Bad Girls Go Everywhere.

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Curvaceous, suspiciously symmetrical cleavage bursting out of a tight bodice, heavy eye makeup, long lush hair...a bod and a come-hither look that begged for ravishment…Those Cosmo cover girls once represented, for me, the epitome of female sexuality.

 

At the time, I also found it flattering when my boyfriend forbid me to wear a bikini. So take my view with a large grain of post-feminist cynicism. But even so – as a young girl just beginning to understand my sexuality, I was captivated by Cosmo girls for good reason.

 

A new book explains exactly why.

 

Bad Girls Go Everywhere traces the life of Helen Gurley Brown, creator of those uber-sexy covers as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Author Jennifer Scanlon, a women’s studies professor at Bowdoin College, describes how Brown, a poor Ozarks girl, hit the New York City magazine scene just as birth control and legalized abortion freed women to enjoy sex without constant pregnancy risks. In every issue of Cosmo and her landmark book, Sex and The Single Girl, Helen Gurley Brown extolled the power of women’s sexuality unencumbered by maternity (Brown never had children, so she knew).

 

Birth control = freedom sounds like a simple equation. However, access to the Pill, abortion and other forms of pregnancy prevention resulted in critical and complicated freedoms that allowed women to educate ourselves, pursue longterm careers and time the births (and amounts) of children in our lives.

 

To appreciate the importance of Brown’s message, think for a minute about your life without birth control.

 

What kind of balance can anyone have if you had a baby every two years since you became sexually active?

 

Being candid here, for me that would mean at age 43 I’d have close to 15 children instead of three.

jmvetter
05.01.09

I have to strongly disagree with your article. I believe that the 'freedom' you claim birth control has given women, has actually had the opposite effect. SInce birth control is available, all women are expected to 'control' their fertility. We're judged about when, how soon and how many children we choose to have. "what was she thinking, getting pregnant in medical school/while he's still in school/before they can afford a house/pay for daycare/without a husband....." We live in a country where we can buy insurance for a sprained ankle (Aflac), we offer unemployment to laid off workers, disability for the permanently injured, workers comp to cover on the job injuries, etc. But when a working woman finds herself pregnant, it's - oh well, she should have though about that before she got pregnant. No maternity leave (for most employees) no help with daycare costs, to comp time to care for sick children. We are punished for the 'choice' to have children because we view them as a choice. Even considering this, I am strongly pro-choice, because I believe that we should have the right to choose. But with that choice should come the freedom to make either choice, not just what's most popular with society.

celticscotian
05.01.09

I enjoyed the article but am afraid that I have to come out on the side of the other posters here. While I can appreciate that being able to have control over our bodies is empowering, the idea that being sexy is as important as smart is a little scary to me as the mother of a little girl.

Granted, I have hoped from day one that my daughter will be as physically attractive as she is smart - in our society it would sadly just make her life a little easier for it to be so...as much for her interactions with women as men. But sexy? That thought's never occured to me. I think there is a pretty thick line between "attractive" and "sexy" and I don't like the taste in my mouth that "sexy" leaves when applied to young girls. True empowerment would be that sex and gender are not a part of the equation when it comes to our success as human beings.

madtortuga
04.28.09

I'm confused, too. Without birth control, every one of the author's successes that aren't related to her reproductive capacity would just disappear? Why? I'm 41, have never used birth control, and have a life far more wonderful than I ever dreamed of as a child or even as an undergrad - a doctoral degree, significant career success, marathons run on every continent, and a beautiful family. Based on the way I understand the concept of true freedom, I intend to stay clear from birth control and my evolving visions for my own future contain none of the restrictions implied in this article. I suspect that the mind-set that would place so much emphasis on the "power" of birth control reflects a mentality that would take more than a short column for me to understand.

As for thinking that these "sexy" ads are good for our daughters - I'd like to think that my girls will place more emphasis on applying their brains in ethical ways that improve the world than on their physical beauty... as stunning (and someday sexy) as they both are!

dgisola7
04.28.09

I would argue we haven't come as far as you might think. In fact, these days I'm happy I'm raising boys and not girls -- as nice as it would be to have a daughter. I see women as more educated, and with more choices, and yet I also see women "selling" themselves and reducing themselves to sex objects, more so than when I was growing up. Women seem to be in competition with each other to snag a rich husband (The Bachelor and other moronic shows of this type are a prime example), or be as outrageous and provocative as they can be (think Brittney Spears or Madonna). The fact that they can "have sex like a man" -- that is without complications or risk of pregnancy actually means men have gotten what they have always wanted: women who put out, so to speak, without entanglements. Has this really been the key to our empowerment? I see evidence to the contrary all the time. I think girls think its so important to be sexy these days that their college degrees might very well be irrelevant. I think women really need to earn back respect they so freely gave away the moment they reduced their worth to their sexuality.

sally_peel
04.28.09

I'm confused as to what your article is saying. Birth control has been amazingly empowering to women in the US. Yes, thank Heaven, literally, for birth control.

However, SEXINESS does NOT represent "women’s choices, our freedom in finances, careers, relationships, lives." Sexy doesn't have anything to do with that. Strong, smart, assertive, hardworking, capable, educated, good at prioritizing, funny, thoughtful, kind? Yes, that is what I want my daughter and sons to think is important in a woman. Sexy? Irrelevant.

I am sick of sex being sold to girls. SICK of it.