, say Gloria Steinem. Steinem created her own role in the women's movement; Helen Gurley Brown held a job. The debate between the two now seems quaint and irrelevant. I wasn't even aware that it was going on at the time.

What comes through most is Helen's drive and ambition. She had a true "whatever it takes" attitude, even when the "whatever" croosed the line for many women. In the end, the real story seems less about her contribution to feminism than about how she managed to go from a hardscdrabble Arkansas background to a glittering New York professional career.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviewer who said that much of this reads like a women's studies thesis, and that the first half of the book was hard to get through and a bit dry. (Do we really need yet another summary of Betty Friedan's contributions, and of the sexual repression and double-standard of the 50s that HGB was reacting to?) I would also add that much of the first part of the book was simply a rehash of stuff that HGB said in Sex and the Single Girl -- so I kept saying to myself, "Yeah, yeah, I already know this!", and wondered whether I'd even want to finish it. (HGB has already written so extensively about her life that, in some ways, a bio by someone else is a bit superfluous!) However, the book improved a lot in the second half - after HGB became editor of Cosmo. Ms. Scanlon has a lot of interesting insights about why HGB did so well with Cosmo, the politics of the magazine industry, and other things. The book does suffer from the fact that HGB did not participate in it. But on the whole, a competent and balanced job -- certainly not a "dishing-the-dirt" kind of book.
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Format: Hardcover
Before Mary Richards and Ann Marie (of That Girl fame), before Gloria Steinem and Candace Bushnell, there was a different sort of champion for the single girl: Helen Gurley Brown.

You may know her as the long-time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, but as Jennifer Scanlon recounts in her very entertaining biography of HGB, Bad Girls Go Everywhere, she's also a prolific writer, media maven, and feminist (of sorts) that was way ahead of her time.

I picked up Scanlon's book after reading about it in my college alumni newsletter (Scanlon is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College), thinking it would be a fun, "Summer" read. What surprised me was that it was much more academic in nature - providing fascinating insights into both gender roles, the media landscape, and pop culture in the 1960s - but still eminently readable, like one of Carrie Bradshaw's columns.

What I found so interesting:

The paperback wasn't introduced until 1939. Before that, few people owned books, as hard covers were too expensive. The paperback democratized reading in America! I'm now interested to read another book Scanlon cites in her notes, Two Bit Culture: the Paperbacking of America.

Helen Gurley came from humble beginnings in Arkansas, which taught her to live frugally and use her - ahem - feminine wiles to get what she wanted in life. She was (and is) a huge advocate for working, independent women.

She spent years as a secretary (one of the few professional roles available to women in the 1950s) before her employer at ad shop Foote Cone Belding noticed her writing skills an made her an advertising copywriter.

She played the field for years, celebrating her singledom and advocating for other women to follow suit.
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