Cosmopolitan propaganda

Cosmopolitan’s Rules for Propaganda

19 March 2021

16.5 MINS

For 20 years, Sue Ellen Browder wrote for Cosmopolitan about made-up women embracing promiscuity and the Sexual Revolution. Why? So the magazine could sell expensive products to those who wanted to be like this “ideal woman.”


Here we are today at a time when all of America seems to be falling apart. With COVID, race riots, church burnings, and desecration of statues of the Virgin Mary, how can we care about the Sexual Revolution at a time like this? Why would anybody even bother to care about something that happened 50 years ago.

I think we need to realise, the battles we are fighting in our culture today, from the sexual revolution to race riots and church burnings, are all interconnected. The question we are fighting about in America and the world today is “What does it mean to be a person?” Are we made in the image of God and are we made for eternal joy? Or are we just sophisticated, sexual animals meant to acquire as much power as we possibly can before we die?

If we are just sophisticated animals, what’s wrong with sex trafficking? What’s wrong with pornography? What’s wrong with destroying the family? What’s wrong with the policeman killing George Floyd in the streets? If there is no God, and there is nothing in this world that’s sacred, and our brief time on this earth is all about how we can assert our own power, what’s the point? In a totally self-created world, you can do whatever you want, you can be whatever you want, you can say whatever you want and nobody can stop you.

If you look all around us at our culture; everything around us is in upheaval, and yet nowhere does anyone appear to be responsible for all of this. Where did it all come from? Well, I’m here to tell you today, at least one place where it all comes from. From the past 100 years or so, a lot of this has been driven by a highly sophisticated science of propaganda.

The problem is that propaganda, the kind that can change your life and ruin your life, is purposefully designed to be invisible. So today, we are going to talk about propaganda: what it is, how it works, and how you can spot it. We can’t look at all the propaganda we’re subjected to every day, because there is so much we can’t even begin to talk about it all.

But as someone who wrote Sex Revolution propaganda for Cosmo for two decades (not the last two decades, but for two decades) I can tell you about some of the propaganda that was used to sell the Sex Revolution’s false values to American women. And a lot of the rules we followed (and there are rules to follow for propaganda) a lot of those rules we followed are still being used to sell many other false values to Americans today.

To start with, a little bit of my background. I grew up in a small town in Iowa called New Hampton during the 1950s. My father owned a shoe store, where my homemaker mother worked part time. Marriage was forever in those days. In my high school class of 150 or so students, I only knew one girl whose parents were divorced. Only one. Can you imagine?

And yet in my youthful innocence, I thought all those people in my small town had, “small town minds.”And I longed to escape to New York City to be part of what imagined to be the “real world.”I was very glamour-struck. I wanted to be sophisticated. After I graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I went with my husband to New York City (I was married already). We were married in those days at 21. When I landed a job at Cosmopolitan Magazine in New York City. It was 1971. The Sexual Revolution was in full swing.

I was an ambitious young woman. Cosmo was the hottest women’s magazine in the nation, and I was there. One of the first things that I learned when I got a job on staff at Cosmo, that a lot of those stories about women hopping into bed with men, were completely made up. Having these happy-go-lucky lives, so the first thing that propagandists do, when they’re working to destroy our culture, is this: they tell stories. They create partially true narratives to distort the whole truth.

Helen Gurley Brown, who was Cosmo’s editor-in-chief (she’s the one that changed Cosmo from a general interest magazine into a sex rag, and she did that in the mid-60’s), she had written up a set of rules telling us how to make up stories for the magazine and even how to make up expos. So you’re talking here, again, about rules on how to manufacture propaganda. Here’s what one of the rules says,

“Unless you are a recognised authority on a subject, profound statements must be attributed to somebody appropriate, even if the writer has to invent the authority.”

In other words, it is ok, even good, to invent an authority if you can’t find a real person to say what you want them to say. And then she gives two examples of what she means: she says, “This is bad: all psychiatrists are basically Freudians.” Well, of course, that’s only partially true, not all qualified psychiatrists are Freudians, but some of them are. “Better,” she says, “Better, ‘According to one practitioner who specializes in group therapy, “all psychiatrists are Freudians.’” So now we’ve invented this authority to tell us this lie.

So presumably, this young, innocent, young lady, will be more inclined to believe it. So, propagandists also create fake authorities. Since most young women in America were not part of the Sexual Revolution, the Sexual Revolution was manufactured out of whole cloth. We also had to make this libertine lifestyle appear more widespread than it actually was. And how were we going to do this?

Well, Helen tells us how. How do you make something that’s not happening look like it’s happening everywhere? Here’s what she says, “When making up stories about ordinary women” whom she calls civilians, I guess we’re in the army, the propagandists are in the army and everyone else out there is a civilian,

“When making up stories about ordinary women, try to locate some of the buildings, restaurants, night clubs, parks, streets, as well as entire case histories,” — all these case histories are made up — “in cities other than New York, even if you deliberately have to plant them somewhere else. Most writers live in New York. 92% of our readers do not.”

So, by making up these women and planting them in Cleveland and Des Moines and Albuquerque. Of course, we made the Sexual Revolution’s false promises look a lot more widespread than they actually were. Ok. The unspoken message to the young reader is,

“Everyone else is doing this. Why are you being such a stick in the mud. Get out there and have fun!”

Propagandists also make their values seem more widespread than they actually are. Another favourite propaganda technique is to make up false polls and release them through the media. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who spilled the beans on the propaganda that sold abortion to American women and to American people, talked about how they just manufactured a bunch of false polls to make abortion more popular than it actually was. And they released them through the media, the media reprinted them, and pretty soon they were everywhere.

Now, back to Cosmo. Within these rules, Helen also gives examples of the types of fictitious anecdotes, or little parables, she wants to see in her magazine. So, for example, here’s a story invented about an imaginary girl named Erica, who doesn’t exist, that appeared in an article entitled, “One Man is not Enough.” (now these appeared in the 1970’s. These sorts of stories are still appearing today in various places all over the place, anyway):

“When one man is not enough. She had been living toward a definition of feminine nature that was doing her an injustice. In locking herself into a monogamous relationship with a married man, she was, more often than not, left with nothing at all. The elusive fellow in question did plan to marry here, as soon as he could work his wife around to giving her a divorce. But in the meantime, poor Erica is all lonely and upset.”

So, is Cosmo’s advice not to sleep with married men? Oh no! No, no no. Cosmo’s advice is not to sleep with one married man, but with several. So, in her best-selling book Sex and the Single Girl (Helen Gurley Brown), Helen wrote,

“It seems to me that the solution is not to rule out married men, but to keep them as pets. While they’re using you to varnish their egos, you use them to add spice to your life. I say ‘them’ advisedly. One married man is dangerous. A potpourri can be fun.”

Creepy, huh?

One thing that was very important at Cosmo, and an essential aspect of propaganda, is the tone in which these fake stories are told. Cosmo was written in the tone of big sister written to little sister. Our tone was very chatty, conversational, and intimate, as if we were cluing you in on some inside knowledge you would only hear from your best friend. The unspoken message to our reader, whom we called “that Cosmo girl,” was “see how declasse the rest of the world is compared to sophisticated insiders like us?”You can see how seductive and appealing this tone can be to an insecure young girl, who is afraid she is not pretty enough or popular enough, or fashionable enough and wants to be seen as smart and sophisticated. Propaganda is the language of the Serpent.

By now, I think you can see that propaganda is not just a bunch of lies. Most people think that’s what it is. The problem there is not just a bunch of lies. Most people think that’s what it is, so they can spot it in a second. “I’m smart enough. I can tell, I can spot a lie when I see one. Nobody can fool me.” They think.But modern propaganda is far more subtle and sophisticated than a straight-out lie. It is a highly sophisticated lie. Propaganda is half-truths, limited truths, and truths out of context. It is part of propaganda’s nature and power to be concealed and disguised.

So, for example, let me show you how subtle propaganda is. Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, pioneered a scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion. He was one of the first public relations men in America. In 1928 Bernays wrote a book called Propaganda in which he explained how to transform the buyer’s very world, the world around her, to sell products and ideals. You can sell ideas with propaganda as well. For example, this is Bernays, how do you sell pianos to the middle class? Because a piano’s a pretty high-ticket item. You sell pianos by selling the music room.

You have all these upscale music magazines like House Beautiful and Architectural Digest showing pictures of upper-class homes with beautiful music rooms sending the unspoken message that all the stylish and chic people have music rooms in their homes. And once you get the middle class to believe that they need a music room, the person who is reading these articles will say, “Ah! I’ve got to have a piano!”

Well, how do you sell beautiful clothes, make-up, expensive perfumes, hairstyling products, singles travel, contraceptives, abortions? You sell them by selling the Cosmo lifestyle. You make up a lot of these stories, about how this is the most wonderful, glamorous lifestyle a woman could ever possibly have, no problems, and the ladies just go for it. This is the way to be really happy. And once you sell that sexy lifestyle to them, she’ll just naturally conclude, “Ah, I just have to have all these other products.”

Propaganda is more than just a bunch of lies; it’s the marketing tool to sell stuff. And it contains some truth, but it is twisted. So let’s go back again to some of those rules that must never be broken when you’re writing for Cosmo. Like I said, these rules are applied in a lot of other places as well. Now we come to THE cardinal rule that must never be broken by our editors and writers who want to be successful at Cosmo.

Here’s the quote,

“Avoid attacking advertisers: cosmetics, liquor, bra, and gurgles, etc. and where convenient, mention advertised brands rather than non-advertised brands.”

In other words, if scientists say anything bad about the pill or abortion, you must not write about it. Telling the truth about abortion, the Sexual Revolution, and anything that is sold by Cosmo’s advertisers, is considered an attack.

We’re often told we live in a democracy, with freedom of speech and a free press, but in reality, this was censorship of the free press in action. And it happens almost constantly today, and far more than many journalists know or are willing to admit. Most of this propaganda, a lot of this propaganda is aimed right at journalists, and if they buy into it, they just pass it on to you.

Helen claimed that what held you back from being successful in the workplace is, and this is her quote, “the built in mechanism in your body that allows you to have babies.” In other words, basically, being a woman. In her view, the way for a young woman to become liberated and get ahead, is to work hard, take the pill and if all else fails, get an abortion.

And in an unseen way, the Cosmo lifestyle, which almost all the women’s fashion magazines are selling today, is both pro-casual sex, and anti-motherhood. The two go hand-in-hand. Once a young woman is convinced that she has to please a man by having a sex with him out of wedlock, she almost has to take the pill, and since the pill can fail, she “needs” abortion as the backup.

The one thing that is never discussed in all of this is that you don’t have to have sex to please the man. You can say no. If a young man is pressuring a young woman to have sex and won’t take “no” for an answer, that’s a good sign she doesn’t want that guy, because he wants to use her primarily for his own pleasure and he will never love her with his whole heart.

In the old days, in my days, in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, you waited or you tried to wait until that man said yes, and then you went ahead and got married and you stayed married. I was married for 40 years to the most beautiful man, and I didn’t have to say yes to sex before we got married. One newsworthy reality we were never allowed to discuss in Cosmo was the pill; when we were able to discuss the pill, we were not able to discuss the medical controversies around the pill.

Many young feminists in the 1960’s were opposed — the feminists! — were radically opposed to the pill because of its harmful side effects. In her book, The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill, published in 1969, one of the big feminists of that time, freelance medical journalist Barbara Seaman, launched the women’s health revolution when she revealed over 50 potential side effects of the pill, ranging from blood clots and infertility, to breast cancer and depression.

In 1970, Seaman’s revelations sparked a US Senate hearing: The Nielson Pill Hearings. Angry young women repeatedly disrupted the hearings, demanding to know why females weren’t testifying and why there was no pill for men. As a result of the Nielson Pill Hearings, pharmaceutical companies were forced to place a health warning to patients on oral contraceptives. The first informational insert on any prescription drug.

That’s why we have informational inserts on prescription drugs today, because of the Nielson Pill Hearings. But Seaman’s, who would earn her living as a magazine writer, as I did, as a magazine freelance writer, paid a steep career price for telling the truth. In the 1980’s she was essentially blacklisted from magazines by pharmaceutical companies who would not advertise in publications that carried her stories. Magazines that would no longer publish her articles because she was against the pill included, listen to this, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Omni, and Hadasa, which is a Jewish magazine.

So, Cosmo isn’t the only magazine which is pushing propaganda for the pill and abortion and everything else. They’re all in cahoots. Propaganda is hidden in what you see and hear, but it is also hidden in what you don’t see. And one thing in Cosmo that you never ever saw, that was never ever mentioned, was God. You couldn’t mention God in Cosmo, but you could have lots of astrology columns. And where does Propaganda hit the hardest? Where does it strike the hardest? In our thoughts. Propaganda plants idea within our minds, that seek to influence our reason, memories, and imaginations, and ultimately our wills. In other words, Propaganda is purposefully designed, not just to change what you think, but also to change you how act.

The propaganda can suggest ideas indirectly through our senses, especially through what we see and hear. The ideas may come through conversations, reading, or various social and communications media. The ideas come to you through your senses, especially with what you see and hear. And of course, Cosmo as I say, is not the only magazine doing this. You’ve got Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Self they’re all selling this false sense of glamour so women will buy the stuff their advertisers are selling. And they’re doing this by pretending to be on your side, even as they try to con you into think that you’ll never be beautiful enough, or successful enough, or wonderful enough unless you buy all this stuff.

They’re also trying to sell you on the idea, they’re your best friend. If you ever feel insecure — and who doesn’t? — the people putting out these glossy pages will be sure to tell you that they, and they alone, know how to make you feel good about yourself. And how do they work to convince you that they’re in your court? They do it by telling stories about people a lot like you, who found happiness and the answers to all their problems in pleasure, singlehood, divorce, childlessness, and particularly casual sex.

Their propaganda messages have even wormed their ways into our schools in what we call “Sex Education Classes”. But there is often no difference today between what is being taught in those “Sex Education Classes” and what is being taught to you in the pages of Cosmo. Are those magazines a teaching tool? You betcha. They are. And so is television, so is radio, so is the internet, the messages are coming at us 24/7, 365 today. So, here we go, alright? That’s how propaganda works.

In the midst of all this propaganda-created upheaval, what can we, or anyone, do? First and foremost, we must silence our hearts, pray, and listen. We cannot do this alone, because we are not alone. God is with us. First, learn to pray, one of my friends told me, then you will easily perform all your good works. And he’s right. Second, amid all the lies and dangers we see around us, from the Sexual Revolution, to COVID, to Race Riots, to church burnings, now this is going to be hard, but we need to maintain our peace of heart.

A few days ago, I came across a little book written by a French priest named Father Jacques Felipe. He knows all about activism, and he had this to say,

“The first thing of which we must be convinced, is that all the good we can do comes from God and from Him alone. Jesus said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing.’ He didn’t say, ‘You can’t do much.’ He said, ‘You can do nothing.’”

To understand why it is so essential to strive for interior peace, Father Felipe explained,

“Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in the lake. And the more peaceful the lake, the more the sun will be reflected. But if the lake is agitated, filled with waves, then the image of the sun can’t be reflected in it.”

Just like the image of God cannot be reflected in us if we are upset.

“It is a bit like this with regard to our souls and relationship to God,” he said, “the more the soul is peaceful, the more God is reflected in it, and the more His grace acts through us. God is a God of peace. He does not speak and does not operate except in peace. Not in trouble, nor agitation.”

So remember, action without prayer, and interior peace, is like a candle without a wick. However hard you work out it, the candle will not catch fire. So, stay calm, pray until God inspires you, then peacefully do what He has called you to do.

Finally, as those who have had our minds open to the great harm that propaganda is doing to our nation, we can combat all the propaganda around us by telling true stories. As a small-town girl from Iowa, I did reach what many of us would consider the peak of the glamorous, self-centered life. I wrote for Cosmo. I was on the Oprah show. I rode in limousines. I was given all-expense paid trips all over the world. And it was all an illusion. You can’t tell a bunch of lies without having them backfire on you. And I was telling lies, remember. What made me the most miserable, was having an abortion when I was 27.

What made me happier, was my beautiful 40-year marriage. What made me happiest was baking homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies, and planting flowers, and spending time with my husband and our two children. Today, what has healed the pains of my past, and brings me the deepest joy I have ever known, is my relationship with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. And my time in liturgical prayer.

A year ago, I even jumped into the void, took a leap of faith, and moved from California to Wyoming, to follow a good priest I trust to tell me the truth. And guess what? He did not stop celebrating liturgies during COVID. He kept everything going. During Holy Week, and the week after Easter, called Bright Week, we were in church for approximately 45 hours, no masks, lots of singing, sheer joy. Any time you proclaim the truth, and Christ is the Truth in person, you contribute to the Good in society and combat the evil.

At age 72, going back to Cosmo again, at age 72, after earning millions of dollars, and living a rich, glamorous, famous life, Helen Gurley Brown, who often stayed at the office until midnight, working to sell the Sexual Revolution to American women, told Psychology Today, and remember she was 72, she told Psychology Today, “It was no fun to wake up scared every morning.” That’s when she told a true story, the truth of her life. And that’s a story that can change hers. Fear is what we get when we cut God out of our lives.

The Ruth Institute, of course, is working on behalf of victims of the Sexual Revolution. If you’re a victim of the Sexual Revolution, or you know others who are victims, as we all do, you need to realise, that your suffering can actually be a gift from God in disguise. Everything is a gift. You can use this suffering and fight lies about sex in our culture by simply telling the truth and living the truth. You’ve been there. Your experiences count. What Sexual Revolution lies did you buy into? What lessons did you learn from that? What good came out of all that pain? And how can you tell your story in a way that will prevent others from going through what you went through?

If you listen to God in prayer, and prayerfully act on what He tells you to do, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind, there should be no doubt that your irreplaceable contribution will make a difference. In the inspiring words of Saint John Henry Newman,

“God has a good for you to accomplish. And He will not cast you aside.”

So expose the propagandists’ partial truth with the whole truth of your life. And trust that God will take care of the rest. Thank you, my friends.


Award-winning journalist Sue Ellen Browder has addressed members of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women and has appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows, including the Today Show, Oprah, EWTN News Nightly, and Fox News. She has published hundreds of articles in many national magazines and newspapers, including Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day, the National Catholic Register and Cosmopolitan. As the author of Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement and Sex and the Catholic Feminist (both published by Ignatius), Sue Ellen has spoken at many pro-life conferences around the country, including the 2020 March for Life Conference and the Pro-Life Summit.

Originally published at The Ruth Institute.

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  1. June Gale 20 March 2021 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Illuminating article. …. we’re unaware we get caught up in the lies.

  2. Monica Bennett-Ryan 28 April 2021 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    It’s clear that we Christian need to speak more – particularly about overcoming the lies with the wisdom of Christ. “We overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.” Don’t you just love Scripture? The answers are all there!

  3. Bronwyn Bye 29 April 2021 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your insight and instruction. I hope this will help to turn the tide back toward righteous, wholesome, life for our families and our futures. The truth needs to be shouted from the rooftops, as the sex revolution has almost destroyed our society!

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