THE WOMAN WHO DESTROYED WOMEN
Sue Ellen Browder wrote fake news before fake news was ever a thing. Browder, a Cosmopolitan magazine writer for 20 years, describes what she wrote as crude propaganda. The intention was to sell women on the idea that sexual liberation is the path to woman’s personal fulfilment.
‘Propaganda is very sophisticated. It is half-truth, selected truth, and truth out of context. Propaganda is used not to sell just products. It’s also used to sell ideas,’ she says.
It was 1969, and getting fired for being pregnant was a wake-up call. The situation made Browder realise that women then were considered less than equal.
‘That is why in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, so many women of my generation identified with the feminist movement. Being a feminist back then was very different from what it means today, when many see the movement as anti-male and pro-abortion.
The feminist movement was fighting for equal opportunity for women in education and the workforce. Simultaneous but unconnected the sexual revolution was fighting for all sorts of sexual freedoms.
So how did the two become so entwined? In part, Browder says, through the propaganda she wrote. Beginning in 1971, Browder worked under Helen Gurley Brown, who was Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief for more than 30 years and author of the bestselling 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl.
Using Playboy magazine for inspiration, Brown turned the struggling magazine into an international empire. She gave her writers a list of rules to follow, which included instructions about how to make up parts of their stories to sound more convincing.
Browder still owns her original copy of the rules. She cites two examples: Unless you are a recognised authority on the subject, profound statements must be attributed to somebody appropriate, even if the writer has to invent the authority.
Try to locate some of the buildings, restaurants, nightclubs, parks, streets, as well as entire case histories in cities other than New York, even if you deliberately have to plant them elsewhere. Most writers live in New York, 92% of our readers do not.
By planting salacious stories about women having tawdry affairs in places such as Cleveland and Des Moines, Browder says, the magazine spread its sexual freedom cult throughout America by pretending that illicit affairs were much more widespread than they actually were.
Cosmopolitan claimed that abortion was a woman’s right. She details the story of how a small group of feminists inserted abortion into the agenda of the women’s movement in her 2015 book Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement.’
From that point on, the fake narrative was set. ‘Essentially, all women want this and that is how propaganda works,’ Browder says.
Sue Browder was married and living a traditional lifestyle quite different from what she was advocating in Cosmopolitan. But she too, was corrupted by its influence. At one point, the ideas in those pages seeped into the most personal decision she and her husband could ever make.
At 27 years old, she was happily married with two children. When she became pregnant with a third, she and her husband decided to get an abortion. Browder says she had the abortion in the same hospital where she previously gave birth.
‘I did not realise what a traumatic experience that would be later in my life, how much that would haunt me.’
About 20 years later, in 1994, Browder’s last piece appeared in Cosmopolitan. About 10 years after that, she converted to Catholicism and sought the help of the church to heal her from haunting murder of her unborn child.
‘When you start betraying the truth, it will come back to haunt you. It will get you in the end. And that’s why even though I knew we were making up stories, I still got sucked in and thought abortion would be okay.’
Browder’s abortion isn’t the only thing she seeks forgiveness for. She admits her part about the propaganda she wrote for Cosmopolitan.
‘I don’t want to take more credit than I deserve for all this evil, but I think that I was certainly part of the evil empire. What I would like, for young women today is to tell them the truth so they could see how my generation got it all so wrong, why we got it wrong, and how they can do better; how, how your generation can do better.’
In order to do better, Browder says, pro-life women must reclaim the feminist movement for themselves. But reclaiming feminism won’t be easy, she adds. It will require girls and young women to reject the ideas being sold to them in the pages of Cosmopolitan and almost everywhere else.
Asked why so many were prepared to use the feminist movement, her answer is in one word: ‘Money’. Cosmo was successful because it attracted advertisers because marketing propaganda works.
‘When a young woman, an insecure young woman, reads these magazines and thinks that she has to have perfume, cosmetics, hair products, beautiful clothes, singles travel, abortions, contraception, when she thinks she has to have all of these things, she’s going to spend a lot of money.’
‘They’re saying, you’re not good enough the way you are, buy all this stuff to be beautiful.’ But, why aren’t you beautiful just the way you are?
‘Here’s the perfume. Oh yeah, you stink too. Oh, by the way, your hands don’t look very nice either. And your hair colour is wrong. Oh, and when you’re tired of hearing about that, have some ice cream and a little booze to go with it, because then you’ll be too fat and then we’ll have to sell you a diet.’
Browder, now 74, giggles at the absurdity of the ideas that she once told women were the secret to happiness and success. But then she turns serious, reflecting on the damage she’s done and the damage such magazines and websites continue to do.
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