Fri 31st Oct 2014 | Last updated: Thu 30th Oct 2014 at 16:43pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

Single women should focus on God rather than themselves to achieve fulfillment

The single life of Sister Wendy Beckett is more fulfilling than that of feminist Helen Gurley Brown

By on Friday, 17 August 2012

Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

Literary critic Cyril Connelly once said that inside every fat man a thin man was struggling to get out. He himself was also quite fat. But is it the case that inside every monster a human being is struggling to get out? This was obviously so with Shakespeare’s wonderful invention, Caliban; but what about the real-life Helen Gurley Brown, whose obituary featured in the Telegraph earlier this week?

“HGB” as she was known to her staff on Cosmopolitan magazine, which she edited for 31 years, seems to have lived a life of monstrous selfishness before finally conceding defeat to the Grim Reaper aged 90. Among other things about her, we learn that in 1965 she got hold of this insignificant Midwestern publication and turned it more or less overnight into a publishing phenomenon with a worldwide readership of 33 million. How did she achieve such a success? Her formula, which reflected how she lived her own personal life, was very simple: to appeal to the “grown-up girl, interested in whatever can give you a richer, more exciting, fun-filled, friend-filled, man-loved kind of life!” This was packaged in five words: “Men, love, work, achievement, fun.”

What makes her seem so appalling to me at least, was her ruthlessness. She allowed nothing to come between her and her determination to push her raucous and shallow values onto as wide a readership of gullible young women as she possibly could. Like that other brittle oddity, the Duchess of Windsor, who once said one could never be too thin or too rich, one of HGB’s opinions was that “Skinny is sacred.” Growing old, she thought, was “the most disgusting thing in the world.” Well it would be, if sex appeal, youth and your appearance are all that matters. Making a deliberate decision, aged 37, to marry a film-maker she had targeted for his power and wealth, she chose to be childless. It does not surprise us to learn that she saw children as “horrible little competitors” for the admiration of others. They would have cramped her style; she had to be centre-stage.

Her first book, published in 1962 and an immediate best-seller, was “Sex and the Single Girl”. Described in a Telegraph review as “this most nauseous of handbooks” (you couldn’t write that in today’s climate), it nevertheless caught the spirit of the age, which was hedonistic, rebellious and armed with the supposed sexual freedom offered by the invention of the contraceptive pill. “Sex is wonderful and to be a sex object is fabulous”, stated this high-priestess of women’s lib. Interestingly, although HGB preached that girls should be in charge of their own destiny and that sex did not mean babies, she was never at one with the feminist movement. “Women need men like a fish needs a bicycle” was the fatuous slogan of a feminist pioneer, but HGB, like Barbara Cartland, the romantic novelist, intuited that women wanted romance as part of the “fun” equation: “romance” – but not marriage or building a home or raising a family. A later generation of young women, wrestling with “having it all”, found her deliberate child-free life alien to their own struggles to juggle children and a career.

The Telegraph obituary reveals a lot about HGB in its dry and understated way: “By her later years her face had been so lifted, botoxed, dermabraded and plumped with silicone that it was only residually human.” Poor old girl. I contrasted this pathetic image with the life (and face) of Sister Wendy Beckett, the hermit and art critic, who was interviewed recently in the Herald. Sr Wendy, who is now in her 80s, isn’t bothered about her looks or her figure; nor, as a nun, have men figured in her life. Yet she radiates the happiness, fulfilment and inner peace that come from having lived a deeply spiritual life, a life that is God-centred rather than self-centred. There’s a moral in this somewhere.

  • CluainArd

    Well said Francis. I couldn’t agree more (although I am a man, not a woman)!

  • Meena

    Good for Sister Wendy, and good for HGB.
    Incidentally many religious look fresh and young for their age. They perhaps enjoy freedom from the rat-race of Capitalism and the stress and strain of raising a family and paying a mortgage, and have the support and company of others in their Order. Not in any particular order, HGB’s package of five words for success (in this world, of course): “Men, love, work, achievement, fun” sounds pretty much what almost any modern girl (in the developed world) would go for. And, for that matter, why should fish who want a bicycle be denied one; and those who do not want a bicycle have one imposed on them?Of course if there are fish moralists still swimming about (and remember our ancestors only 185 million generations ago were fish) they might have strict rules about bicycles – and about who should have what, and when (and maybe special rules for Fridays – being fish). 

  • South Saxon

    The happiest faces I ever seen have been those of members of religious orders, at peace with themselves, with the world and Our Lord. The most miserable faces I have ever seen have been those of the rich.

  • Lefty048

    you need to get out more   and meet more people.   don’t the sisters live in socialistic orders.  their money going for the common good of their order.  thats the way it works in the U.S.  i believe they are happy except when they have to talk about their bishops, cardinals, and some priests.  then i think they would like to have their pointer back in their hand when they do this.

  • scary goat

     Ditto. (although I am a woman).

  • Kevin

    Of course a “superficially” beautiful woman can also put God first. For example, Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean famously defended her belief in traditional marriage in the face of tremendous hostility.

  • South Saxon

    My observations were about those religious who are true to their vocations. Those in membership of the LCWR have strayed so far from the religious life that they are hardly recognisable as nuns.

  • Meena

    Will you please finish your sentences? Thus:

    “Ditto. (although I am a woman, not a man)!”

  • Lefty048

    so you prefer men in dresses.  the good old days.

  • JabbaPapa

    PC Nazification is everywhere !!!!

  • Hughes196

     It seems that it’s you who needs to get out more and meet some real people!

  • JabbaPapa

    Cripes you have a weird and twisted fantasy life !!!

  • scary goat

     Well, for one thing, why do I need to finish a sentence that is obvious? And for another thing maybe my point was to stress woman, after the previous comment from a man, deflecting any possible feminist rants that a man might dare to comment on womens’ issues.  One has to expect these things around here.  I must admit, I didn’t forsee being scolded for my sentence construction though! : – D

  • cephas2

    Francis, at the tender age of sixteen (having saved up my paper round money) I went for a holiday (from London) to Ireland. My uncle in Dublin went ballistic when he saw I was reading Cosmopolitan. “Do your parents know you read this trash?’ he roared. Sadly, this HGB woman influenced generations of young women and the repercussions are with each and everyone of us to this day.

  • Gavin Wheeler

     Evidently Meena feels you might reasonably be both a man and a woman.

  • Meena

    I’m sorry. You didn’t really get the joke – did you?

  • Meena

    Oh dear!

  • theroadandrailsupremo

    It is a well known and proven undisputed fact that these types of publication have without all dispute ever done any good to young women. That is quite certain. They certainly must and without question be banned as they are all over the world in Catholic Nations, where the moving train is once again in motion for the good of us all. True the ramifications and repercussions are all now with us, as we can all know and see in the world. Shame on all and on HGV in the particular.

  • Meena

    How did your uncle know so much about Cosmo?

  • Meena

    Are you sober?

  • Meena

    Yes, I’ve seen it too. Can’t miss it really can you?

  • scary goat

     I did find it very funny but I’m guessing not for the reason you intended? No, I didn’t get your joke.  Sometimes things don’t work well in text with no tone of voice or facial expression. 

  • scary goat

     Or a goat :-D

  • 332833

    join the taliban.  you agree with them.

  • Alan

    Glad I’m not the only one who regarded HGB as a selfish hedonist who deserves none of the adulation being poured out on to her by the mass media.

  • http://jessicahof.wordpress.com/ JessicaHof

    Well, it is not surprising that the worldlings should pour our adulation on this worldling. I feel rather sorry for her, there is something infinitely sad about that photograph of her. If we concentrate upon self, we end up worshipping self – an arid and soulless occupation.

  • theroadmaster

    Helen Gourley Brown embodied the values of the radical socio-political and sexual revolution which characterized the rise of the smart and competitive woman in all spheres of private and pubic life, which sought to seriously undermine and if possible overthrow the perceived dominance of men.  But after 50 years or more of this gender-based ideology, are we left with western societies that are experiencing greater social harmony and peace in terms of the common good between men and women and their relationships?  The statistics are telling us otherwise as represented by the exponential rise of fractured familial relationships due to widespread divorce, adulterous relationships, co-habitation etc.  The promotion of the contraceptive pill enabled people to indulge in value-free sex without the natural consequences which sprang from it and consequently traditional values such as commitment, chastity and loyalty were trodden underfoot.  The human cost has been great and it’s toll has not been assessed adequately by social commentators or philosophers who want to get to the root  of the contemporary social and moral ills which are besetting western nations.

  • Jjndu

    Considering that the woman has passed away, (and even if she hadn’t), a bit of charity is in order.  You can detest what she stood for, but give her the dignity she deserves.

  • paulsays

    The single life of Sister Wendy Beckett may very well have been more fulfilling than that of feminist Helen Gurley Brown.

    But that doesn’t prove that not focussing on your dreams ideas or career, (as a woman), is a bad thing. Far from it. Why on earth choose a hedonistic woman with little moral scruples as a figure of comparison?

    How about looking at the life of someone like Marie Curie, or one of the suffragettes? Where there lives in vain because they strived to do such big public good-works – simply because they were women, and therefore should have no goals in life but to bear children and be close to God? That they cannot persue a purpose in life that furthers human knowledge and society?

  • Acleron

    Some of your measurements may be inaccurate because of the measurement system and the availability of statistics. Adulterous relationships for example would be impossible to compare over time. Fewer would be found out and because of the financial reliance of women on men fewer would come to light in past times. Similarly divorce was legally and financially very difficult. The freedom to enjoy sex with a partner, married or not has probably increased co-habitation but so what? The marriage commitment was coerced and appear to be solely for the benefit of the man, this inequality needed addressing. While the contraceptive pill has reduced family size, increased wealth and certainly increased health. But another factor that has changed the previous norms is the earning power of women. As for greater social harmony, that is accomplished by equality of opportunity and freedom of choice for all. 

  • Sclerotic

    She built up a business ruthlessly – an attitude of mind endorsed enthusiastically on every other page of the  Daily Telegraph. She built a business which succeeded because it pressurised women into abandoning their self image in favour of a masculine driven stereotype. Sadly she herself fell victim to this male driven determination to control women’s bodies. A thoroughly distasteful and hypocritical article.

  • Judemi

    Each of us, regardless of gender or marital status, grow by focusing on spiritual development. Let’s begin by being charitable to others, rather than denigrating them.

    I’d appreciate learning  more about Sister Wendy Beckett.

  • theroadmaster

    Well,,how do you measure the effects of adulterous relationships on the one(husband or wife), who directly suffers from those gross breaches of trust, and the children who have to endure the psychological effects of the rows and eventual breakup.  It makes a mockery of the promises that the couple make to each other in their marriage vows.  I recognize that men at one stage, could indulge themselves in extra-marital affairs, as in Victorian times, and live a hypocritical lie in terms of outward “respect”.  The just changes in marital law, removed women from the status of mere “possessions” and regarded them as autonomous individuals with an equal status and equality in terms of decision making.  This led to women being able to initiate divorce proceedings against their husbands for various reasons.  But the negative effects of divorce are well known on children who have to acclimatize themselves to a second family and replacement “father” or “mother”.  It can badly effect their their psychological, social and economic prospects.  
    Co-habitation may not be a great deal to you  but inevitably these relationships dissolve on average a lot faster than marriages. The stats bear this out   On average, cohabitations last less than two years before breaking up or converting to marriage. Less than four per cent of cohabitations last for ten years or more.  Also the outcome for children is a lot better in a marriage setup than in a co-habitation arrangement, in terms of employment, social and moral development.
    You mention health improvement as being one of the outcomes of the contraceptive culture.  But the strong synthetic progestin or oestrogen female hormone contained within those contraceptive pills have been known to cause serious health conditions for women who have been on them for extended periods, e.g thrombosis, blood clotting, strokes etc.  Also when these hormones enter our waterways as waste , they can have a devastating effects on the sexual reproductive health of the animal life(including humans) which ingest them.  Some experts believe that it is a strong contributory factor to declining sperm counts in recent years across the world.  So you see, I have just given you a sampling of some of the stats which tell us of the negative outcomes of some of those so called progressive steps which have been made in western societies

  • Acleron

    Agreed, one cannot measure the emotional distress caused by adultery but one can assume it to be a constant about the mean and concentrate on the frequency. As that cannot be determined for the reasons already given, the exercise cannot give conclusions.

    The negative effect of divorce on children is similarly confounded because it doesn’t include the effect on children of being in a family where the parents are forced to stay together by financial or societal pressures. It again could work either way.

    Please look here for the statistics on the pros and cons of the contraceptive pill.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_oral_contraceptive_pill#Adverse_effects 

    They are an overall benefit.

    The cost of changing the sewerage systems to remove the steroids is £24 + £2.40 a year. A small price to pay for the environment.

    So no, you haven’t shown any negative indices for the progression in our society. Two items you cannot determine, one item is actually the reverse of your statement and the final one can be solved quite simply.

    I’ve left the cohabitation part to the end. Whether a couple cohabit (such a Victorian phrase) or marry is their choice. There is nothing built into our genes about marriage it is merely a custom. By observing those animals closest to us we may be able to discern our more natural inclinations. Gorillas have a patriarchal society so we can ignore them. In sociablity we come closest to chimpanzees and bonobos. They appear to live in extended families (as do gorillas), so maybe we would be more comfortable in that family system than the two parent system. I’m not advocating any particular system, just showing you alternatives that may have a better justification than ‘that’s the way we always did it’.

  • Oconnord

    Other factors in falling sperm counts are tight underwear and sitting down a lot.
    So should all men wear kilts and have to stand up all the time? Or maybe carry a coolpack to put on their goolies when they sit. Or maybe it’s due to global warming… Sperm cells are just so, so susceptible to temperature changes. 

    Or maybe I should stop drawing silly conclusions from observable facts without any evidence, other than the fact that they are observable. 

  • theroadmaster

    In truth, one cannot grade emotional distress as in the case of children  effected by the negative consequences of divorce, as one would measure out grams of sugar or salt.  Some married couples may suffer from societal pressures in terms of keeping them together, but on the whole, studies keep reaffirming the very positive outcomes that couples, children and society as a whole derive from marriage, as opposed to the well-documented downsides of divorce settlements. Here are web-site links which capture these realities-
    http://family.jrank.org/pages/413/Divorce.html 

    http://www.freeonlineresearchpapers.com/divorcce-harms-children 

    Marriage is not merely a “custom”, as it is the natural outworking of  the unique sexual, psychological, social and physical complementary  relationship between a man and a woman, which is open to procreation.  This has been the linchpin which has given multiple societies stability over many centuries.  While our close cousins, chimpanzees and apes organize themselves along similar familial lines to ourselves, they do not possess the necessary intellectual insights which humans possess, to officially solemnize such signs of the natural order as marriage

  • theroadmaster

    An interesting take on the reasons for the reported fall in the sperm count around the world.

  • Lefty048

    hey what happen to this web site. i’ve got a senate candidate talking about “legitimate rape”, romney  coming out pro abortion in the cases of  rape incest and health of the mother and we haven’t had a new story posted in days.  and the catholic must reads of the day, there aren’t any ?   who runs this thing?