Entry from August 14, 2012

“Sex and the Single Girl, written when Mrs. [Helen Gurley] Brown was 40 and married, aimed to revolutionize single women’s attitudes toward their lives,” reports Mrs Brown’s obituary (by Kate Carlisle) in today’s Washington Post. “The book, published a year before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, sold millions of copies and became a cultural touchstone with its message that single women didn’t need to be married to enjoy sex and didn’t need to apologize for it, either.” It’s hard to be sure just how successful this revolutionary “message” was in respect to women’s lives — though I suspect the answer is pretty successful — but she certainly made a huge impact on our permanently revolutionary culture. Nowadays, whatever sex women may or may not be enjoying, they certainly don’t have to apologize for it. Indeed, as Rush Limbaugh recently found out, anyone who dares to speak disparagingly of a woman’s sexual behavior is the one who has to apologize.

Yet by a curious twist of fate, women may well find that they have to apologize instead for wanting something other than the life of the “bad girls” who, as the title of Mrs Brown’s biography by Jennifer Scanlon, published in 2009, tells us, “go everywhere.” Here, for instance, is the Post’s own advice columnist Carolyn Hax on the dream of marriage, children and white picket fence which one of her young female correspondents tells her she, the correspondent, starts dreaming every time she “dates” someone she likes and finds herself growing attached to. Ms Hax is characteristically stern with her about this retrograde reverie. “You need to figure out why you’re so heavily invested in the fantasy,” she writes in reply “— and a rather by-the-book one at that, if your description of your daydream is accurate.”

Sneering on feminist grounds at a woman incautious enough to say that she wants marriage and a family might seem a little too raw, a little too ideological for the Post, so instead Ms Hax sneers because she considers these things a cultural cliché. Falling in love, marrying and having babies has been so done to death, my dear. As if Mrs Brown’s Cosmo girls gone wild has not! But there is something about the revolutionary temperament which requires its possessor to imagine herself still in rebellion against a long defunct social pressure for conformity with traditional female norms — as if it were still 1962 when Sex and the Single Girl made such a splash. In response to the same urge, Chloe Angyal wrote in yesterday’s Guardian of her disgust with the media’s fuss over Jennifer Aniston’s recent engagement:

I wish Aniston and Justin Theroux nothing but the best, but I wish our fixation on her left ring finger would stop. Not just hers, either: all women’s. Our willingness to buy into this ‘Jen single and loathing it’ narrative, and our willingness to watch romcom after romcom in which the professionally fulfilled woman realises that the only thing that will really bring her life meaning is a diamond ring are one and the same. And they’re inextricable from our belief that an unmarried woman is somehow less of a woman. Incomplete. Unfulfilled. Miserable.

Does anyone really think that anymore? The lady doth protest too much, methinks. And yet she must be conscious of some pressure on her own ideological conscience to react so petulantly. Carolyn Hax writes that “urges to get swept away from your status quo are so much more powerful than any intellectual arguments not to get your hopes up; the only way to master those urges is to address their source.” For this she suggests counseling, but I think I can help her out here and at a fraction of the cost of professional advice. The “source” is human biology and the entire culture of romance, marriage and family which we have built around it for thousands of years as our means of keeping our genes alive — something which for her apparently has become nothing but a disposable cliché. As even the famously childless Helen Gurley Brown is quoted as saying in Kate Carlisle’s obituary: “I sometimes think feminists don’t read what I write. I am for total equality. My relevance is that I deal with reality.”

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