Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown … A Woman for All Seasons

VTR Date: December 2, 1989

Guest: Brown, Helen Gurley


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Helen Gurley Brown
Title: “Helen Gurley Brown…A Woman for All Seasons”
VTR: 12-2-89

HEFFNER: I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. And usually when I introduce my favorite person – our guest today – I mention what a great listener she is. And she is…hands down…the very best, the wisest, the most skillful interviewer, questioner, prober into people’s innermost ideas and attitudes. That, of course, is precisely why she knows so much about women – and men – and why she is so extraordinarily successful as the long-time editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

But Helen Gurley Brown does more than listen, write and edit. I’ve read just again her insightful part in the Oxford debate on sexual freedom as well as another delightful and enormously sensible and sensitive speech earlier this year on why, by and large, women haven’t gotten to the top in America. So that I want her now not to probe, but to be probed on her favorite subject (and mine!): Men and women.

The last time my guest was here I never did get her to answer one question in particular about her book, HAVING IT ALL. What I wanted to know then (and maybe she’ll tell me this time): since in real life men don’t have it all, where does Helen Gurley Brown get the idea that women should? Helen?

BROWN: I’m going to parry with a question and say where do you get the idea that men don’t have it all? You have a wife or a loved one, usually a wife. You have the children, and you have fantastic careers. And nobody ever questions that you’ll continue to have those three commodities in your life. It’s never suggested that you might go home and work three days a week, or that you might take a lesser position. For women having it all is very challenging these days, and some women figure they just can’t support all that carrying on so they have to give something up. Frequently it’s the man (laughter). They have the children and the job, but he had to go. What was your original question?

HEFFNER: The original question was why in the world you think we have it so, perhaps so easy? You said we have it all. You didn’t say it was easy.

BROWN: It’s easier for you because you don’t do most of the nurturing, and the reasons that women don’t get as far ahead in the business world, the commercial world and politics, any formal profession, is that we have the children and we do most of the nurturing. And men adore children and they’re very good fathers. You’re a wonderful father, now a grandfather, but you still don’t do the day to day work, the orthodontia, the pediatrician, and getting them to the tennis lessons, buying the clothes, getting them off to school. Women do that. So having almost total charge of the children, during the daytime anyway, it has to come out of someplace else which is a woman’s professional life.

HEFFNER: Well, then, you seem to me to be describing a situation out of which they’ll find no exit. There is no response to it, is that true?

BROWN: No, that’s not true. There has to be an exit. For one thing American business has learned the efficacy of not only employing women, but moving them up the ladder into better and better jobs; it’s because women are so good at it. So, professionally alone there has to be an answer, and second, men are going to have to learn how to be better helpmates at home, better nurturers, and better, in some ways, fathers because your crowd loves the double income. You got very used to that, but you want it both ways: you want the double income, but Mummy should do what Mummy has always done, including baby you. So men have to make a few concessions, I think so women can have it all. There is a way out, but the government and U.S. corporations have to come to the rescue with some daycare.

HEFFNER: You seem to make the assumption, and to hold onto it lovingly, that it’s going to stay that way; that we’re going to continue to insist upon having those double incomes. You obviously mean just that, and that’s not going to give. What’s going to give are the traditional, cultural, social patterns that you’ve been describing, psychological patterns.

BROWN: It would seem that because of college education, tuition alone, we’re going to need the double income, let alone the jaguar, the country house, just paying the mortgage on your present living arrangements. Therefore the money has to come from both places very likely. It was thought originally women would just do it so you could take a good vacation, or she could have a little pin money to buy a fox fur jacket. Well, that went bye-bye a long time ago. So, yes, women are going to be in the work place. I believe the statistic is about 68% of all women with children under the age of 18 are working. And I’m not a great predictor, or prognosticator, but I would say that’s not going to get any less so.

HEFFNER: Is that a good thing totally? Now down side to that, Helen?

BROWN: You know now being a mother I shouldn’t be allowed to comment. How do I know whether it’s good for the kids or not?

HEFFNER: What’s your guess? Come on now.

BROWN: My opinion, and my guess, is that having a working woman is neither good nor bad for the children. It’s bad for her to be at home if she’s miserable and she’d like to be out in the workplace. It’s bad for her to be in the workplace if she’d like to be at home. So as far as the kids are concerned, it’s up for grabs. But for her own sake – this I do feel passionately about as you know – that women are happier if we achieve something aside from just being the honor student’s mother, or the football player’s sister, or the account executive’s wife. It’s better for you to do something. If they talk to you about…

HEFFNER: But you know that opens up the situation right here for me to go back to the first question. When I asked you what makes you think that men have it all, you then listed the whole thing. But having it all…you know is it all worthwhile? You’re making it sound as though the men in America, men generally, are leading the lives of not quiet desperation, but of enormous happiness. That it all pays off, and that women want to cut into this, too.

BROWN: Richard, I’m not a fool. I’m certainly not silly enough to think that men have a wonderful halcyon time of it every day that they get up and go to the office, or the library, or the schoolroom, or wherever it is they go. But it is better to achieve, and it is better to be recognized for what you do, and although it takes a tremendous effort to be successful in a career, it’s very rewarding. And my research tells me the reason that women don’t always get to the top is not only that we’re the nurturers and take care of the children and the men at home. That some women have looked at what men go through to be CEOs and Chairmen and they say “Gee, I don’t want any part of that. That’s horrible. Phil comes home and he’s half dead. It’s like they’ve run a tractor over him. Poor thing is working 30 hours a day.” Some women have eschewed that. They don’t want it. That…not to be able to do what you’re capable of doing, or want to do is really heinous. We’ve kind of gotten beyond that now.

HEFFNER: You know I remember having a wonderful discussion at this table with a very distinguished woman politician…stateswoman, let’s call it that, and she insisted that when women play more and more major roles in American statecraft we will have peace, we will have plenty, because there is an attitude that women will bring to statecraft, to the relations between nations that will change things, turn them around. Do you think that that’s the case?

BROWN: Of course not. You’re coming up with all these ridiculous theories…

HEFFNER: Then you can put me down, and you do.

BROWN: How about Margaret Thatcher? You couldn’t be much more militaristic than that. I mean she had her Falklands to keep herself in office. I don’t think that’s why she did it, but she’s as good on the military side as you get. Corazon Aquino maybe didn’t start the insurgency in the Philippines, but she certainly has called out the troops and has said that she wanted these rebels to either surrender or get killed, bang, bang, bang with the firing squad, and it’s just silly. The reason women are more passive is because we’ve never been in high positions of power in the government to speak of. I don’t think Libby Dole was a pussy cat. I don’t think Nancy Kassebaum, or the 25 representatives in Congress, are necessarily pushovers. They’re not all doves.

HEFFNER: So we have more of the same to look forward to? Instead of the old business “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” what we’re going to find out, in term of what you’re just saying, that women are like men when liberated, when liberated from the cultural patterns, when liberated from the controls that men have exercised over them. Is that not fair?

BROWN: That’s an interesting new subject: violence, and how violent are men intrinsically, and how violent are women. And I don’t know whether we are as gung ho as you are. If we had the guns would we shoot them? But, I do think that…first you said, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

HEFFNER: That’s the traditional…

BROWN: She will be more like a man when she gets into power. I’ve been talking about why a man can’t be more like a woman. We might get back to that later, because we want him to do some things that women did. But I believe when women get into positions of power, just as a head of a company, or having a hundred employees, or 30 employees, you pretty soon get off the passive kick and you start being quite strong and steely, and if that’s masculine so be it. I don’t think so. I think it’s just a human condition. When you get a lot of power in your hands, you get tough.

HEFFNER: Then having brought women into this situation, and you applaud it, as a matter of fact you look for it more and more, where do we turn for the softer, gentler, kinder influences in our lives?

BROWN: I gave you just a hint a moment ago, and that is that men are going to have to get to be more like women, and that’s a thought from both yours and my friend Gloria Steinem. Women have become more like men, at least we’ve gotten positions of power in the workplace, and positions of economic parity. Now, for us to continue to do that, and rise and climb, then men are probably going to have to do things we did, like sewing on buttons and scrubbing the floor, and being nurturing to their boy children. It’s going to have to be known that men care about these things. A man can be a good daddy, a good nurturing daddy, even as mother has always done those things. So to some extent, I don’t mean to be facetious, I think the gentler, softer, kinder is not going to revert totally to men, but you’re going to have to do some of it, and be some of it.

HEFFNER: Instead of sparring, as we have been doing, let me ask you a very straight question: Do you think that with the entrance of women into the market place, into the workplace more and more and more, with all of the changes that have taken place, do you think that there has not been a reaction on the part of these women, of a substantial part of them, against what they find, when they find the equality with men, when they find the kinds of things you have to do in the workplace? Has there been no reaction that you’ve discerned?

BROWN: Presumably romance went out the window, but it really didn’t. When you say a reaction, I don’t know whether you’re talking about a reaction in women’s lives, the fact that you’re not a cherished darling upon a pedestal that he’s tip-toeing around because you’re some kind of goddess. That was never very realistic anyway. Does she miss the things she had before she was out working her guts out in an office or a factory, or a showroom, or a television station? Does she miss those things? Maybe a little bit. But it’s all made up by the fact that she’s got money, her own independence. She can leave. She doesn’t have to stay married to a man just because he’s a meal ticket, doesn’t have to stay married because he’s the father of her children if he’s abusive, or not somebody she wants to spend her life with. So I don’t think there’s been too much fallout. Yes, you could be sexier as a woman when you had all day Saturday to do nothing but get ready to think about him, go out in the evening. But you can get it all together in about half an hour and do something more constructive on Saturdays. The answer basically is no, I don’t think we’ve lost anything.

HEFFNER: You use the phrase, the words “fallout”. You don’t think there ahs been…or falloff…you don’t think there has been a movement back, away from the living with what had been the feminist demands?

BROWN: It’s such a charming question to say, “have women lost something because…”

HEFFNER: No, no, no, I’m not asking if anybody’s lost anything. Have they felt, in your experience, that perhaps something has been lost? I’m not asking if you make the judgment that they have.

BROWN: What’s been lost maybe is a little peace and quiet, and not being run ragged. Every major television special that has addressed this subject, every magazine that addresses this subject, including my own, finds that women are just going dotty because we’re doing so much, especially a woman with young children. So what is missing is equity, or parity, whereby somebody does a little bit more of this for her. That’s the challenge. But I don’t think we want to go back to the old way where mummy was just a mummy and that’s all that was expected of her. That’s fine if that’s what she wants, but if it isn’t what she wants then we can’t go back to that.

HEFFNER: What’s happened in your estimation, generally, to that attitude? Do you think that others remain as strongly devoted to the principles you’ve just stated?

BROWN: What I’ve noticed recently is that, as everyone has, is that there is an increase in wanting to have a baby. I was polling the girls at Cosmo just last week and five years ago about 2/3 of the staff, the women, said they wanted to have a child and 1/3 said no. Last week I did it again and 100% of them, all of the, want to have a child sometime. So that’s kind of a new development. In the articles we read, in the television specials we see, some women are working three days a week, dropping out a little bit. I observe that, but I don’t think there’s going to be a giant reaction in that line.

HEFFNER: For the economic reasons you stated before, or for others?

BROWN: For all kinds of reasons, economic perhaps the principle reason. Having worked so long and gotten so much joy out of it, I can’t imagine a woman not working, just for the sheer love of working. I’m with Freud. Work and love, the big two, and I don’t think love is any more important than work.

HEFFNER: Except when you list the three things that keep women from rising to the top. One of them you list is having children, and we’re talking then about the love for a child. There is an incompatibility, or an incongruity there, isn’t there?

BROWN: No. You can love children madly and still have a big job. You should know that. You have a big job, and you love your children madly…

HEFFNER: You pointed out to me that I’m the oppressor. I’m the man that is given all of this, while my wife isn’t entitled to it within our society.

BROWN: Well, that’s changing. That’s going to change still more. Another reason women haven’t climbed to the top so far, as much as we should, or nave not stayed there if we got there, is not only that we bear the children and nurture them, but another big reason is that women are given choices. You’ve just been talking about that. It’s always been known that a woman could drip out if she wanted to. “Sure, go have the career, honey. Be real smart and get something going with your job, but then when you and Harry get married, you may (there is going to be a Harry in your life, or a Phil, or a Thomas) when you get married you’ll probably have children and you can continue working if you want to, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” And men have allowed women to feel that way and be that way. Mothers raise their daughters that way. Nobody ever says to a man, “Well, when you marry Betsy you can work for a while, and they you can stop when you have children.” A man knows from the minute he’s born, practically, he is expected to get out there and achieve. If women were told the same thing, that we cannot drop out of the workplace, we’d be a lot more achieving.

HEFFNER: Now Helen, consider the possibility that men are not told that, and women are, for reasons having to do with something other than the nasty desire to continue the domination by men of women, that it’s a little more in the nature of things.

BROWN: What is in the nature of things?

HEFFNER: Saying, “When you marry Phil, you may be able to raise your children at home”. The mother of Phil says, as you quite correctly point out, “not at all, when you find Betsy, you’re going to be able to stay home. Maybe you’ll work a little while and then you’ll stay home”. Why Helen, why has it worked out that way? Is it contrary to nature?

BROWN: It’s very comfortable to dump the baby-raising chores on mummy. The diapering, the feeding, the doctor’s appointments, everything…

HEFFNER: Just comfortable?

BROWN: Because she had the baby and there it was. Yes, I think it’s more tradition and ease of doing it the way we’ve always done it. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the contribution that women can make to society in other ways than raising children. You know half the brains in the country are residing…I’m sounding very strident today. Let me calm down and say, half the brains in this country, and in any country are residual with women. Do you want those brains to be wasted because she’s just staying home and she’s trying to bring up smart kids? Don’t you want her brain to be used on its own behalf?

HEFFNER: Helen, you know you’re saying it to the wrong guy because I believe your statistic is wrong. I think that much more than half the brains in any country are not being tapped when women are not fully in the workplace. You’re not talking to someone who doesn’t believe in that. As a matter of fact, I was fascinated by the July 1989 issue of Cosmopolitan, aside from that lovely lady on the cover, the story “Why Women are Better, Smarter, Stronger than Men”. Of course I noted that the article was written by a man, but yes, I agree, substantially more, or I insist, substantially more than half our human resources are wasted if women don’t have their place…

BROWN: I wouldn’t go so far as that…

HEFFNER: Why not?

BROWN: Because there are smart women, and very dumb women, and there are smart men, and some very dopey, goofy men. And I would think it breaks down about half and half. An article coming up in Cosmo has to do with why women are so viable in the workplace, aside from brains. And that is because we have been so grateful to get there, and to be given a chance to do whatever we’re capable of doing. We’ve been freed to be as good as we can be, and we are willing to work harder, and to work longer, and an important thing is that we don’t posture very much. Women sort of get in there and get the work done. They don’t sort of prance around. We don’t talk too much. We get the work done. You see there are many reasons why women are better employees, at this point, than men in my opinion.

HEFFNER: But you don’t like those reasons because you’re saying they’re better because they’re so grateful that they’re there finally. When it’s something of right, rather than permission, that won’t be the case anymore, you seem to be saying.

BROWN: No, I think women will be just as militaristically involved if we are the head of the Defense Department, but back to this subject. I think I don’t want women to be more like men in the workplace. I keep trying to hire men at Cosmo, but I always wind up with girl editors because of the reasons I just gave. I think women should go on being hard workers, good listeners, dedicated, don’t fool around, don’t talk too much. Women don’t even go to lunches as much as men do, in my opinion. We should go on being like us, and you should get to be more like that in the workplace.

HEFFNER: You know when Channel 13 in New York started and I was its General Manager – I’m going to regret saying this publicly – but I remember it used to be called “Heffner’s Harem” because I hired so many women because I felt, I never thought it out in terms of their being grateful for the opportunity, I just thought, as the story in Cosmo said, that they’re “better, smarter, stronger than men”. And you’re telling me, “Heffner, no, they’re not, and when they have their equal place you’ll find that out”.

BROWN: Don’t want to go through one’s rose leaves, but when I was getting started, 18 years old, my first secretarial job, no woman in the world had a secretary of her own. I mean you were a secretary, or a clerk, or maybe a librarian, or you worked in a department store. The changes that I have seen wrought in my working life have been thrilling, and exciting and horrendous. That for many years there, any of us who got to be in a position to have our own secretary were so thrilled just to have that prerogative that we would never have worked less hard than we did.

HEFFNER: Helen, you talk about all the changes that have taken place in your working lifetime. Do you see a continuation of those changes? I’m not baiting you now, as I was earlier in the program. Let’s forget out earlier discussion. Do you think there’s any backsliding, or do you think that we’re moving further into the 21st Century?

BROWN: I think we’re definitely on our way, and I don’t see any backsliding. We’ve got legal identity now. We’re no longer chattel, like chairs, and possessions of men. Now we have to get legal equality, another thought from Gloria Steinem. But in addition to that, we have been proved so efficient, and successful and wantable, and terrific in the work place that I don’t think it’s going to slide back. Some women may stay home more than they did, or maybe not go into the workplace at all. That’s what we’re after. It’s just options. You should do what you want to do, what works for you, and I predict, if I may, that we’ll have more women in politics. It’s been a very low area, in big political jobs: House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, but now we’re getting a few mayors, a couple of governors. I think that’s going to be a big push…

HEFFNER: And I notice that you say, well variously in speeches that you make, you say you trust so, you hope so, that when they play someday ‘Hail to the Chief’, in will walk a very fashionable lady. Now, do you think that’s going to happen shortly, too, Thatcher-like?

BROWN: No, I don’t believe certainly before the 21st Century, and maybe for not quite a while after that. Geraldine Ferraro didn’t, presumably, do the cause any good. But that was the first Vice-Presidential candidate we had. That…I’m going to take that back. It was wonderful to have a Vice-Presidential candidate as a woman. It’s going to be a long time before a woman is the Chief Executive of the United States, but yes, it is going to happen.

HEFFNER: Let me ask just one more question, because we’re almost at the end of our time, and I’m not baiting you. You talk about the changes that have taken place. Do you see them at all connected to the problems that we have in this country now, the family problems, the social problems, the cultural problems that we have? Do you see any connection between the change in the status of women and the sorry state we find ourselves in in so many areas?

BROWN: That’s a baiting question and the answer is no. I don’t see very much connection because you can still be a hard working woman outside the home and you can raise good kids. Remember that the minority races, women themselves, poor women, always worked in factories. They were other women’s maids. We’ve been working outside the home forever, since the twenties, so it isn’t a new phenomenon. So I don’t think you can stick women with the drug problem, and that’s got a great deal more to do with family life than anything else.

HEFFNER: I know you thought it was a baiting question. I didn’t mean it to be. I didn’t mean it to be confrontational. I just wondered, as a viewer of the American scene, whether you thought there had been some connection, but I’m told that our time is up, so a second, a split second perhaps, what were you going to say?

BROWN: Just, again, to repeat that it never was realistic to think that all women stayed home, and didn’t work outside the home. It’s just that they didn’t have terrific jobs. They had scruffy jobs, and children were raised very successfully. My mother was a teacher. Many women worked in department stores, and as clerks, and stenographers, and they raised good kids. They’ve just got bigger jobs now.

HEFFNER: Helen Gurley Brown, thank you so much for joining me today on THE OPEN MIND.

BROWN: Thank you. I loved it.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, about today’s wonderful guest, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation; The M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; The Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney; The Edythe and Dean Dowling Foundation; The New York Times Company Foundation; and, from the corporate community, Mutual of America.