I couldn’t have told you the first thing about Helen Gurley Brown; in fact I didn’t even know the name. But since her death last week, Helen and I have gotten acquainted. There’s much to respect, a poor southern girl who grew up and made it big, married to the same man her entire adult life, and built a media empire almost single handedly.
From what I’ve read she seems like my kind of person, quick witted with a sharp tongue, candid to the point of brazen, I believe Helen would let you know where you stood. An idealist, many critics claim it was her womb that birthed the modern feminist movement. But for all of her accomplishments, what she seems to be most noted for was her unapologetic approach to womanhood and particularly female sexuality.
The architect of numerous one-liners such as, “if you’re not a sex object, you’re in trouble” and “good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere” she advocates in her 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl that the Puritan sexual mores of that time were outdated and women should leverage their erotic talents and grab the very best life has to offer including jobs, promotions, and Mr. Right. And as its editor, Cosmopolitan Magazine began expressing her same views. What was once was written for the June Cleavers of Middle America providing decorating tips and recipes, under her direction, began teaching those same women the best ways please a man…and themselves.
Yet the more articles to appear describing her exploits, the more I wanted to know one crucial detail. Was this woman who touted promiscuity, sexual manipulation, and carnal indulgences – a mom?
Many refer to the culture we live in as relativistic. Meaning in one regard that what is right and true for this person isn’t automatically so for that person, and instead everything hinges upon the individual, situation, or objective. For example, as a single father, I am adamantly opposed to living with the Queen before marriage. Ignoring my religious rationale momentarily, I don’t desire that way of life for either of my children, or hers, and I would never want the four of them to use what they had witnessed with their parents as their justification for doing so. How could the Queen or I tell them ‘no’ to living with a boyfriend or girlfriend, say in college, when they saw us do it first? However, many single parents for any number of reasons don’t share this same conviction. Yet I’m willing to bet that none of them who do cohabitate, if asked, would want their children to ever live with someone to whom they’re not married.
And this brings me back to Helen Gurley Brown. Could Mrs. Brown have been so vocal and passionate about her views on sex and the self-exploitation of a woman’s sexual wares if she was the mom to a little girl? Could she have been as shameless about the way women ought to view themselves if there were children at home? Could she still have wanted women to be ‘sex objects’ and have a teenage daughter at the same time? And if so, would she have desired the same for those children?
I was asked in an interview sometime ago what it is like to be a single father and date. Generally in regard to my kids and particularly how my relationship with the Queen might impact my ten-year-old daughter, how she sees herself and the world around her.
Every mom and dad knows that kids are perceptive, they are always watching and learning, especially when it comes to their parents. And if those parents aren’t mindful about how they behave around their kids they could very well find the same harmful behaviors they model today repeated in their children tomorrow. Is it any wonder why kids who see their mom or dad drink excessively tend to abuse alcohol later in life?
And that’s when parents begin to spin a web of deceit. On the surface it seems almost intrinsic that, as adults, we have privileges our children have yet to earn and that fact is true. As an adult I can drive a car, drink a beer, and go into debt, and all at the same time if I wanted. However, it’s also true that this distinction between what I can do and what my kids can’t do should stop when the very thing I’m doing today is that thing I would never want my children to do tomorrow, or ever.
The big lie parents tell is this, that because we’re adults we can to do things our children can’t – because we are older, know more, and can handle it – but the problem with stopping there is we expect them to then differentiate between what they aren’t ready for now and what they ought never be ready for. Are there habits or addictions you have today that you would never want your children to take up, and in fact you’d be mortified if they ever discovered them, yet you justify those behaviors to yourself with the excuse ‘I’m an adult’?
You see, the big lie we tell isn’t one that’s told to our children, it’s one we tell to ourselves.
What I admire most from reading about Helen Gurley Brown was how she lived by her convictions no matter the personal cost. That’s a very rare trait in people these days. And I have to believe that if she had been a parent, which her and her husband chose never to become, she would have turned down Cosmopolitan and went to work for Good Housekeeping instead.