This week we’re reminded that a woman can shake up the world in so MANY different ways, and you don’t have to look like Beyonce to do it. Seriously: Just walking by either one of them, would you have chosen either Julia Child or Helen Gurley Brown as someone who’d change the popular culture of the United States?
If you can’t remember the legendary screech of Julia’s voice as she convinced everyday Americans to try French cooking, go rent the 2009 movie Julie and Julia. (well worth it!)
In the years when a toothpick in a hunk of weenie was bold adventure, it took six-foot-two inches of ballsy femininity to get coq au vin into June Cleaver‘s kitchen. And if biographers got the story right, Julia may not have been a beauty, but she was super smart, and she knew how to have fun. As in, lots of very good wine and a very active sex life. Ju-lia!
Even now, female chefs climb a rockier path to a star turn than their boy counterparts. Julia set the boys on their ear. She died in 2004, but August 15th of this year would have been her 100th birthday. If you can’t roast a chicken in her memory, have a glass of French wine and buy a croissant. Enjoy them with a Cosmopolitan magazine.
The other world-shaking female being honored this week is Helen Gurley Brown. If you never heard of her, perhaps she needs a better PR team. Courses in women’s literature and feminist history uphold the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as a turning point in the movement for women’s rights, and rightly so. But the year before, Helen popped out Sex and the Single Girl. And, well, oh my.
(Note: The 1964 movie of the same title, starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis is good for a rainy Saturday afternoon, but the story has no connection to the book at all.)
Understand: This was a world of Prim and Proper. Ladies Home Journal and Reader’s Digest. For a woman to write a book encouraging her sisters to enjoy the journey as they dawdle before marrying was. not. done.
Helen spent 30 years as the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, turning a dry post-war dreary rag into the mag every young woman had to have. The “Cosmo” girl was bold, brash and self-aware. Quite often, she was horny. It was Helen’s idea that the magazine’s cover image would be positioned as if the reader were looking into a mirror at the sexy self she knew lurked within. According to the NY Times, when Ms. Brown took charge, circulation was less than 800,000; at its height, in the 1980s, circulation approached three million.
Helen Gurley Brown died this week at 90, and she was working almost to the end. She left U.S. Cosmo in 1997 and continued editing the international editions in an office of pink silk walls, leopard-print carpet and a cushion embroidered with the maxim “Good Girls Go to Heaven/Bad Girls Go Everywhere.”
You wouldn’t think they’d have much in common, Julia and Helen. A Smith College grad and a child of the Ozarks. A chef and a copywriter. Both married once, neither had children. 2012 wouldn’t be the same without either one.