It's hard to imagine calling a woman who once said "man-pleasing gets results" a feminist, but Helen Gurley Brown has had the word attached to her bra strap since Sex and the Single Girl published in 1962. In April, a biography on her, Bad Girls Go Everywhere, hit the shelves to solidify her place as a feminist icon, raising more than one eyebrow across the blogosphere.
So she doesn't have the intellectual clout of a Naomi Wolf, but what she did have — for 32 years — was the ear of the everyday woman. She described her upbringing as "hillbilly," and pedaled a populist feminism that was meant to be practiced instead of preached. It obviously resonated with American women, as Cosmopolitan outsold feminist Ms. six to one when she was editor in chief.
Brown saw nothing wrong with using looks to get ahead and believed that a woman should be free to be a CEO, housewife, or model without society's commentary. But then she'd go and say something like, "I think you may have to have a tiny touch of anorexia nervosa to maintain an ideal weight."
So who is Helen Gurley Brown? An feminist icon, or a woman who served a purpose in a place and time that are neither here nor now?