Jennifer Scanlon


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

Cover Interview of May 28, 2009


My attempt is to open up discussions of feminist history, to broaden our analysis of the second wave of feminism.  Bad Girls Go Everywhere makes a case that the girly girls, or in this case “Gurley girls,” of this era form a little-studied but significant group of feminists.  More radical feminists may have winced at the “please your man” elements of Brown’s message, but her fans found inspiration in her brand of liberation.  Bad Girls includes the voices of many of those fans, who saw Brown as the loyal sister and friend who cheered them regardless of the ways in which their lives met anyone else’s standards.  Ultimately, then, the book helps us understand and appreciate what we might call the feminist mainstream.

The book also makes the case that Helen Gurley Brown provides one of the most important links between the second and the third waves of feminism.  Many in the third wave, “lipstick,” Sex and the City feminist movement see themselves reacting to second wave positions on sexuality, power, and culture.  Some in the third wave focus on prioritizing sexual pleasure over sexual danger.  Others enjoy the varied performances of gender, including femininity and masculinity, available to them in contemporary culture.  Still others reclaim “girl” as they attempt to make feminism more fun if not more youthful.  Many write about and even celebrate the enormous contradictions they experience in their attempts to live a feminist life.  More than second wave feminists, they argue, they accept living in mainstream worlds, acknowledge and understand the diversity of women’s lives, tolerate and even enjoy heterosexuality, refuse to be considered victims, celebrate individualism, and revel in popular culture.  Not all third wave feminists identify with each of these ideals, but one thing is certain: for each of these positions, Helen Gurley Brown is one of the most, if not the most, striking of the third wave’s second wave antecedents.

© 2009 Jennifer Scanlon