In Defence of Cosmopolitan.

Cosmopolitan Demi Lovato

Men’s magazines are commonly displayed behind opaque screens in servos, supermarkets and news agents but in selected department and drug stores in the U.S., such as Walmart and Rite Aid, women’s magazine Cosmopolitan will be getting the same treatment.

Victoria Hearst, great granddaughter of the man who bought the title in 1905 and contributed to making it the magazine we know today, William Randolph Hearst, is spearheading a campaign, along with the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, to have Cosmo shielded from children’s impressionable eyes, giving new meaning to its patented “sealed section”.

The reasoning behind the campaign, entitled Cosmo Harms Minors”, is explained on the Centre’s website thusly:

Cosmopolitan Magazine glamorises things like hookup, public, anal, group, or violent sex in nearly all of their issues. We are asking that Cosmo be sold to adults only and have the cover wrapped like all other porn magazines in retail shops.”

While often overlooked as “just another women’s magazine”, Cosmopolitan in Australia, in particular, has been a bastion for body positivity with the early ’00s Body Love initiative and stories about domestic violence, reproductive rights and career goals.

In recent years U.S. Cosmopolitan has undergone a similarly feminist reawakening of sorts. Editor Joanna Coles identified the magazine as “deeply feminist” in 2013 while in May last year The Wire reported that Cosmo had “hired longtime Feministing blogger Jill Filipovic to cover politics on the website” as well as former Jezebel writer Anna Breslaw. Since then, Filipovic has written longform screeds about why changing your name upon marriage and defunding Planned Parenthood are bad ideas; comedian, filmmaker and musician Lane Moore writes as Cosmopolitan.com’s sex and relationships editor such queer-friendly pieces as what to do when you’re a lesbian in love with a straight girl and “15 Things I Wish I Knew About Being Gay When I Was Younger”; and writers such as Rachel Hills round out the wide variety of sex- and gender-positive women working for the magazine.

Hills says of her work at Cosmo examining things such as dating while trans, painful sex and asexuality, that “Since Joanna Coles took over as US editor-in-chief in 2012, both Cosmopolitan and Cosmopolitan.com have taken on a more explicitly feminist bent, hiring a lot of feminist writers that cut their teeth on the Internet, including myself. And one of the great things about writing online is that you get to cover things that would never end up in the mag—not because they’re too explicit, but because they just wouldn’t sell.”

NCSE thinks that Cosmo promotes “Sex without responsibility is acceptable and desirable” however its emphasis on protection from STIs and pregnancy is high as well as their emphasis on sex not having to be between a man and a woman in a long-term relationship or marriage.

So it’s interesting that they’ve chosen to go after Cosmopolitan now, when it’s publishing some of its most progressive content.

From NCSE’s website:

“While it only has a few nude photos occasionally, this publication has steadily declined from a somewhat inspirational women’s magazine to a verbally pornographic ‘how-to’ sex guide. What’s worse is that this magazine is purposefully targeting younger and younger audiences with Disney stars and teen idols often donning the covers and featured in the headline stories.”

Disney star and teen idol in question Demi Lovato, U.S. Cosmopolitan’s current covergirl, responded to the brouhaha on Twitter, asserting that as a former sufferer of an eating disorder, covering Cosmo made her feel “EMPOWERED” and “the MOST BEAUTIFUL I’ve ever felt.”

In case the campaign’s problem with a more feminist magazine wasn’t obvious enough, the very first thing that blares out at you from the its homepage is that the new Cosmo is harmful to minors.  

However Hills doesn’t necessarily agree. “I don’t think it would be accurate to say that Cosmo used to be anti-feminist and now is feminist. I spent a bit of time in the Cosmo archives last year, and some of those issues from the 1970s are phenomenal—Susan Sontag was writing for them! I suspect Victoria Hearst would have been just as appalled by the Cosmopolitan of 1985 as she is by the Cosmopolitan of 2015.”  

But what about all the other magazines? Sure, Cosmo does have some loud headlines that may draw concerned glances at the checkout (one of the first issues I bought as a teen featured Kirsten Dunst alongside “Oral Sex Lessons” that drew judgemental looks from my parents), but what about other, far more harmful magazines? I’m not necessarily talking about men’s mags in the vein of Zoo Weekly (which could be a whole different article in itself) or Playboy (which is actually publishing more progressive content itself so now it really can be read for its articles), but weekly “rags” such as NW and New Idea which are also aimed at women because we love to gossip and humiliate each other, didn’t you know? A recent survey of the periodicals on offer at my local Coles included stories about One Direction’s supposed gay coverup, “Bikini Lumps and Bumps” and “Crazy Bachelor beach catfights” (because women can’t have level-headed disagreements without them devolving into “crazy catfights”), not to mention the squillionth Jennifer Aniston-pregnancy speculation. So diversity from the heteronormative sex positions “that’ll blow his mind” warrants concealment from the general public, however body shaming, outing and misgendering people is A-OK!?

Let’s hope that common sense prevails in Victoria Hearst and the NCSE’s quest to classify Cosmo as porn. In the interim, we can take solace in the fact that the blinders they intended to conceal Cosmo’s headlines has actually resulted in drawing increased attention to its cover subjects’ decolletage.  

Related: Shaming Lara Bingle.

Elsewhere: [End Sexual Exploitation] Cosmo Harms Minors.

[Politico] Joanna Coles: Cosmopolitan is a “Deeply Feminist” Magazine.

[The Wire] Hot Spring Trend: Hiring a Feminist Blogger at Your Women’s Magazine.

[Cosmopolitan] In the Age of the Internet, Changing Your Name When You Marry is a Terrible Idea.

[Cosmopolitan] Defunding Planned Parenthood is the Opposite of “Pro-Life”.

[Cosmopolitan] 15 Emotional Stages of Being a Lesbian in Love with a Straight Girl.

[Cosmopolitan] 15 Things I Wish I Knew About Being Gay When I Was Younger.

[Cosmopolitan] What It’s Really Like to Date as a Trans Person.

[Cosmopolitan] How to Deal with Painful Sex.

[Cosmopolitan] Asexuality.

[End Sexual Exploitation] Why Cosmo‘s Content Matters. 

[SBS] Coles Bins “Sexist” Zoo Weekly.

[Daily Life] Why is Pop Culture Obsessed with Celeb “Catfights”?

[Cosmopolitan] 28 Mind-Blowing Lesbian Sex Positions.

[The Cut] Cosmo Censorship Accidentally Highlights Boobs.

Image via Go Fug Yourself.

Magazines: Feminism in Elle.

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There’s been much talk around the blogosphere about the recent appointments of Jill Filopovic of Feminisiting fame at US Cosmopolitan, and Rebecca Traister and Amanda Fortini at US Elle. It seems women’s glossies are clamoring for “feminist cred”, as Daily Life puts it, but I would argue that Elle, in particular, as always had a feminist edge to it.

I’ve been an avid reader of Elle ever since I laid eyes on it in my small town newsagent in 2005. Until recently, I had hardcopies of almost every issue since then. (I donated them to the Whitehouse Institute in Melbourne in an effort to declutter my life. I now receive Elle monthly on my iPad.) And the mag has always been a different kind of women’s interest publication. Elle has always published features on issues pertinent to modern women, such as mental illness, the ladymag prerequisite of “having it all”, and their #longreads by women campaign, in addition to the $5,000 It bags and cosmetic surgery advertorials. (It is perhaps for this reason that women’s magazines can never be truly feminist.) I specifically enjoy their women in film, women in TV and women in politics yearly editions, as well as their monthly Intelligence section, featuring books, movies, art and culture.

I like the way Elle doesn’t pander to women; sure, there’s your outrageously overpriced fashion and beauty that your average Josephine could never afford, but diets, sex tips and low culture are seldom seen. Whereas many women’s magazines can unfortunately be seen to appeal to the lowest common denominator, Elle truly is a grown woman’s magazine. And these things are some of the reasons Elle is pretty much the only glossy I read on a regular basis.

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] Women’s Magazines Suddenly Desperate for Feminist Cred.

[The New Inquiry] On Ladymags & Liberty.

Magazines: Vogue’s Photoshop of Horrors.

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There Lena Dunham goes, creating controversy no matter what she does. Actually, it wasn’t so much Dunham’s American Vogue cover that’s polarised feminists the internet over but Jezebel’s bounty for unPhotoshopped images from Dunham’s shoot.

I kind of get where they’re coming from in that Vogue has a sordid history of Photoshopping its subjects to within an inch of their lives, but it’s puzzling as to why Jezebel’s targeting Dunham’s outing in the mag.

Within a couple of hours of putting a $10,000 bounty on the original images from Dunham’s Annie Leibovitz-shot pictorial, Jezebel had acquired them. A quick glance reveals there was not a whole lot of image-altering to be had, and Dunham looks great in both the before and afters, as Jezebel asserted.

Dunham came to Vogue’s defence in a statement to Slate, saying that Vogue is a fantasy and anyone who wants to see what Dunham actually looks like can tune into Girls. Jezebel’s campaign does come across as body-shaming of Dunham, who has surely experienced enough of that since she first got naked when Girls debuted in 2012. Why not offer as much money for the unretouched originals of someone who has clearly been made to look worlds away from their actual selves? (Jezebel has taken Vogue, Vanity Fair and Victoria’s Secret catalogues to task in the past for their extreme airbrushing in a series called “Photoshop of Horrors”.)

As someone in the comment thread of one of the many posts Jezebel has published in defence of their stance insinuated, it’s time to step away from the computer and let sleeping dogs lie. Funnily enough, it was a cat meme that was used to illustrate this point…

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] We’re Offering $10,000 for Unretouched Images of Lena Dunham in Vogue.

[Jezebel] Here Are the Unretouched Images from Lena Dunham’s Vogue Shoot.

[Jezebel] Lena Dunham Responds to Unretouched Images from Her Vogue Shoot.

[Jezebel] The Unretouched Images Victoria’s Secret Doesn’t Want You to See. 

[Jezebel] Did Vogue Remove Claire Danes’ Leg? (Yes. It Made Her Look Fat.)

[Jezebel] Did Vanity Fair Lighten Lupita Nyong’o’s Skin?

[Slate] Lena Dunham’s Response to Vogue Photoshop Criticism: Fashion Magazines Are About Fantasy, Not Reality.

Image via Us Weekly.

Magazines: Elle—One of These Things is Not Like the Others…

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As New Girl, The Mindy Project and Parks and Recreation return to air from their winter breaks and Girls premiers its third season in the U.S. on Sunday (fasttracked to Showcase on Monday night in Australia), ELLE celebrates their female stars by giving them each a cover of their TV issue.

New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel heads up the series of covers, followed by Parks and Rec‘s Amy Poehler, Allison Williams who plays Marnie on Girls, and Mindy Kaling for The Mindy Project. All the covers are stunning, but it’s hard not to be visually jarred by the final cover, that of Kaling’s. Whereas all the other women, whose body types tend to fit into the standard Hollywould mould, get the 3/4 length portrait shot that ELLE is known for, Kaling has a close-up beauty shot à la Adele for Vogue. And black and white to boot! Sure, the image in stunning and Kaling herself tweeted in defence of it, but held up against the other three traditional covers, there does seem to be something amiss. You’ll forgive us, ELLE, if we conclude it’s because of Kaling’s skin colour and body shape.

Image via Batch Please.

Magazines: Covers Worth Talking About.

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The first cover listed here to grab my attention was Hillary Clinton for New York magazine, but then Miley came along and blew that out of the (pool) water as she is wont to do.

The accompanying interview for her Rolling Stone cover was done in the days following her much-talked-about MTV VMAs performance, which is discussed at length inside. And rest assured, there are lots of scantily clad shots to compliment her tongue-thrusting on the cover.

Next comes Chris Brown for Jet, a cover which doesn’t necessarily grab the eye as the others do, but it’s what Brown says inside, a snippet of which is captured on the cover, that’s noteworthy. He who is a perpetuator of violence himself identifies with Trayvon Martin, the teen who was shot dead a year and a half ago in Florida in an alleged self-defence. His killer, neighbourhood watchman George ZImmerman, was acquitted of his murder in July this year, and was involved in an apparent domestic violence incident with his estranged wife earlier this month. His wife later refused to press charges.

Now, I’m not saying that Brown can’t identify with a fellow young black man who has been victimised, but equating murder with justified criticism for intimate partner violence and a lack of remorse for said violence is a bit rich.

Finally, in the wake of the mall massacre in Nairobi which, it is believed, had a woman at the helm of the terrorist operation, Pakistan’s Newsweek has a cover story on the rise of female terrorist. I think alternative cover art would have conveyed their message just as well as explosive-tampons…

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Images via The Hollywood GossipVanity FairNY Daily NewsYahoo! Finance.

Magazines: Ms. Carter?

beyonce ms magazine cover

I’m a recent subscriber to Ms. magazine, so I’ll be interested to check out the accompanying article on cover star Beyonce’s “Fierce Feminism” when it lands in my letterbox in the near future.

Considering her latest world tour is entitled “Mrs. Carter”, Beyonce is a questionable choice for the feminist bastion’s cover. While her personal life seems to be one built of respect, equality and solid choices, her public persona is somewhat at odds with this: she sings about men only being good for “putting a ring on it” and “paying bills” and poses with underboob on the cover of a men’s magazine while espousing the detriments of the patriarchy controlling what’s “sexy” and “feminine”.

Fellow feminist stalwart Bitch magazine has a worthwhile article tackling these contradictions so how will Ms. justify their cover choice?

Related: Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

Elsewhere: [Bitch] All Hail the Queen?

Image via Ms.

Magazines: Why You Gotta Be So Mean to Taylor Swift?

taylor swift vanity fair cover

I find it so rich that Taylor Swift to cries sexism in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, which she also covers, over her portrayal in the media, not to mention going after famed feminists Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Swift is the orchestrator of her own image as a virginal victim, so if anyone’s to blame for her coming across as “some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her”, it’s you, TayTay. You do nothing to further the plight of women as anything but “clingy, insane and desperate”, so don’t try to use sexism to your advantage now when you’ve clearly stated you’re not a feminist.

And as for Fey and Poehler’s comments about her staying away from Michael J. Fox’s son at the Golden Globes, Swift says “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”, borrowing from Katie Couric who was borrowing from Madeleine Albright. Again, you don’t help other women by portraying them as anything other than victims or sluts who steal boyfriends and not identifying as a feminist. While I have my own problems with Fey’s alleged feminism, you’re barking up the wrong tree here, Taylor.

Related: Taylor Swift—The Perfect Victim.

Why is Feminism Still a Dirty Word?

Image via Celebitchy.