EtymologyCoined by Helen Gurley Brown.
Nounmouseburger (plural mouseburgers)
A woman of no particular intellect or attractiveness. [quotations ▼]
Remembering Helen Gurley Brown
Of mouseburgers and men
Aug 25th 2012, 17:54 by M.Y. | NEW YORK
Take the chapters on economising, for instance. Gurley Brown advised women to brush their teeth with baking soda, negotiate with everybody, ride a bike to work and stay out of debt. She taught readers how to build a conservative portfolio of equities and what to deduct from their taxes at a time when Suze Orman was still in culottes. She even shared tips on that perennial conundrum of the cash-strapped young person: how to serve cheap booze to guests without them knowing any better. And if Gurley Brown's steeliness was no surprise—she was a child of the Depression, after all—the intensity of her resolve could be downright fear-inspiring. Can't afford a large wardrobe? Go nude at home and you'll avoid dirtying clothes. Brassiere too expensive? A pair of Band-Aids over the nipples will do.
Yes, Helen Gurley Brown could be ridiculous. But she could also be wise, which is why it is often so difficult to get a handle on her. The woman who took the bus to her glitzy media job and stayed until 11 at night was the same woman who treated her husband "like a geisha girl" and called "Sex and the Single Girl" her "silly little book". Was Gurley Brown a gritty feminist or a retrograde monster? During a cable-television interview in the early 1980s, Gloria Steinem asked Gurley Brown about her tendency to simper. "On TV, you giggle and flirt with the host, and tell stories about bedroom manners," Ms Steinem said. "You're a much more serious and complicated person than that."
Gurley Brown's reply came in the form of a confession: "I am a serious little person."
If anything about the woman was impervious to scepticism, it was her devotion to work. A New York magazine profile of Gurley Brown in 1982 noted that her conversation was "frothy and not entirely believable about the boudoir" but "impassioned and totally credible about work". As the years wore on, it became clear that her ambition—and not her sex drive—had been the animus of every escapade. A person doesn't bootstrap her way to media royalty by snoozing over the typewriter. At age 71, she was still doing book tours that could've exhausted Russell Brand. And writing, at some length, about penises.
Which brings us to Helen Gurley Brown's fabulousness—a trait she embodied her whole life, with all of the glamour and delusion implied in that word. This was a person known to recycle gifts, wear magenta silk, exercise compulsively and apply hemorrhoid cream to her face (as a wrinkle combatant). She abhorred notions of menopause, spousal loyalty and motherhood. She asked to be buried in Pucci.
When Gurley Brown died at the age of 90 earlier this month, I pulled out my copy of "Sex and the Single Girl" for a memorial reread. It was exactly as chatty, sharp and strange as I'd remembered it, with the ridiculous and the wise lumped together like ingredients in one of her cheapskate hors d'oeuvre recipes. A self-described "mouseburger" from the sticks of Arkansas, Gurley Brown believed there was no excuse for a life lived dully or ungenerously. My dishwashing self of many years ago had underlined exactly one phrase in the book: "Don't undertip. This little economy is unworthy of you."
For my money, her wisdom won out in the end.