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Helen Gurley Brown And The Single Girl: A Modern Love Manual

Culture | April 15, 2019

Author Helen Gurley Brown relaxing and working in her Park Avenue Apartment in 1965; an edition of her landmark book featuring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis on the cover. Sources: Bettmann/Getty; Amazon.com

Before Helen Gurley Brown, sexuality and single girls were not discussed in the same sentence, much less an entire book. But the future Cosmopolitan editor dropped a bomb in 1962 with a manual for modern, single women, and in so doing played a key part in the changing gender norms.

Shocking and scandalous when it was first published, Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, was a provocative book that raised eyebrows and scowls -- yet sold more than two million copies in the first three weeks. Never before had a book so openly talked about the trials and tribulations of the single, adult, working women of the 1960s. Let’s look at the groundbreaking book, Sex and the Single Girl. 

The Time Was Ripe For A How-To Book For Single Women

Helen Gurlely Brown. Source: (cnn.com)

The 1960s was a time of remarkable social changes in the United States. The role of women was fast evolving from a life of domesticity to one that offered more freedoms and opportunities. In the decades prior to the 1960s, women were expected to marry young, have children, and be homemakers. But the '60s saw more and more women bucking these traditions. They were earning degrees, holding jobs, building careers, living alone, and postponing marriage and children. That didn’t mean, however, that they were postponing their love lives. 

The Single Woman And The Sexual Revolution

Sex and the Single Girl told women it was okay to love single life. Source: (overdose.am)

Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl helped to remove some of the conservative stigmas that were attached to single women with active love lives. More importantly, it helped to show single women—and the public—that being unmarried could be a wonderful experience. Single girls could live a rich and full life and didn’t need to pine away for Mr. Right. 

Categorizing Men

Assigning labels to men. Source: (effortlessgent.com)

In one chapter of Sex and the Single Girl, Brown advises single women to compile a list of all the men in their lives. Then, she suggests categorizing each man into one of several categories, including “The Eligibles,” “The Don Juans,” “The Married Man,” “The Homosexual,” and “The Younger Man.” She then explains the unique situations and opportunities presented in each category, as well as ways to interact with the men in them. 

Getting Ahead At Work

Source: (gettyimages.com)

Brown also devoted an entire chapter in Sex and the Single Girl to the workplace. She discussed ways to handle the boss and the men in the office, how to get your work noticed, and how to handle workplace romances. She even offers suggestions for single women to work their way to the top of their career…using any method at their disposal. 

Budgeting Advice

Source: (independent.ie)

Brown noted that “No one liked a poor girl…she is just a drag!” For this reason, Sex and the Single Girl gives instructions on how a single woman should budget her finances and areas in which she can save money. In the traditional family unit of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, women usually stayed at home to raise the children and take care of the house, so they didn’t have their own money. The husband most often handled the family finances and the housewife was oblivious to the process. But as more women entered the workforce and started earning their own money, there was a need for women to learn how to handle their own financial affairs. 

Affair Advice

Love and romance for the single girl. Source: (fineartamerica.org)

Sex and the Single Girl also included a chapter called “The Affair.” In it, Brown provides a step-by-step guide to a love affair so that the single woman knew what to expect and what to avoid. The chapter covers all aspects of the love affair from the beginning stages all the way through the break-up and end of the affair. Brown’s goal was to help prepare the single woman for the realities of modern dating. 

Single Living

Source: (realtor.com)

The book also gives tips for single women living on their own. Brown gives decorating and home improvement pointers to her readers. Going room by room, she gives advice on how to decorate the single’s pad so that it is comfortable and cozy for the single girl, but also warm and inviting to her male guests. 

The Single Girl Looking Her Best

Source: (pixels.com)

Naturally, Sex and the Single Girl also had chapters devoted to appearance. Fashion, fitness, healthy eating, make-up, and grooming tips are provided by Brown. The message presented is that the single girl should always strive to look and feel her very best because, even though she should embrace her singleness, she could meet Mr. Right at any time. 

'Cosmopolitan' Magazine Evolved From 'Sex And The Single Girl'

Cosmopolitan, August, 1968

Sex and the Single Girl was so popular when it was published in 1962 that women were clamoring for more. In 1965, Helen Gurley Brown took over as editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and transformed the boring, family-oriented magazine which was begun in 1886 into a publication devoted to single, working women. Topics covered in Cosmo mimic what Brown wrote about in Sex and the Single Girl—romance, affairs, cosmetics, fashion, home décor, fitness, and more. Helen Gurley Brown opened the door to formerly taboo topics in Sex and the Single Girl and she continued that tradition with Cosmopolitan magazine. 

Tags: Cosmopolitan | Helen Gurley Brown | Sex And The Single Girl

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.