Sue Ellen Browder wrote for Cosmopolitan magazine for 20 years, producing propaganda to sell women on the idea that sexual liberation is the path to the single woman’s personal fulfillment.
She’s no longer proud of her role in lying to women.
When she started, the feminist movement was about gaining equal rights for women in education and the work place.
“Women could not apply for credit in [their] own name. There were ‘help wanted’ ads—help wanted male and help wanted female,” she says. “Women couldn’t go to law school or medical schools in many cases. There was a lot of discrimination going on. And that is why in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, so many women of my generation identified with the feminist movement.”
The sexual revolution, on the other hand, “was fighting for all sorts of sexual freedoms.”
The two became intertwined in part because of the propaganda she wrote for Cosmo.
Beginning in 1971, Browder worked under the legendary 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.”
Taking cues from Playboy magazine, Brown turned the struggling magazine into an international empire. She gave her writers a printed 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 today. Flipping through the pages, she reads two examples out loud.
By planting salacious stories about women having extravagant affairs in places such as Cleveland and Des Moines, Browder says, “the magazine spread its mores throughout the country and throughout the culture by pretending that they were much more widespread than they actually were.”
One of those Cosmo mores was the idea that abortion was a woman’s “right,” years before the Supreme Court ruled it a constitutionally protected right.
At 27 years old, Browder was happily married with two children at home. When she became pregnant with a third, she and her husband decided to get an abortion. It was 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade.
Browder, who lived in the Los Angeles area and later in two parts of Connecticut for most of her time writing for Cosmo, says she had the abortion in the same hospital where she previously gave birth.
“I did not realize 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 the abortion.
To learn more about Sue Ellen Browder’s story, check out her book “Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement.”