Harriet Walker: Many happy returns to the Single Girl

IMHO: Like it or not many women are still just as scared of so-called "feminism" and its adherents as they ever were

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The Independent Online

Like any liberated modern woman, the Single Girl feels no need to lie about her age: she is 50 next year – and my, hasn't she aged well?

It's a half-century since the publication of original "lipstick feminist" and indefatigable Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl, but its manifesto is far from outdated. If anything, we need her words more than ever.

Gurley Brown was the first to suggest that the radical feminist manifestos of the time – the shunning of men, the maternity myth – might not have been accessible to the average woman. She offered not ethics but everyday solutions. Some women, she reasoned, might enjoy the company of men; some women might want children; and some women might enjoy sex. Why shouldn't they do so as often and with as much gusto as their male counterparts? She was Erica Jong for realists.

To a young woman of a certain age, her words are invaluable now, but it is even more important that they are read by the generation currently growing up in a world dominated by, yes, men but also by porn culture, celebrities and reality TV.

It's getting harder and harder to find female role models; we were offered Carrie Bradshaw, who is often held up as the latterday patron saint of the Single Girl but just turned out to be obsessed with herself and her shoes.

No, the women who people popular culture these days are mere production line incarnations of the independent, sexually confident creature that Helen Gurley Brown spoke of. That is, they have every semblance of that independent spirit, but are shot through with discrepancies and hypocrisy.

They are overly tanned, packed with Botox and silicon, scantily clad and stupid; they are dolls sprung fully formed from the heads of men in suits.

Gurley Brown advocated dressing up and wearing make-up; she was no apologist for the weaknesses of the flesh, but rather a pragmatist about the lure of companionship. And her approach strikes a similar chord now in an age of "post-feminism", as Forbes magazine dubbed it last week, as it did in the Seventies, when millions of women staggered, blinking, out of the kitchen. They were anxious and uncertain of how to act – just as we are now.

Like it or not – and I don't deny the progress we have made – many women are still just as scared of so-called "feminism" and its adherents as they were back then. Beyoncé won't even admit she is one.

To make a concept more palatable is not to dilute it: Helen Gurley Brown knew that. So, on the birthday of her book, let's wish her and the Single Girl many happy returns.

* Happy birthday also to the world's most adorable polar bear pup, Siku, a month old this week. The snuggly snow-white infant will be looked after by a team of devoted carers since his mother, also in residence at the wildlife park in Denmark, is unable to feed him herself.

The short clip of him lolling about and napping caused YouTube hysteria worldwide thanks to its other-worldly cuteness, as well as some broodiness and phantom lactation among the more emotionally vulnerable of my friends.

No prizes for guessing what will be on top of their Christmas lists this year.

After the consternation at the BBC's "faked" footage of polar bears in the wild, it was great to watch Siku rolling around in his natural habitat this week – on a playmat atop somebody's kitchen table.

Well, that's where I'll be keeping my baby polar bear when Santa brings him round tomorrow, anyway.

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