Rest In FMPs, Helen Girly Brown
I was not sad to read that the old Cosmo magazine editress had died. In fact, I wished her contemporary, Betty Friedan, founder of the women’s liberation movement (second wave), had gotten to live another decade, and HGB pack it in back in 2006.
I was braced for the gushing media response about Ms Brown‘s “feminist” book, Sex & the Single Girl. According to the main, er, manstream press, she represented powerful women in possession of their own sexuality. This was not so. She was simply the patriarchy-reinforcing Token Woman permitted to pose as a successful, self-made woman.
In truth, she had an immense makeup and fashion industry-supported platform to keep the women who read it firmly in their place: in the never-ending search for self-decoration , selling one’s self to the richest available man (as she herself did) for top dollar.
It’s not a stretch to say that her advice book, published one year earlier than the important, world-changing Feminine Mystique, did as much to keep women back as Mystique did to move women forward. My mother was addicted to Cosmo, and embodied an as-yet undefined market: body-loathing, exhausted mother of six with an abusive husband.
I never saw a single critical item in the S.F. Chronicle –where a recent editorial cooed about San Francisco women ‘finally taking the time to accessorize, and dress fashionably’.
So I went online, and was duly reassured that plenty of women aren’t going to miss HGB’s influence. I instead relish the wisdom of scholar/activists Jo Freeman, whose emails keep me engaged in the process of watchful, caring citizenship. In 1969 she wrote the BITCH manifesto, a stirring diatribe. That was my eighth grade year, and we kids at Portola Jr. High were producing “Come Together”, a free speech polemic that we were prevented from distributing on campus! Mrs. Freeman (Jo’s mother) was our history teacher, and she prepared the soil for many a thoughtful, progressive student out of the LA suburb of Tarzana.
Then I hit the library, and found Susan Douglas’ book, Enlightened Sexism: the seductive message that feminism’s work is done.
This timely, engaging book is helping me stockpile ammo for my own book, the section where I regret that top racers in mountain biking have to strip for the camera. The men? Of course not. I mean the underpaid pro racing women supplementing their pay by posing as pin–ups in degrading calendar projects like Cycle Passion. Bring on the comments, gang. 2, 4, 6, 8, who do we excoriate? Other book to read: The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg.
Since about 1990, Charlie and I have sworn off using the word “passion” because it was used in pretty much every bicycle advertisement in that decade (it still puts in an appearance now & then). To us, it’s just a threadbare word. Like “excited”. Just count how many times you see that word in the business section of the newspaper, or the industry newsletter you read. It’s fun. Then picture someone spooning up a bit of fecal material, smiling. To us, every time someone sez “I’m excited about” the change in their job, it means the opposite. Are we too jaded?
Mind you, dear reader, that I have already produced my OWN nude calendar (it came out in December 2007 and generated 7000 site visits and an impressive number of calendar sales…fifty!!) But take a look for yourself (it’s in this sites right-hand column way below “About JP”), and tell me if there is one single “come hither” look, soliciting the male gaze. I feel that the mud-covered creature I was represented a primitive human (albeit clearly feminine). Some day I may devote a few pages to expand on this thought, and the seeming clash between my chagrin at biker chick pornography and my elation at being able to pose As I Am without it being a porn calendar. These fine lines between commercial porn and artistic self expression deserve pages and pages.
I just read that in about 2006 Hasbro toy company created a “Pussycat Doll” that little girls were to peel the clothes off of. Now, we have peeled the clothes off of everything we played with but having it framed as a strip tease (there’s a teenybopper group by the same name that helps prepare the preteen terrain for overt sexual self-presentation…who knows if they were included in a licensing agreement…or did Hasbro create the band to sell the dolls?).