Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sex and the Single Girl

There are 45 never-published entries, saved in draft form, on this blog.  This is one of them.

(Originally written November 2012.)

As mentioned briefly in the previous post, a couple of weeks ago, I read the 1962 classic Sex and the Single Girl, by Helen Gurley Brown.  My copy, a 1964 fourth-edition paperback, came from a used bookstore two and a half years ago.  It was something of an impulse buy – I was pretty sure every woman, at some point in her single life, was supposed to read Sex and the Single Girl, and if possible, that woman should do so with a vintage copy that was only going to set her back three bucks.

But there it sat, unread on my shelf, until two weekends ago when, for no reason that I can see, it called out to me, begging to be read.  (I obliged immediately, of course, because who am I to argue with a book that’s asking for it?)

"Roommates are for sorority girls.  You need an apartment alone even if it's over a garage,” said page 7.  As someone who happens to live alone, above a garage, I found this to be most splendid advice and was quite certain, right then and there, that Sex and the Single Girl and I were going to get along famously…

But as it continued, there was less about reveling in the freedom of living alone and more (and more and more) about basing your entire life around the sole mission of attracting men – a somewhat baffling goal considering this is a book aimed at embracing singlehood.  The fifty years that have passed since the book was published have rendered much of the material antiquated (the stuffed lobster tail dinner of the previous entry being a prime example), but the concepts in this book have been the basis of many popular Western attitudes for decades now.  These ideas are still with us.

The author is the same woman who went on to run Cosmopolitan for decades, taking the ideas of the book with her when she went.  She has nothing but flippant disregard for the emotional turmoil wrought by insensitive men, nothing but disdain for married women (they're probably miserable anyway!  And if you want to take up with their husbands, go for it!), and though there was a beautifully refreshing line at the start of the book about single women having the luxury of teasing without any obligation to “deliver,” there's an entire chapter near the end that spells out why you're failing as a human being if you're not delivering as often as you can.

Indeed, the book is half a century old, which makes it easy to sit here and scoff at its attitudes as “outdated” or “pre-feminist.”  But dammit, I couldn't tell sometimes if I was rolling my eyes at the material itself, or rolling my eyes because I knew I was "supposed" to be rolling my eyes at the material itself.  I know a hell of a lot of women who, right now, live their lives for the sake of finding a husband.  Who don't feel "whole" unless they have a guy's attention.  Who put out, dress up, and decorate not for themselves, but for the elusive rush that comes with (however temporarily) snagging someone else.

I know that when it comes to me, I pride myself on my independence, and yet I can project an air of confidence that the recesses of my psyche won't buy even when the rest of the world does.  And I know that for every week I spend in peaceful self-assurance, a day sneaks in where I wonder if I'm a failure, wonder if no one wants me, wonder if I'm "missing out" for not having married and procreated already.  Sometimes, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and be hit with this overbearing thought that THIS IS IT.  THIS IS YOUR LIFE.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

Where did I get that?  Where did that come from?  A society "obsessed with coupledom," to paraphrase a wise friend of mine?  A biological clock?  Maybe it came from the pages of Cosmo, which I don't subscribe to, but whose influence has seeped into every crevice of our culture?

Maybe Sex and the Single Girl isn’t quite as “outdated” as we think.  (I failed to mark the page, but there was a bit in there about how some women wish they could go back to the age when men did all the chasing, and if I had a dollar for every time I've had that conversation with my single friends...)

Maybe what it really is is more honest than we’d like to admit.  And in the interest of honesty, maybe that candor was a little more than this girl thought she'd be dealing with when she first started reading...


  1. Oh! OH! Where do I even start?! :) I could start by stating that I love you, but I think you know that already. I'm not at all surprised to find that not much has changed since this book was written, and that the author went on to form Cosmo. And isn't it fascinating that these ideas and values manage to seep into our consciuosness (I'm too tired to look the spelling up, sorry) even when we activelly - or passively - try to block it out. How does it get in? How? When? It's like it's everywhere and there is no fending it off! It has already started with my kid, she's 5. 5!! And she talks about how girls are and boys are and how they are supposed to end up together (despite having a mother who tells her frequently - FREQUENTLY - that that is highly optional and every choice she likes to make is at her disposal, but still). Gah, the frustration!

    Well, I know I don't have to tell you, cause I've had this rant like a million times :)

    Anyway, lots of love! <3

    1. If ANYONE I know would be on top of teaching her daughter about the strength of independence, it would be you!! It's both outrageous and enlightening that your 5-year-old has already been exposed to so much (this being a prime example, but I remember you telling me about other things in e-mails) because it really does drive home the point that these ideas are *everywhere*, and seep into our consciousness without us knowing it.

      What's crazy is that I wrote this a year ago, and when I think back on a year ago, I think of it as being a time when I really *was* reveling in my singleness. This year I've swung somewhat in the other direction, so I can't even imagine how I would react (or what crazy ideas would pop into my head!) if I were reading this book now. (Not to mention the strangeness of trying to figure out why we go through such cycles - why am I of one mind one day and of a completely different mind the next?!) You and I have talked so much on this very topic - in fact, I would say that you and I have had some of the best conversations I've ever had about this! - and yet you are SO RIGHT to wonder when and how it all gets into our heads. For all my talk, clearly it's in mine, too! (And part of that ties into psychology because I've been reading quite a bit lately on how very little control our rational selves really have over our lives. In a lot of ways, the rational side seems to exist largely to reconcile in our heads the craziness our unconscious selves leads us to do. We draw connections between things to make sense of behavior, such as being unduly influenced by societal pressures we don't even know the origin of, that on a fundamental level doesn't make a lot of sense. As someone who spends a large percentage of her time recounting her life, I both believe this and am disturbed by this!)

      Anyway, I won't keep going because, like as you said, we've talked about this before. But even just reading this blog entry gave me a lot to think (rethink) about. There's so much about being a human being that's pretty strange when you get right down to it...

      Lots of love back to you!!!!!!

      P.S. You are the wise friend who coined the "obsessed with coupledom" phrase, by the way! I use that term ALL THE TIME. :D

    2. Well, I do my best, but it breaks my heart that these sort of attitudes are still thriving at such a degree that a 5-year-old with a mother who's actively trying to give her more and wider perspectives still think boys are better able to take care of themselves since they are stronger (which is a myth! In general there's aan 8 percent different in men's and womens' muscle ablility) and has been told that stronger equals better. And says that man+woman+child is a real family. I of course asked her if that means that her family is imaginary... And had a conversation that 'family' is something you decide, not someone else. When she was younger she used to say that she had 4 parents, counting not only me, but her grandmothers and her aunt, and I thought that was wonderful - and accurate - that parenting is about who loves you, takes care of you, and looks after your interests, not who bred you. And as she grows up, society is imposing other norms on her, that are constricting and limiting, robbing her of her openess and broad-mindness. It breaks my heart and just makes me so sad, and so f-ing angry.

      Well, now I've gotten all worked up, so I'll go finish writing that article I was just staring at without energy :)

      P.S Oh, I sort of thought that I might be, and it's an immense honour to be quoted here <3

    3. On a somewhat other, but related note:

      - A survey of 11-to-14 year-olds found:

      · 51% of the boys and 41% of the girls said forced sex was acceptable if the boy, "spent a lot of money" on the girl;

      · 31% of the boys and 32% of the girls said it was acceptable for a man to rape a woman with past sexual experience;

      · 87% of boys and 79% of girls said sexual assault was acceptable if the man and the woman were married;

      · 65% of the boys and 47% of the girls said it was acceptable for a boy to rape a girl if they had been dating for more than six months.

      ELEVEN to FOURTEEN year olds!! WHERE the FUCK does this come from?! Something - A LOT of things - is seriously wrong in our society!

      Read the whole thing here: http://www.uic.edu/depts/owa/sa_rape_support.html
      If you have the energy to become outraged and depressed, that is...

      (And I'll stop now. For now at least)

    4. That is incredibly disturbing...and it's even more disturbing to read the other statistics in that study and see that attitudes and understandings about rape don't really change when older people were surveyed. But I completely believe it. All of it.

      Interestingly, a lot of my girl friends became single this year, so for the first time in a long time, my social circle has been more women than men. In sharing stories and comparing notes, I've discovered just how universal some themes are, and how beneficial it is to be open about behavior that isn't okay. I'm not necessarily talking about rape specifically (although that obviously falls into this category), but the attitudes expressed about rape in that study extend outside of rape, into general behavior. There's just so much that is unhealthy about the way people treat each other (and the way people allow other people to treat them).

      BUT, in trying to end on an optimistic note, your daughter is young enough that I have a lot of confidence your influence will be FAR more effective long-term than anything she's getting from the outside! And if that's the case with her, then it's got to be the case for many other kids, too. :) I do have faith that the overall direction in attitudes and beliefs is toward progress; it's just unfortunate that it may not be in our lifetimes, or even in your daughter's lifetime, that we reach a point that either of us would consider optimal. :-/