The Cult of Lena Dunham and Helen Gurley Brown

I was reminded of the name Helen Gurley Brown during the time of her passing in 2012 at the age of 90. I was interning at VIBE magazine then and I had written a brief post about Gurley Brown in tribute. When I dotted the last sentence, I left fascinated by her mission, especially executed during her role as the Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan for 32 years, that women can have it all the way men do, and yes, she was talking about sex and who and how women chose to involve it with.

I had faintly heard of her book however, the apple of her career, Sex and The Single Girl, which was pretty aggressive and cutting in 1962 considering it was still the era of the housewife despite the flower children and coincidental sexual revolution. Older critics claimed the book as the insider’s guide to how to express the lives of single woman everywhere, such of course being the map for the television landmark of HBO’s Sex and The City, but also in being the sparkplug and indirectly blamed for encouraging “take me as I am” and “I can do what I want with my sexuality” commentary from young women and definitely bankable female pop stars alike, like Christina Aguilera,  and this particularly popped up in Britney Spears’ 2000 Elle cover story and how she raved about SATC and how supportive she was that women could have sex lives like men too.

Gurley Brown was a feminist renegade. An intelligent hard-ass, tough cookie in the lane of Camille Paglia, she believed in the literal seduction of women adorning makeup, high heels, and wearing clothing that was relatively snug just enough to reveal a silhouette, yet also she was an advocate for women being non-traditional through sex and in the workplace, and essentially putting themselves first and not for society or men which had clearly been the regulations of a patriarchal world for too long. Sex and The Single Girl was really the first of its kind and was labeled as “non-fiction”. For the 20th century, hints of such rebellion and independence before were written however through headstrong, complex, and even docile characters created by authors like Edith Wharton and women writers of the Harlem Renaissance and into the 1930s. It is because of Gurley Brown, the Cosmo covers you see today were led by her with its racy fashion choices for the models (or today actresses) and even racier headlines on getting what you want and/or how to do it.

Following her death, many think pieces about Gurley Brown re-appeared on whether or not she really was a feminist icon and the right kind of icon to lead such massive waves. She celebrated the challenging dichotomy of women enjoying sex for themselves but the hard truth that she exposed often was that if you want a perpetual, staying lover in your lives you have to be a bit of a sex object as well and that the expectation goes both ways (hopefully such manipulation works out for you. This is not always the case). Even in her later years, she dispensed this type of advice, but she never, ever strayed from the ideal that women can ultimately do for themselves first. What Gurley Brown was sharing were the 50 laws of self-love and social manipulation.

Following in her footsteps, Lena Dunham of HBO GIRLS fame has released her memoir/golden nugget book Not That Kind of Girl that format-wise is based on Gurley Brown’s other big book the very apt Having It All, though Dunham has her own tales of empowerment and embarrassment. Prior to her book deal, Dunham was and still is a vocal feminist to her legions of fans, it’s like the cult of Lena Dunham. Whether its deifying Joan Rivers or denouncing the lewd acts of the celebrity nude photo scandal of summer 2014, a Dunham opinion isn’t too far behind when sexism hits the fan. Her TV show GIRLS isn’t honestly a feminist manifesto, but a look into the days in the lives of her earlier 20-something experiences. A title like Not That Kinda Girl, almost humorously and hard truthfully suggests that Dunham herself has been that kind of girl (interpret it as you wish) and such a thing occurred because she was still looking for the ultimate validation through others before herself first. It’s one of those “you’re only human” things, which is why for many reasons Dunham is a pretty cool and decent “role model” for her age group, the lovable and irate 20-somethings. That may be why in quotations on the cover she insists that she’s “learned”, and these lessons taught the hurtful way.

In her book, Dunham recalls bouts with what are sadder subjects like eating disorders and terrible boyfriends, and while she’s exposing the ebbs of her past, she does so in her usual oddball way. So while Gurley Brown pushed for women to “do them” first, Dunham’s book is like the prequel that while fully supports you living your life, even if a tad flighty, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it, don’t try to “change” it. It what it is and no one has the right to make you feel inadequate. Considering her fanbase is largely white, 20-something women, this is their version of the encapsulated Maya Angelou quote: “When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them”.

Having said that, some women of color may wonder, if Not That Kinda Girl is for them, considering Dunham’s show GIRLS nearly failed miserably for two seasons on barely including other races to play roles. Surprisingly we cared that much about being included (Brooklyn is still diverse despite its meandering gentrification), Dunham is still someone worthy of indulging in (she has voiced a sincere musical love for Solange!) Additionally, no matter what your skin tone is, heartbreak is heartbreak, a douchebag is an asshole, and your super unique self deserves to shine. And a piece of work by Dunham just wouldn’t be without a bit of her campy, semi-bizarre, self-deprecating mannerisms. The inquisitive The Harpin did use Having It All as the sparkplug for asking if that’s even realistic at all in 2014 to achieve what Gurley Brown insisted.

In the October 1 print edition of the irascible The New York Post, the newspaper shared “10 naked truths” from Not That Kinda Girl. A decent nutshell of what her book will save you from here on out, the tips are listed below for your intrigue. If you’re already a woman from 21 to 29, these are realities you’re probably already aware of, but because we are the kinder sex, we all still fall victim to giving others the benefit of the doubt and our doubts were usually head-on. Her naysayers will probably hate it, but her audience in which it was written for, will carry it like the new modern Bible. The Post also included a selfless quote from Dunham’s about her first foray into books:

If I could take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine was worthwhile

  1. Don’t Let Hollywood Into Your Bed
  2. Know How to Spot a Jerk
  3. Don’t Be a Doormat
  4. “Family First. Work Second. Revenge Third”.
  5. Own Your Style
  6. Learn How to Win Friends and Be a Good Boss
  7. Don’t Let Them Steal Your Sunshine
  8. Discover Who You Want to Be
  9. “Keep your friends close. Buy your enemies something cool”.
  10. Make Your Voice Heard

Watch the Original Helen Gurley Brown in a short docu made by her former home, Hearst Corporations:

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