With the passing of Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan Magazine’s provocative editor from 1965 to 1997, I couldn’t help but immerse myself in reading up on this revolutionary woman who was both idealized and vilified by her own sex. Helen Gurley Brown authored in 1962, Sex and the Single Girl, which condoned not only sex before marriage but adulteress sex. In addition, Helen reveals that in order to have sex, with a single or married man, one must dress the part. Helen herself preferred high heels with mini-skirts and dresses. She wrote about sex and dating and then wrote about dressing for sex and dating. Today her narrative seems to objectify women more than to liberate women, which was not her intention. Before you get on your soapbox and administer your criticisms of Helen’s message, remember this, it was the 60s. The sexual revolution of the 60s released women from Dior’s New Look of the 50s.
The corseted wasp-waist was replaced by Mary Quant’s mini-skirts and shapeless tunics. In the past change in fashion occurred at a much slower pace. It was the 60s that catapulted women from a strict fashion sensibility to the free-spirited and mod look of the 60s…and that was no minor shift.
Yes, there was Helen Gurley Brown’s book, Sex and the Single Girl and then there was Mary Quant’s mini-skirt, but before all of that there was the pill. In 1960, the pill became available to women who wanted to have sex but did not want to have children. The pill was not readily available to single women but single women clearly wanted to have unapologetic sex just like men had for centuries. The freedom the pill offered women was profound. In an instant, women could have all the sex they wanted and then write about it. Fashion became more suggestive with shorter lengths and style was being created on the streets as women dressed in ways to suggest that not only did they have sex, but they wanted more. The pill was a step in giving women a level playing field. It is unfortunate that 50 years later the level playing field is being refereed by some who believe that women don’t deserve one.