It has been a long running joke in sitcoms, a shorthand for a housewife's frustrations and teenage aspirations. A multiple choice Cosmo quiz has been the plot line for husbands taking their wives out on farcical dinners at French restaurants (5 Ways to Reignite your Marriage!) and teenage girls furtively trying to extract answers to their quizzes from the object of their affection (5 Ways to Tell if He's into You!) to see if they are a match.
Cosmopolitan magazine has taken a bit of a bashing from the feminist blogosphere, continuing where the first wave feminist Cosmo sit in left off. While the Cosmo house style might have become a slightly comic cliché it has yet to become compulsory reading.
Yesterday Sex and the Single Girl author and the Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief of 32 years Helen Gurley Brown died at the age of 90. Hearst Publications said in its statement announcing the news of Brown's death: “Helen was one of the world’s most recognized magazine editors and book authors, and a true pioneer for women in journalism—and beyond.”
Brown came into public view around the same time as Hugh Hefner, both peddling a new attitude to sexuality. Brown thought sex, money and career should all be on a woman's mind, a revolutionary opinion that pre-dated The Feminine Mystique by a year.
Some of Brown's opinions were perhaps dated, if not ill informed. When women were coming forward to accuse Senator Bob Packwood of sexual harassment Brown snapped at one Journalist: “My darling, would you please remember that he was one of the congressmen who supported legal abortion. He was one of us, so we have to forgive him for being a jerk.” Did Brown always have women's best interests at heart or for someone so married to the idea of having it all did she see herself as being realistic and on occasion compromising? We'll never know and we'll certainly never agree. As Hadley Freeman, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme put it: “She was a feminist within a certain rubric.”
It is important we keep up the profile of women who do speak up and speak out however. People can make their own decisions politically, sexually and socially but the importance of a generous, opinionated and loud woman who pits herself for women is sadly unusual. Thatcher claimed she owed nothing to Women's Lib, the editor of Kazakhstan's Cosmopolitan magazine used to receive a handwritten from Brown after each publication. A true Cosmo Girl is pro-women.
So tonight we will be raising a cosmopolitan to Helen Gurley Brown, a truly fun, fearless female.
People - myself included - tend to knock Cosmo. Sure, their sex tips include the infamous 'wrap a scrunchie around your lover's erect member and proceed to give him a hand-job', but that's missing the point of the magazine. Girls who read Cosmo are far too young to be having sex. It's a magazine for that stage at school where you're desperate to be a grown-up, but still fumbling around behind the bikesheds for snogs and cigarettes. None of us would have had the balls to give anyone a hair-tie hand shandy. Thank God.
But when you're that girl in her early teens who's still figuring a lot of things (everything) out, Cosmo is a light in the darkness of adolescence. It's a magazine that's both aspirational and realistic, presenting teenagers with a picture of adulthood that could genuinely be theirs. Because what Cosmo did above everything else was to promote the philosophy of being a fun, fearless female.
HGB was convinced that you could have it all, that by having the courage and the confidence to take personal and professional risks young women could choose the life they wanted and live it to the fullest. Her magazines have continued to espouse this theme long after she retired and the brand went truly global. And what a philosophy to send around the world.
Fun, fearless and female might not sound like much of a rallying-cry, but when you think about it, it's actually quite a subversive credo to promote. Young girls are taught to be good, while their brothers are the ones traditionally praised for their bravery. But fearlessness is a life-skill that should be promoted to both sexes equally, because to live a full life requires an element of fearlessness, whether it's the courage you need to leave a miserable job for a lower-paid but more fulfilling one, to come out to your friends and family when your choices - romantic, political, religious, whatever - go against their norms, to leave a dead-end relationship, or to throw on a backpack and head off around the world.
Being fearless isn't just about throwing yourself out of aeroplanes or racing cars at 300kph. It's about having the courage to stand up for yourself, to go against the flow and follow your dreams, to live a life that will satisfy you emotionally and intellectually. What that life would be was entirely yours to decide - Cosmo didn't judge you, and HGB certainly wouldn't.
Kate Walker is F1 Editor of girlracer and Assistant Editor of GP Week. Follow her on Twitter @F1Kate, or read more of her writing at www.f1katewalker.com.