My article, “Why the Sexual Revolution Needed a Sexual Revolutionary,” is now available at The Atlantic. I write about Helen Gurley Brown’s influence in the Sexual Revolution and the revolutionary character of her agenda in her own times. Conservative Christians sometimes assume that massive cultural changes are inevitable in some sense, but such movements are actually inseparable from the individuals who push the boundaries and shift the consensus. The overturn of a sexual morality that had survived intact for thousands of years was made possible by individuals willing to scandalize the public, while creating a new setting for the cultural and moral norm.
Helen Gurley Brown was a pioneer of sorts, who intended to overthrow traditional sexual morality. To a considerable degree, she succeeded. She also lived long enough to see the Sexual Revolution reach far beyond her vision in 1962, when Sex and the Single Girl was published.
A review of her life and influence helps us to understand how a moral revolution happens — and at what cost.
From the essay:
The revolutionaries of sexual liberation would include some who did not live to see the transformation in full fervor, such as Alfred Kinsey (d. 1956) and Margaret Sanger (d. 1966). But the leading agents of the sexual revolution came from the generation who reached cultural influence just as the movement began to crystallize. This generation would include both Hugh Hefner (b. 1926) and Helen Gurley Brown (b. 1922).
1960 also marked the advent of The Pill. The first authorized prescriptions for the oral contraceptive came that very year, and that one little pill changed the moral landscape, separating sex and reproduction with chemical ease. The Pill was first made available only to married women, but that changed quickly.
When Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl hit the bookstores in 1962, it lit a firestorm of controversy. A former advertising writer, then recently married to a leading Hollywood producer, Helen Gurley Brown dared to scandalize the nation, virtually inventing the “single girl” as a cultural category. Brown urged young women to see themselves as empowered by sex, money, and men — but without any need for the traditional commitment to marriage.
Her argument was so scandalous at the time that no major publisher would touch the book. The bookstores were filled with books offering advice to young wives and mothers, but Helen Gurley Brown was openly inventing a new cultural category, the sexually liberated single girl.
The full essay is available at The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/08/why-the-sexual-revolution-needed-a-sexual-revolutionary/261492/.
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Publication date: August 27, 2012