Problematic Women: A Woman’s Story of Unwittingly Furthering the Sexual Revolution

Sue Ellen Browder, author of “Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement,” was a writer for Cosmopolitan magazine during the sexual revolution. 

It was not until years later that she realized how the sexual revolution had strategically targeted the women’s movement to alter its message from female empowerment and opportunity to sexual freedom without morality. 

Browder joins “Problematic Women” to tell her story in her own words. Also, be sure to check out The Daily Signal’s new documentary telling the inside story of Browder’s work for Cosmo. 

Plus, interior designer Robin Stroebel joins the show to discuss how occupational licensing reform would provide job opportunities for more women and cut red tape for small-business owners. And, as always, we will be crowning our Problematic Woman of the Week. Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

Enjoy the show! 

Lauren Evans: Welcome back to the show. Before we start our next segment, I have a surprise for everyone. Hold on. Hello?

Kelsey Bolar: Hello.

Evans: Welcome back. Former “Problematic Women” co-host and current senior policy analyst at [the Independent Women’s Forum], the one, the only, Kelsey Bolar.

Kelsey, I have to say, even though we aren’t physically together, it is so fun to have you back on the show.

Bolar: It is so great to be here. It’s weird, because in a way I feel like I never left. Part of the reason I didn’t want a big goodbye episode a couple months ago when I left my full-time role with Daily Signal is because I was very hopeful that a part-time contributorship was going to come through, because I could not leave you all.

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I love our team at the Daily Signal, and I am honored and excited to share that I will continue to contribute and, hopefully, appear as a contributor on “Problematic Women” as well. So, you guys are not done with me yet.

Evans: I love it. I’m just so excited you’re back. So, Kelsey, we’re bringing you back on the show this week because we just released a documentary on one of our personal heroes, Sue Ellen Browder. To talk more about the documentary, we also have Sue herself. Welcome, Sue.

Sue Ellen Browder: Oh, it’s good to be here. Thank you.

Bolar: Sue Ellen Browder is an award-winning journalist who has appeared on “Oprah,” the “Today” show, and hundreds of other radio talk shows. Her work for 20 years as a writer for Cosmopolitan and other magazines has given her a lifetime of experience with the women’s movement as it unfolded in the media, both on the public stage and behind the scenes.

Sue speaks regularly to women’s groups around the country and was recently invited to participate in a panel on the status of women at the United Nations. Today, she lives a very different life than she did during her former Cosmopolitan days. She lives out in Wyoming, in a town that is so quiet and small that the [COVID-19] pandemic has hardly even touched them.

Sue, I’m so excited that you’re here. The first question is an easy one. How are you doing?

Browder: I’m doing absolutely fantastic. We’re in Wyoming. They’ve opened up the state quite a bit. We’re still having some social distancing, but we’ve had a full schedule of services all through all of this.

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Bolar: Well, let’s talk about the documentary. It was inspired by your memoir, “Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement.” The book has five stars on Amazon, in case anyone was wondering, and we kind of want to start from the beginning here. You’re from a small town in Iowa. You went to one of the most prestigious journalism schools. You wanted to be a writer. You landed at Cosmo, and what happened?

Browder: Well, I wanted to be a magazine writer. I actually majored in magazine writing. And then I went to Los Angeles for a year. Then we went to New York City, and I got a job at Cosmopolitan magazine.

Now, when I was at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I had chosen Cosmo as my magazine to investigate for one of our classes. We were supposed to look at a magazine and see what would you have to do to sell articles to this magazine? And when I looked at it, even then, when I was out in Missouri, I said, “These stories look like they’re made up.” They didn’t feel real. They were too pat.

See the documentary about Sue Ellen Browder’s career at Cosmo:

And when I got on Cosmo, when I got on staff at Cosmo, I found out that that was accurate. These stories were made up. Helen Gurley Brown, who was the editor of Cosmo in those days, even had a list of rules on how to make up stories to sell the sexual revolution to young women.

Evans: So, that brings me into my next question. I wanted to ask about Helen Gurley Brown. You talk about her a lot in the book and what she taught you, and not in a good way, to write “fake news.” But you prefer a different term.

Can you tell our listeners what that term is and how that has really affected society today?

Browder: Well, I said that we were writing propaganda, because propaganda, the definition of propaganda is half-truth, limited truth, and truth out of context. So, this is what we were promoting to young women.

There were lots of things that [we] were not allowed to say in the magazine. And then we made up a lot of stories about people. So, this was, this was propaganda, but you see, what people are calling “fake news” today, a lot of it is really the result of half-truths, selective truth, and truth out of context. So that’s the classic definition of propaganda.

Bolar: How was this propaganda used to hijack the women’s movement? Can you give us an idea also of the time period we’re talking about?

Browder: We’re talking about the early 1970s and the late 1960s. Propaganda was used to hijack the women’s movement, in that the women’s movement and the sexual revolution in those days were two radically separate movements.

Helen Gurley Brown would have loved for Cosmo to be part of the women’s movement, part of the feminist movement, but Betty Friedan, who had launched the women’s movement with her 1963 book, “The Feminine Mystique,” called Cosmo quite obscene and quite horrible. She was very much against the sexual revolution.

And then the women’s movement was all about empowerment of women in the workforce and in academia. So, how did those two get joined together? How did this false sexual revolution, which was made up entirely of lies in the beginning, these women weren’t, there weren’t that many women out there hopping into bed with every man they met and all of that stuff. How did those two get joined together?

Well, that was after I became a Catholic in 2003, a lot of my friends began to ask me that question, and I didn’t know the answer. So that’s when I started writing this book, “Subverted.” I started looking into it.

How did they get joined together? And the short answer is, that when Betty Friedan and the feminist movement accepted abortion as a necessary right for women, then Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmo said, “Yeah, we’re all for that. We’re all for that.” And the two got joined together in the minds of women and in the minds of the media and the minds of the world.

Evans: What were the consequences of that?

Browder: Well, the consequences have been terrible for women. Well, the thing that women are protesting today in the #MeToo movement is the result of that false joining of the sexual revolution with the feminist movement.

Women are now told that they if they want to be liberated, they have to be sexually liberated. They have to want sex with any man who asks. So, the two joined together. A woman who wants a good job and a good education shouldn’t have to sell her body to get that way. And she shouldn’t have to give it away either.

So, the two got joined together, and this is the very thing that the #MeToo movement is protesting. Even as they pretend that they’re supporting women when they’re supporting abortion.

Abortion is the kingpin here. You separate those two out, because that’s where you get into women’s sexuality, is with abortion. You separate those two out, and you’ve got an authentic feminism. That’s why I say that the pro-life movement is the authentic women’s movement of the 21st century.

Bolar: So many young women who are pro-life have a hard time identifying as a feminist, because they are worried about what that word has come to mean. What you’re really arguing is that there’s been a big revisionist history regarding the actual history of the women’s movement, which was the feminist movement, even before abortion was ever a part of it.

How did this happen? How did so many women, and men for that matter, come to buy into this fake history? And what can and should we do about it?

Browder: Well, there’s a chapter in my book on what happened in the Chinese Room of the Mayflower hotel on November 18th, 1967, in Washington, DC. And what happened that night, where there were only about 100 people in the room that night, it was the National Organization for Women’s second annual conference, and there was a vote.

They were votes taken that night, that day and night, on what women’s rights amounted to. There were only eight rights voted on that day and that night, and most of them are things we can all agree with. A woman should have equal pay for equal work. A woman should be able to go to law school and medical school, families should be able to deduct child care expenses from their income taxes.

There were only two rights [that] stirred up any controversy in that meeting. One was the Equal Rights Amendment. That’s now history, I hope. Some people are trying to bring it back.

The other, though, was the abortion right. And they fought over that until almost midnight that night. One-third of those women later walked out and resigned from NOW over the abortion vote. When it was settled, there were only 57 people in that room that voted to insert abortion into the feminist Bill of Rights, into the national organization’s Bill of Rights.

Once that happened, Betty Friedan, who was president at the time, came out and said she was speaking for all women everywhere, all women across America who wanted to go back, to get to go back, to college, who wanted to get into the workforce. All of these women, she was talking for millions of women.

She was only talking about 57 people in the Chinese Room that night.

And one-third of those women, as I say, walked out of NOW and later resigned from the organization over the abortion vote. And where did they go? These were pro-life feminists. Now these are fervent feminists. These are the founders of the feminist movement in the 1960s. So, these were fervent feminists. They walked out and resigned over the abortion vote.

And they went on to fight for lots of freedoms that now women have. They fought in the courts, these pro-life feminists fought in the courts to get help-wanted male and help-wanted female ads out of newspapers. They fought to allow a married woman to get credit in her own name. They fought for, in some states, for women to be able to serve on a jury. They fought so that women would not be fired for being pregnant. People forget that in those days, women were fired for being pregnant. I was fired for being pregnant.

So, you see, in some ways my generation might have bought into that, “Well, we need abortion to empower ourselves, because otherwise we’re going to be fired for being pregnant.” But it was a false empowerment. And the pro-life women’s movement knew that. And they still know that today.

Evans: It’s crazy for me and for Kelsey and women in our generation to think that it was even possible in this country to be fired for being pregnant. When we were doing research and trying to find footage, you can’t even find images of women pregnant back in the ’50s and ’60s, because it was so taboo.

Sue, why is it important for women who are pro-life, who don’t fit in this traditional feminist box, to identify with the feminist movement?

Browder: I think it’s important because I say we need to take back the “F-word,” feminism, because it’s being used against us, if you will. People, women are standing up who are pro-abortion, who are standing up against, still to this day, pretending that they’re speaking for all liberated women, when in fact, the most liberated women are the pro-life women who are also including motherhood in their ambitions, if you will.

They want to be both mothers and have careers. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. And if we don’t speak up and say, “We are the authentic feminists of the 21st century,” these other women, the propagandists, if you will, will continue to run the show, will continue to pretend to young women, deceiving young women, that they are speaking for all women in America, and they are not.

Evans:  So, Sue, we just saw you last year, but so much has happened since we filmed. I’ve already joked, but Kelsey had a baby, there’s been a global pandemic, and you also wrote a book, “Sex and the Catholic Feminist: New Choices for a New Generation.” And I love this. Literally, the first sentence of the description says “it challenges the notion that you can’t be a feminist and believe in God.”

So, this is so interesting. And it’s something that I wrestled with myself, personally. And I think we’ve touched on a little bit that society wants to put feminists and Christians into separate boxes. So, can you tell us a little bit about this new book and your inspiration for writing it?

Browder: Well, this book carries “Subverted” a little bit farther. It’s a small book, it’s only about a hundred pages. I wanted something that women could read very quickly and absorb the history of the women’s movement very quickly.

And what it does, is it shows that pro-life women, Christians, were the ones that started the feminist movement. Alice Paul, and a lot of those women that were with her were Christians that gave women the right to vote. So, the women’s movement from the beginning was a Christian movement.

It grew out of a desire for women’s dignity and respect. And it also, when Betty Friedan came along in the ’60s and started talking about feminism, what does she say feminism was really about? She says, “The core that feminism is about is a woman’s personhood.” And she said, “A woman’s personhood should not be limited.”

She made a mistake when she inserted abortion in the women’s movement. And she fought against that mistake for the rest of her life, but she didn’t realize what she’d done. She didn’t realize that she had joined the sexual revolution with the women’s movement.

Betty Friedan was not a Christian; she was an agnostic, and maybe even an atheist at the time that she wrote the book. So, but these women that walked out of the National Organization for Women meeting that night and went on to win all these rights were again, pro-life Christians. So, pro-life Christians have been in this movement all the time, and they are still there marching in the March for Life every year. They are still protesting what happened in that Chinese Room that night.

And we need to know what happened so we can tell it to others, and so we can straighten out the story. The narrative is totally wrong.

Evans: So, that book is called “Sex and the Catholic Feminist.” I want to know, is it just for Catholics or is it more for any pro-life woman of faith? And I’m curious, because I have a lot of pro-life friends who absolutely reject the label, feminism, as I mentioned earlier.

What would you recommend my generation says to them about why they should reconsider identifying with the “F-word” [feminism]?

Browder: Well, I think that was a big question there. It’s called, “Sex and the Catholic Feminist,” because it’s written, it’s published by Ignatius Press, which is a Catholic press. And we do take this completely through starting with feminism and what it was in the beginning, which was mostly non-Catholics that started—it was a Protestant movement in the early 1900s. But there were Catholics involved in it.

I mean, so, this is more of a Christian book than than just Catholics; not limited to just Catholics. But I do talk about John Paul II, who said we should create a new feminism, and that’s what this book is about.

What would that new feminism look like? Well, what it looks like is the pro-life movement of right now. This is the feminist movement. And when I spoke at the March for Life and the Pro-Life Summit in January, these women were on fire. They knew that they have the true empowerment of women, and they’re ready to speak up.

So, in some ways, I’m saying that these, the pro- life movement already is taking back the “F-word.” They’re already doing it, and we’re doing it big time.

Evans: So, Sue, one thing that you wrote about in your book and you spoke about in this documentary, is that abortion isn’t just something that you talk about, it’s something that you’ve lived through. How has that influenced your career and your life right now?

Browder: Well, as I say, I did have an abortion. I aborted my third child in the 1970s. Once I came into the Catholic Church, I didn’t actually think the Catholic Church would let me in, because I did that, but they did. And once I came into the Catholic Church, I went to confession, and I had a wonderful priest, and I got healed from that.

And once I got healed from that abortion to the point where I could talk about it, I realized there’s a lot of women hurting out there who are still hurting so much, they can’t talk about it. And I realized I had reached the point where I could, and it was time I needed to do that.

It’s this book, both of these books were written as penitence, if you will. I didn’t really want to tell my story when I first started, but the editor wanted that part of the story. And so my priest said, “Well, if you’re going to do it, do it as an ascetic exercise.”

In other words, don’t sit around and moan and groan and go back too deep and make it as bad … Don’t, don’t muck around in forever. But just constantly, just do it as an ascetic exercise and as a penance. And that’s what I did.

Bolar: Well, the way you talked about it in your book, you handled it with such grace, and I highly recommend any woman who’s struggling with an issue like that read it and read your experience of coming out on the other side, which is very inspirational to see the way you are healed from it.

But in addition to having an abortion, you’ve also had two children. You’re a mother yourself. I’m a new mom. I have a baby girl who’s eight months old.

Browder: Yes, you do.

Bolar: One of the themes you talk about regarding feminism is motherhood, and how true feminists shouldn’t have to choose between their career and being a mom.

Browder: That’s right.

Bolar: Obviously easier said than done. But I’m curious what your advice is for young women, like me, who quite honestly are struggling with balancing careers and our desires for motherhood. And also young women who might be listening to this and hope in the next couple of years, they might be faced with this beautiful, but at times stressful, decision.

Browder: Well, it’s a stressful decision because of that false feminism. We didn’t go far enough. I call it “Reclaim the F-word,” go out there and say, “I’m a mother. And I need my rights in the workplace as well. I don’t need to be able to choose.”

You are already one of the new, young feminists. You will figure it out. You’re all very bright. I’m not leading a new feminist movement here. You are. And that’s in my book, the last thing I say to you, and I’ll read it. This is in “Sex and the Catholic Feminist.” We’re going to go right to the jugular here, “In the inspiring words of St. John Henry Newman, God has a good for you to accomplish, and he will not cast you aside. What are you going to do?”

Bolar: Well, I certainly appreciate that advice. And I think it’s a heavy burden to carry, but I do agree that myself and other colleagues are forging a new path [forward].

Browder: You are. You are.

Bolar: I mean, look at us right now in a global pandemic. We’re all realizing that it is possible to work from home. I have my husband holding the baby right next door, but it is nice to figure out these new options that technology makes it easier to do.

But there’s no easy answers, but I agree that it is really up to this generation of young mothers to advocate for themselves and find a way to not compromise their desires for motherhood or their careers.

Browder: That’s right. That’s right. And once you realize you don’t have to split the two in two, I mean, I did it by working at home. I’m a writer, so I worked at home and raised my children, and my husband was also a writer, so we stayed at home and raised the children together. That worked out very, very well.

More people can do that now. You’ve got homeschooling, who knows, but you’ll figure it out. You’re very bright. You’re very educated. You’re very talented. And you can do this.

Evans: I agree. Kelsey is very bright and very talented, and she can do it. Well, Sue, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. I know Kelsey and I were just so excited to have you on the show. I really implore our listeners to go out, buy “Subverted,” read it once, read it again.

The documentary will be in the show notes. It’ll also be on the Daily Signal’s Facebook and YouTube. And Sue, can you give our listeners information or where they can go ahead and buy “Sex and the Catholic Feminist”?

Browder: That one, I think you’re best going to [catholic.market]. The reason why, that’s instead of Amazon, because they keep running out of books. Every time we do a podcast or something, they run out of books.

So, go to [https://catholic.market/topics/marriage-family/sex-and-the-catholic-feminist/], because you can get it cheaper, and you can get several copies and give them out to your friends. If you get a few of them, it gets cheaper as you go along. And I think I’m going to get 25. You can get it for [$7], which is half price. So, catholic.store is the best place to go.

Evans: Awesome. Well, everybody go do that. Thanks again, Sue. It’s a pleasure.

Browder: It was a delight to be here.

Source material can be found at this site.

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