Note: I mean “takes” on the subject, not necessarily on the book.
1) Here’s a 2009 review of a biography of Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl, the landmark 1962 book–both for the Sexual Revolution and 60s feminism—and editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Written by Florence King, and highlighted by NRO on the recent occasion of Brown’s passing, it’s a fine piece that situates Brown in the context of the other two competing strains of feminism of the time, that of Betty Friedan, and that of the Movement Feminists. What’s particularly remarkable is that Ms. Brown was all about playing Mad-Men-like office-sex games, for maximum personal advantage. The film The Apartment was in a way about what it was like to lose those games; Brown was all about winning them—you know, like Charlie Sheen in our day.
She had 17 secretarial jobs before landing as a copywriter at the Foote, Cone & Belding ad agency. Years later she would tell an interviewer, “I’ve never worked anywhere . . . without being sexually involved with somebody in the office,” so we can simply count the jobs…
One can only imagine the advice she would have had for the young liberal idealist Mimi Alford. Without question, Brown is a very problematic icon for feminism, assuming we even want to grant her that tag, the way most the obit pieces have.
2) Here’s a brave documentary by one Sophie Peeters about the constant sexual attention and harassment endured by the young women of Brussels, Belgium, and 9 times out of 10 at the instigation of immigrant men, it appears most of them Muslim (or “Muslim-raised,” if you prefer). Titled Femme de la Rue, it is a hidden-camera walk through gauntlets of proposition, and really well-done. About 90% of it has English subtitles—25 minutes well worth your time. Perhaps the best parts are the interviews, both with other women who feel oppressed by the harassment, and even with one or two of the perpetrators, one of whom is remarkably reflective about the ups and downs, sexually speaking, about his traditional upbringing.
One of the young women admits that it’s sad that her advice is: 1) wear trousers not skirts, 2) avoid certain streets (quite a few), 3) avoid eye-contact.
You know that many in the conservative blogosphere will make this all about the problem in Europe of too much Muslim immigration combining with too much political correctness, and I won’t deny that it is a very serious problem. However, I can’t help hearing a few echoes in these interviews of our own situation. In his pretty-great essay “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community,” Wendell Berry says that while the Sexual Revolution was supposed to have ushered in an era of more natural relations between men and women, we instead find ourselves in a situation where women behave like hunted animals, studiously avoiding eye-contact in public. That’s nearly an exact quote, and he’s talking about our American cities and schools in the 1990s, not about the worst neighborhoods in 2012 Brussels.
So perhaps Ms. Peeters’ film can tell us some things about us as well—it does not hesitate, after all, to move its camera from the harassing men onto the various soft-porn advertisements that also haunt the streets of Brussels, and ask the old-fashioned feminist question, one which Ms. Brown’s magazine actively mocked and undermined, “How can we be respected when images like this are displayed and circulated?” The social conservative might insert the pesky words “allowed to be” in there, but differences of opinion about pornography laws aside, the basic point is really undeniable. Such “sex,” so-called, hasn’t turned out so well for the single girl.
3.) NRO today also features an interview with Elizabeth Kantor, talking about her fine new book that I’ve mentioned a few times: The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After. The title of the piece is “It’s Not a War Between the Sexes,” and here’s Kantor on the basics:
You don’t rush into intimacy with guys; instead, you keep enough distance to maintain your perspective while you’re evaluating a man’s character, and also while you’re discerning his intentions (a now sadly neglected task, but Jane Austen heroines know exactly how to manage it).
Here she is on the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey:
Reading erotica is just playing at a love that’s risky and powerful and life-altering. Jane Austen was more ambitious than that. She gives us pictures of how women can find a thrilling, transformative love that fits into real life, right in the middle of all the humdrum things we’re perpetually pestered with, like financial worries and annoying relatives.
Kantor says the signs of the times, such as the way Girls corrects Sex and the City, indicate that women know the various stances and “Rules” tried out by modern women since the Brown days haven’t worked, so that the time is ripe for single girls to throw out their Cosmo, and take up their Jane. In a chastened non-innocent way, of course, which around here we might call the post-modern conservative Tocquevillian way.