Jennifer Scanlon

 

On her book Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown

Cover Interview of May 29, 2009

A close-up

Rorotoko’s readers may find Helen Gurley Brown’s attempts to “queer up” her publications interesting.  As time went on, Brown learned that equating sex with heterosexuality sold magazines and paid her salary, but her own inclination around treating sexual issues was far more progressive.  In both Sex and the Single Girl and its sequel, Sex and the Office, Brown attempted to include information about homosexuality, which she considered a key element of office life.  Her desire to address how women really lived and not “merely the ways arbiters of society would have them live” mandated, in her mind, attention to gay and lesbian life.

In her nearly-final draft of Sex and the Office, for example, Brown included a lesbian seduction tale which, after a great deal of back and forth, her editor/publisher excised.  Brown repeatedly expressed her frustration with his decision, feeling that what she portrayed was, simply, grown-up sexual behavior.  Later, in her attempt to take over the then-ailing Cosmopolitan, Brown returned to lesbian life.  In her mock-up of what the magazine would look like under her direction, she included a proposed article titled “I Love Girls Like You Love Men” and another she hoped to commission from Albert Ellis about how a woman could tell if she were dating a gay man—and what to do about it.

Over the years at Cosmo, Brown had run-ins with Hearst executives who worried that her pieces, whether they covered heterosexual life or, occasionally, lesbian life, were too “gamey.”  Brown operated in the world of mass media, responding most often brilliantly to its demands and restrictions.  Nevertheless, had she had free reign, we might well have had a different magazine, one that truly celebrated women’s multiple sexualities.