Carolyn Moynihan


‘Do as I say, not as I do’: The mixed legacy of Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown

Carolyn Moynihan
By Carolyn Moynihan

August 20, 2012 ( - Helen Gurley Brown, the former editor of Cosmopolitan who died last week at the age of 90, is famous for putting sex on the cover of the women’s magazine—and in the middle, at the end, and at several points in between. Her career with the magazine, which lasted until her death, was based on the quintessentially 20th century notion that sex should be fun—for women as well as men—and not confined to marriage. Girls could have office affairs and still ace their job and “land that man”.

That was the Gurley Brown brand, first launched on the popular culture market in 1962 with the publication of her “pippy-poo little book”, Sex and the Single Girl, and adopted in varying degrees by most women’s magazines ever since. There were, and are, other things in the Cosmo package: work, money, fashion, health… But, first and foremost, it was about sex: how to look sexy, how to have sex, with whom to have it (married men fair game), how to recover from it, and, ultimately, how to bag a man for keeps.

Millions of women have bought the brand over the past 50 years and we are now in a position to judge just how good it is. “I would want my legacy to be, ‘She created something that helped people’,” Ms Gurley Brown said when surrendering the editorship of the US edition of Cosmopolitan in 1997. “My reader, I always felt, was someone who needed to come into her own.”

Have young women come into their own by following her advice? Have they got their man? Have they kept him? Have they had fun?

Not so’s you’d notice.

In 1960, 72 per cent of adults in America aged 18 and older, including Ms Gurley Brown herself, were married; today barely half are (51 per cent in 2010). That figure includes remarriages after divorce, which doubled between 1965 and 1974 and ravaged the family life of a generation. Divorce has been a quick path to impoverishment for millions of women and children.

Ms Gurley Brown had no children and did not want any, but she would be the first to agree, surely, that struggling to raise children on a low income is not much fun.

Fewer “girls” (as the Cosmo editor liked to call them, to the fury of serious feminists) are landing their man and, with the average age at first marriage (note that, “first”) rising (28 for men, 26 for women) many are doing so at ages well beyond girlhood.

Well, the Cosmo club might say, “There are more ways of holding onto a man than marrying him. Living together is just as good.” No it’s not. Cohabiting relationships are much more fragile than marriages. A recent Australian study, for instance, shows they break down at 3 to 5 times the rate of marriages. Where there are children, this gives the next generation of girls and boys a shaky start in life, and it’s not much fun for the adults either, even without kids; ask a couple that have just broken up after living together for six years and had to cash up their house and furniture and start again, while nursing a broken—or at least seriously disillusioned—heart.

It seems likely, then, that the joy of sex has been short-lived for many of the generation or two of women who have been sold the Cosmo brand. And the worst of it is that it’s the women who need marriage most, in a social and economic sense, who have lost most in the gamble of sex before marriage.

When Ms Gurley Brown wrote Sex and the Single Girl around 1960 the contraceptive pill was just coming on the market and this perhaps accounts for the insouciance with which she approached her theme. The pill was supposed to remove the most obvious risk of extra-marital sex as well as the standard remedy of the “shotgun” marriage. Abortion was legalised to stop the gaps in this theory. Even so, women continued to have children before getting married, and, increasingly, without getting married at all.

But it was not the daughters of the social class that the editor of Cosmopolitan (and its publisher) mixed with at evening soirees—upper middle class college graduates—who began to swell the numbers of single mothers; it was young women from poor and (like her own) modest backgrounds. In the early 1960s around 10 per cent of babies in the US were born out of wedlock; today the figure is 41 per cent. But less than 10 per cent of births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while among women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 per cent.

Marriage is disappearing from Middle America leaving increasing numbers of women struggling to bring up children on their own (more or less) and the sex-for-fun ethos has played its part in this dismal trend. Respect for marriage has diminished—nearly four out of ten Americans in Pew’s 2010 survey said marriage was becoming obsolete, and yet the same survey found that most people who had never married (61 per cent) would like to do so one day.

Clearly, the Gurley Brown sex recipe has failed: for so many it has resulted in no man of your own, no marriage, and in all likelihood very little fun.

The great irony in all this is that Helen Gurley Brown herself married—though, at 37, late for her era—and stayed married to the same man, movie producer David Brown, until he died in 2010. In fact if you look at her personal life—and ignore some of the bragging about past affairs—there’s a whole different recipe for success there for the modern girl.

As Slate editor David Plotz wrote 12 years ago when reviewing Ms Gurley Brown’s memoir, I’m Wild Again:

But on closer inspection, I’m Wild Again is a strangely inapt title and a poor description of Brown’s life. She’s not wild again (and she may never have been very wild in the first place). This is the autobiography of a puritan. Wild chronicles how Brown exercises obsessively; doesn’t drink, smoke, or eat; has remained utterly faithful to her husband of 35 years; and lives for her job. The Cosmo girl’s dirty little secret isn’t sex. It’s work.

Although she encouraged cavorting with married men, Plotz points out, she was too busy to do it herself. She worked 12-hour days on the magazine and lived her gospel of self-improvement to a puritanical degree. Between Cosmo’s sex talk and seduction was sound advice to the secretaries and beauticians who read the magazine: “Get out and do it, kiddo!” she told them. Work hard, be punctual, be tough, don’t fear competition, save your money.

Self-made people can be ruthless. Perhaps Helen Gurley Brown was. Certainly she dished out a lot of bad and harmful advice about how young women could “improve” themselves. Unfortunately that obscured some very good messages: be ambitious, work hard, dress up, marry—and stay married. Let’s remember her for that.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. This article is reprinted under a Creative Commons License.


Share this article

Featured Image
giulio napolitano /
John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry


Pope Francis attacks ‘fundamentalist’ Catholics, dismisses condom ban as unimportant

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- On the plane returning from his journey to Africa today Pope Francis made his clearest remarks in condemnation of ‘fundamentalist’ Catholics.

"Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions," Francis said, as reported by the National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent, Joshua McElwee, and similarly by other journalists on the plane.  "We Catholics have some -- and not some, many -- who believe in the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil."

"They do evil," said the pope. "I say this because it is my church."

"We have to combat it," he said. "Religious fundamentalism is not religious, because it lacks God. It is idolatry, like the idolatry of money."

Turning to Islam, the pope spoke of his friendship with a Muslim, adding, “You cannot cancel out a religion because there are some groups, or many groups in a certain point of history, of fundamentalists.”

"Like everything, there are religious people with values and those without," he said. "But how many wars … have Christians made? The sacking of Rome was not done by Muslims, eh?"

STORY: Vatican’s liturgy chief contradicts Pope Francis on Communion for non-Catholics

On the same flight a journalist asked about the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS and if it was time for the Church to change its position.

The pope acknowledged that condoms are one method of prevention, saying that the Church was faced with a perplexity of whether to follow the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill) “or that sexual relations are open to life.” 

He dismissed this however as ‘not the problem’ and said it reminded him of the question asked Jesus, “Tell me, teacher, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it obligatory to heal?’

Catholic News Agency carries the fullest rendition of the pope’s quotes on the matter, relating his words thus:

“Let’s not talk about if one can use this type of patch or that for a small wound, the serious wound is social injustice, environmental injustice,” Pope Francis continued. “I don’t like to go down to reflections on such case studies when people die due to a lack of water, hunger, environment...when all are cured, when there aren’t these illnesses, tragedies, that man makes, whether for social injustice or to earn more money – I think of the trafficking of arms – when these problems are no longer there, I think we can ask the question ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’”

 “Because, if the trafficking of arms continues, wars are the biggest cause of mortality...I would say not to think about whether it’s lawful or not to heal on the Sabbath, I would say to humanity: ‘make justice,’ and when all are cured, when there is no more injustice, we can talk about the Sabbath.”

While in Africa the pope used very strong language to promote the climate change agreement at the Paris climate summit that started today. He said it would be a “catastrophe” if it did not achieve acceptance in Paris in the coming days and added that the decision came down to the choice “either to improve or to destroy the environment.”

Speaking at the United Nations center in Nairobi on November 26, Pope Francis said, “In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.”


Share this article

Featured Image
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben


Ben Carson on Colorado shooting: pro-lifers need to ‘tone down’ ‘hateful rhetoric’

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - After a string of verbal gaffes and controversies over the depth of his pro-life convictions, Dr. Ben Carson has implied that the pro-life movement needs to "tone down" its "hateful rhetoric" and "become more mature."

The doctor was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" about abortion supporters' claims that pro-life speech led to Robert Lewis Dear's shooting inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

"There is no question that hateful rhetoric, no matter which side it comes from, Right or Left, is something that is detrimental to our society," Dr. Carson said. "This has been a big problem."

"No question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation," Carson affirmed.

Lamenting that social discourse had become less civil, he said modern political "rhetoric is extremely immature, divisive, and is not helpful."

“I think both sides should tone down their rhetoric and engage in civil discussion," Dr. Carson said.

Pro-life leaders were quick to rebut his charges that they engage in extreme or immature rhetoric. (See related story.)

After briefly leading rival Donald Trump in a series of national polls, Carson's presidential hopes have crumpled amidst a series of misstatements and retractions that have led national commentators to question whether the political novice is ready to be president of the United States. Last Sunday, talk show host Rush Limbaugh told Fox News that Ben Carson is "probably not" fully "equipped to be president."

The statement apparently condemning pro-life rhetoric comes after Carson, a famed neurosurgeon, told a Florida reporter that attempts to save the life of Terri Schiavo were "much ado about nothing."

Dr. Carson told LifeSiteNews exclusively that his remarks had been taken out of context by a Tampa Bay Times reporter. The reporter later posted the full transcript of his question, and Dr. Carson's answer to provide context.

Full transcript of the "Face the Nation" segment:

Dickerson: OK. I would like to ask you about a domestic political event or what some people see has a political element to it, and that's the shooting at a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado Springs.

Some abortion rights supporters have said that the rhetoric has led to that kind of violence. What's your view on that?

Carson: There is no question that hateful rhetoric, no matter which side it comes from, Right or Left, is something that is detrimental to our society.

This has been a big problem. Our strength in this country has traditionally been in our unity. And we are allowing all kinds of circumstances to divide us and make us hateful toward each other. And the rhetoric is extremely immature, divisive, and is not helpful.

When you have outside forces, global Islamic radical jihadists who want to destroy us, why would we be doing that to ourselves? We, at some point, have got to become more mature. No question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation, and we should be doing all we can to engage an intelligence, civil discussion about our differences.

That's how we solve problems. We don't ever solve them with hateful rhetoric.

Dickerson: Should abortion rights -- excuse me -- should those who oppose abortion rights tone down their rhetoric?

Carson: I think both sides should tone down their rhetoric and engage in civil discussion.

Featured Image
Robert Lewis Dear
John Jalsevac John Jalsevac Follow John


Everything we know about the Planned Parenthood shooter

John Jalsevac John Jalsevac Follow John
By John Jalsevac
Robert Dear's shanty in North Carolina where he spent part of his time.

November 30, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Planned Parenthood, and supporters of abortion rights, have pointed to Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility as evidence that the pro-life movement is responsible for encouraging violence through its "hateful rhetoric." Planned Parenthood of Rocky Mountains has declared that the shooter himself "was motivated by opposition to Planned Parenthood and access to abortion," although police have not officially released any information about his motives.

Meanwhile, the picture emerging of the man who allegedly opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility Friday is one of a deeply disturbed recluse who, though opposed to abortion, had little interest in and no known history of active involvement in the abortion debate, with a long spate of run-ins with the law and a pattern of bizarre behavior that left some of those who encountered him fearful for their safety, and many convinced that he wasn't in his right mind.

On Saturday morning Colorado Springs police identified Robert Lewis Dear, 57, of North Carolina, as the suspect in the shooting that left three dead, and another nine injured. Dear allegedly began shooting outside the Planned Parenthood facility just before noon, Mountain Time, Friday, before retreating into the facility for a five hour stand-off with police.

Planned Parenthood has confirmed that none of its staff were injured in the shooting. Both of the civilians killed were reportedly accompanying friends to appointments.

The New York Daily News reports that an online dating profile that appears to have been posted by Dear in the early 2000s has Dear asking for "discreet" sadomasochistic sex, as well as pot-smoking companions. Other posts on by someone with a username associated with Dear, include what the Daily News describes as "paranoid Biblical rants." reports that Dear was arrested and charged in 2002 on "animal cruelty," eavesdropping and "peeping tom" charges. He was acquitted of the animal cruelty charges after a bench trial, while the latter charges were dismissed.

The animal cruelty charge was apparently related to an incident in which Dear allegedly shot a neighbor's dog in the leg with a pellet gun.

USA Today reports that a 2004 police report shows Dear threatened to "do bodily harm" to a neighbor.

He also has numerous previous convictions for various traffic violations. These include seat belt violations, driver’s license violations, operating a vehicle in an unsafe mechanical condition and driving a non-registered vehicle.

ABC reports that Dear spent some of his time living in a cabin in the woods in North Carolina, without running water or electricity. Neighbors say he was a quiet man who seemed "off." They said that when he did speak, he tended to ramble on a disconnected series of topics.

One neighbor, James Russell, said that two topics they never heard Dear speak about were religion and abortion. Russell also said that Dear tended to avoid eye contact. "Nothing with him was very cognitive," said Russell about Dear.

RELATED: Police officer killed at Planned Parenthood was pro-life, Christian pastor

James Howie, who lived close to one of Dear's remote properties in North Carolina, told USA Today that Dear once asked him to do some foundation work on his shack. After accompanying Dear to the job site, Howie declined the job. "I was just glad to get home," he said about the experience, adding that in his view Dear seemed crazy, although not dangerous.

Another neighbor told the Washington Post that Dear "was the kind of person you had to watch out for. He was a very weird individual. It's hard to explain, but he had a weird look in his eye most of the time."

Another neighbor told the Post, "He complained about everything. He said he worked with the government, and everybody was out to get him, and he knew the secrets of the USA. He said, 'Nobody touch me, because I've got enough information to put the whole U.S. of A in danger.' It was very crazy."

Another neighbor said that she and her family "kept out of his way." "He wouldn't really speak to anybody, he wouldn't wave," Mallory Nicoletti, 29, told the Citizen-Times.

John Hood, another neighbor, told NBCNews that Dear rarely spoke with him, but when he did, it was to offer bizarre advice. On one occasion, said Hood, Dear urged him to get a metal roof installed on his house, so the US government couldn't spy on him. Hood also said he erected a fence between their properties, because Dear had a habit of skinny dipping. 

RELATED: This one shot from the latest PP sting video might be the most disturbing thing you see all year

Those living in the North Carolina community where Dear had his shack said they were frustrated by the fact that Dear would leave for days at a time, leaving behind two dogs with no food or water, who would start to get aggressive.

“We’re not isolationists,” one resident said. “You know how whenever someone goes crazy, the neighbors say he was so quiet and normal. That wasn’t the case here. He was weird. Everyone kept an eye on him.”

"He was really tightly wound," said another resident. "You could see that from the stress on his face, from the way he acted.”

Still another went even further, telling the Post, "He was just always saying, ‘I know the U.S. is trying to kill everybody’ and do this and do that. He [said he] was an undercover [agent]. Just craziness. Just pure, right-out craziness all the time.

“I’m kind of glad he’s put away now."

The Gateway Pundit also reports that, bizarrely, Dear was registered to vote as a woman, although it is unclear whether this is simply a clerical error or has any deeper significance. His party was listed as "unaffiliated."

One anonymous source, reportedly with the police, told the Washington Post that in a confusing rant following his arrest Dear did make mention of "baby body parts," suggesting some connection with the recent series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood staffers harvesting and selling the body parts of aborted babies.

However, the source added that this was but one topic among many mentioned by Dear in a speech that left investigators unclear as to his specific motivation.

Planned Parenthood has issued a statement saying that based upon eyewitnesses they believe Dear "was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion." 

Dear's ex-wife, Pamela Ross, told the New York Times he was a Bible-believing Christian, and that he opposed abortion, but that it "was never really a topic of conversation" in their house.

RELATED: Planned Parenthood shooting suspect surrenders, is in custody: police

Ross and Dear divorced in 2000. The picture that Ross paints of her ex-husband as a physically healthy man who lifted weights, took good care of himself, enjoyed listening to U2 and riding motorcycles, clashes markedly with the accounts of those who lived near him in the years since their parting. 

Ross said she was shocked at the man she saw on TV following his arrest this weekend.

“Something must have happened to him when he moved away, that’s all I know," she said. “Me and our whole family are extremely devastated and heartbroken by the victims of these families, and we have no words that can ever comfort them other than to say we’re sorry for what he did.”

However, Ross admits that she did call police on Dear in 1997, after a case of domestic violence. She didn't press charges at the time.

Dear reportedly brought several "items" with him into the Planned Parenthood facility, which police had said they were concerned could be explosives. Early Saturday morning police tweeted that those items have been "secured" and are "no longer a threat."

Subsequent reports have suggested those items were propane tanks that Dear may have been trying to shoot in order to cause an explosion.

After a five-hour standoff with police, during which Dear repeatedly exchanged gunfire with them, police were able to establish voice contact with the suspect by shouting. At that point they were able to convince him to surrender.

While some reports have indicated that the shooting actually began outside a nearby Chase Bank, and may have been related to a robbery, Springfield police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley said at a press conference Friday evening that the shooting appears to have begun at the Planned Parenthood. 

While Dear's motive is still unknown, pro-life groups have issued statements condemning the violence, and urging caution in jumping to conclusions.

"Information is very sketchy about the currently active shooting situation in Colorado Springs," said Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. "The Planned Parenthood was the address given in the initial call to the police, but we still do not know what connection, if any, the shooting has to do with Planned Parenthood or abortion."

"As leaders in the pro-life movement, we call for calm and pray for a peaceful resolution of this situation."

Troy Newman of Operation Rescue and Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, also issued statements.

"Operation Rescue unequivocally deplores and denounces all violence at abortion clinics and has a long history of working through peaceful channels to advocate on behalf of women and their babies," said Newman. "We express deep concern for everyone involved and are praying for the safety of those at the Planned Parenthood office and for law enforcement personnel. We pray this tragic situation can be quickly resolved without further injury to anyone."

"Although we don't know the reasons for the shooting near the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs today, the pro-life movement is praying for the safety of all involved and as a movement we have always unequivocally condemned all forms of violence at abortion clinics. We must continually as a nation stand against violence on all levels," said Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.


Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook