Jennifer Scanlon is a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College. Her new book Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown is inspiring for working women everywhere- and below Scanlon has collected some Helenisms from her book to inspire us all. Because, face it, even the most liberated, powerful women sometimes need a little advice from the ladies who paved our well-worn trails. Tips below.
Want more? Check out the Helen Gurley Brown quiz.
On getting out of Arkansas: “I didn’t like the look of the life that seemed to be programmed for me. It didn’t look promising. Even as a teenager I was an achiever. I had a reasonably good brain, though it wasn’t fashionable to do anything about it in those days. Even then I was aware that if you put effort into it you generally got something out of it.”
On getting ahead in life: “If you have some daily anguish from some cause that’s not really your fault—a rotten family, bad health, nowhere looks, serious money problems, nobody to help you, minority background (I didn’t have that—a WASP—but I had other things), rejoice! These things are your fuel!”
On dating married men: “My friends don’t approve of single women dating married men as a rule and neither do I, of course. Any more than I approve of tipping or Xmas cards…. They’re just nasty habits that have sprung up and are hard to stamp out. Particularly if you love to eat and frequently find yourself with only peanut butter and chocolate covered graham crackers in the house and a married man on the phone.”
On why a husband was not necessary: “During your best years you don’t need a husband. You do need a man, of course, every step of the way, and they are often cheaper emotionally and a lot more fun by the dozen.”
On how to negotiate the exchange nature of sexuality and bar culture: “Go to a bar that offers pretzels or crackers and cheese dip. Get there before six. Other hungry ladies may have gotten there first.”
On snagging her husband, David Brown, by impressing him with her Mercedes sports car: “Never having been married or involved with a woman who bought her own bobby pins, let alone paid cash for a car, this acquisition had to seriously impress my new friend.”
On the as-yet-unnamed glass ceiling she encountered in the workplace: “Many men feel you’re nothing after they get you. They wanted me desperately, but when you belong to them, you’re nobody.”
On squandering hard-earned cash on sale items: “Some of my girlfriends bring back their two-dollar blouses and shoes from the sales with the comment, ‘For two dollars, how could you go wrong?’ My notion is, ‘For two dollars, how could you go right?’”
On the notion that men preferred intellectually inferior women: “I never met one who did. Never in my life! If they do, it must be because they have so little on the ball themselves that they need a moron around to make them feel superior.”
On her promotion of feminism in her 1962 book, Sex and the Single Girl: “Feminism was nowhere then…. And what I was saying—that single girls, nice single girls, had sex lives—really caused a great ruckus.”
On the Cosmo Girl, who might marry or might stay single: “The Cosmo Girl doesn’t need to get married for prestige or a meal ticket. She can supply those things herself, so she is marrying a friend and a lover.”
On being an object of sexual desire: “When feminists tell me that Cosmo is making sex objects out of women, I say bravo. I think it’s important to be valued as a sex object just as I think it’s important to be able to work, to have equal rights and abortion reform.”