Posts Tagged ‘fulfillment’

“Good girls go to Heaven, but bad girls go everywhere.” So said Helen Gurley Brown, longtime editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine and author of the bestselling “Sex and the Single Girl.” And while one can say what one will about Cosmopolitan magazine, few can argue that HGB was not a gamechanger.

Don’t get me wrong: Cosmo will never be mistaken for a bastion of literary sophistication. Indeed, certain types might look down on its not-so-subtle ethos of Empowerment Through Sex Tips. (How many sex tips does an empowered woman really need, after all?) But the thing is, the thing that feels, to American women in the year 2012, so obvious as to be unnecessary to even mention, is that being empowered sexually is inextricably tied to being empowered, period.

In the New York Times’ “99 Ways to Be Naughty in Kazakhstan: How Cosmo Conquered the World,” writer Edith Zimmerman explores the “global juggernaut,”–a phrase which is no exaggeration:

Through those 64 editions, the magazine now spreads wild sex stories to 100 million teens and young women (making it closer to the 12th-largest country [in the world]), actually) in more than 100 nations–including quite a few where any discussion of sex is taboo.

In fact, Zimmerman says she received an email from the editor of Cosmo India, who wrote:

When we launched in 1996, we were flooded with letters — women wanted to know if kissing could cause pregnancy. They were clueless about the basics of having sex, and they had a million questions about what was right and wrong. The Cosmo team actually tackled these questions personally — writing back to readers with answers or carrying stories that tackled their concerns. Indian parents are usually conservative about sexual matters, and friends were often equally ignorant, so Cosmo was the only one with reliable information.

That’s pretty wild. And honestly, it’s pretty important.

Back in America (and back in the day), the messages HGB heralded were proportionately eye-opening. You don’t need a husband to be happy (in fact, she once dropped this doosie: “I think marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life. During your best years you don’t need a husband. You do need a man of course every step of the way, and they are often cheaper emotionally and a lot more fun by the dozen”). Your primary fulfillment should come from work. Be self-sufficient. Have sex. (And lots of it! Without shame!) Work hard. Don’t depend on a man for anything.

“So you’re single. You can still have sex. You can have a great life. And if you marry, don’t just sponge off a man or be the gold-medal-winning mother. Don’t use men to get what you want in life–get it for yourself.

And, she championed the “mouseburgers”–women who didn’t come from privilege, pedigree, or Princeton. Her book “Sex and The Single Girl” was published one year before “The Feminine Mystique.” Something was in the air, and she was a part of it.

And her legacy is clear. While one might no longer embrace her ideas about sleeping with married men (HGB: go for it), anorexia (HGB: a touch of it can be a good thing), or dealing with the boss (HGB: seduce him, then marry him), others have become internalized by our collective, womanly subconscious: namely, that we can have it all.

As we wrote about in Undecided, while women have now reached the point where even that message feels, in some ways, constrictive–knotted up with pressure and expectations and juggling and the entrenched inequality that remains–clearly, we’re making progress. HGB and countless others had their eyes on the ball (I refuse to make a Cosmo-worthy pun here); it’s our job to keep running with it.

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You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day where nothing is sure–and when I say nothing, I mean nothing–you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.

So says Julie, the modern-day half of the heroines featured in Nora Ephron’s new comedy “Julie & Julia.” By now I’m sure you know the backstory: in 2002, then 29 year-old office drone/aspiring writer Julie Powell decided to cook her way through the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, and blog about it. Well, the blog turned into a (bestselling) book, and the book begot the movie, which charts the parallel lives of Powell and Child, both looking for something to do with their lives–and stumbling upon their calling. Of the premise, food defender Michael Pollan wrote in this Sunday’s New York Times magazine:

The movie shuttles back and forth between Julie’s year of compulsive cooking and blogging in Queens in 2002 and Julia’s decade in Paris and Provence a half-century earlier. Julia Child in 1949 was in some ways in the same boat in which Julie Powell found herself in 2002; happily married to a really nice guy, but feeling, acutely, the lack of a life project. Living in Paris, where her husband, Paul Child, was posted in the diplomatic corps, Julia (who like Julie had worked as a secretary) was at a loss as to what to do with her life until she realized that what she liked to do best was eat. So she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and learned how to cook. As with Julia, so with Julie: cooking saved her life, giving her a project and, eventually, a path to literary success.

Granted, the argument that cooking can save a woman’s life leads to some relatively dicey territory, although I don’t think Pollan’s motives sexist (though decidedly foodist). In fact, it’s worth noting that 1963, the year Julia Child’s “The French Chef” went on the air, was the same year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique.” Rather than arguing about who wanted whom out of–or stuck in–the kitchen, I think it’s safe to say that Julia Child became a sort of feminist trailblazer. As Kate Harding put it on Salon.com’s Broadsheet:

I love [Child] in large part because she proved that a woman could follow her bliss to succeed wildly in a male-dominated profession. I love Julia Child because her going into the kitchen helped a lot of women with different dreams and talents get out of it.

And that she did. But I think what’s most inspiring about both Child and Powell is, ironically, that their willingness to go forth without a recipe–to follow their bliss and take it as it comes–led them both to their calling.

There’s a certain, passive implication inherent in the notion of ‘finding your calling.’ It’s as though the skies will part, lightning will strike and we’ll hear a voice, calling us to whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing with ourselves. But waiting for lightning to strike seems like a pretty pointless–not to mention frustrating–endeavor. Maybe we while away our days twiddling our thumbs and pondering our navels while awaiting the great revelation; or maybe we feel somehow deficient for never hearing the great Call. Obviously, we all want to be doing something meaningful. But maybe we’ve got it backwards. Maybe the smarter recipe for this kind of fulfillment is to just set off towards something–anything–and see where it takes us.

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