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.

Manning Up.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

“Man up, mate.” “Don’t be a pussy.” “Grow some balls.”

How many times have we heard these phrases—hell, sometimes we’ve been the ones dishing them out—aimed at the men we know and love?

I’ve been guilty of it myself, when a male friend cries to me on the phone about a failed relationship or bemoans a difficult co-worker/friend/family member and won’t just confront them about the problem. I don’t always say, “Just man up and do something about it!” Sometimes I just think it, which still isn’t ideal.

A recent spate of shows in the U.S. are cottoning on to this “masculinity” crisis, where men use “pomegranate body wash” and are at the mercy of the women in their lives:

“Among them are How to be a Gentleman, in which a metrosexual writer hires a trainer to dewussify him; Last Man Standing, with Tim Allen as a sporting-goods-company executive beset by girly men; Man Up, in which a group of male friends worry they’ve lost touch with their inner warriors; and Work It, in which two guys dress in drag to land jobs as pharmaceutical reps.”

This is nothing new, though. Scholars have long been lamenting “The War Against Boys”, which is also the title of Christina Hoff Sommers’ book on the topic.

But when we/society tell men to “stop being such sissies,” we’re sending the message that anything associated with “femaleness… [is] so insulting that men should react with full outrage,” Jill Filipovic writes on Feministe.

So how are these messages affecting actual men, not just those on fictional American TV shows?

When I asked a couple of my guy friends how they feel when told to “man up,” they replied as follows.

Eddie, 25, says because he “still does kiddy stuff like collect comics, people tend to think one of my faults is being a pushover. I also tend to be pretty open with my emotions. I can’t tell you the true meaning of ‘man up’, because everyone carries different reasons as to what makes someone a ‘man’. I, myself, will not ‘man up’ because I don’t think I need to and haven’t for a long time.”

Andrew, also 25, says, “I think there are men and women who, no doubt, find ‘man up’ offensive, because there are plenty of women who embody courage, fortitude and strength more than plenty of men. By the same token I think there are plenty of men who would find being told to ‘man up’ harrowing, because they lack confidence in their masculinity or cannot even define what the term means to them.”

As I wrote on this here blog last year, I have a real problem with the term “as it implies that simply being a man is equivalent to being courageous.” I, like Andrew, know a lot of women with more “balls” than their sack-packing counterparts. But talking about the role-reversal of women who possess “courage, fortitude and strength” as if they are purely masculine traits is damaging, too. We need to get over this gender stereotyping business and accept individuals for who they are, regardless of gender. (This way of thinking applies to the understanding of transgender people, too.)

We also need to get rid of this “disconcerting… focus on dominance and submission” in gender relations. On the other side of the coin, “stop being such a girl” comes to mind.

Hugo Schwyzer recently bemoaned the “real women” trope and how that has now been transferred onto men:

“Men are not immune from the pressure to be ‘real’. It’s been nearly 30 years since the tongue-in-cheek bestseller Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche spoofed an earlier generation’s Guy Code. But today, the ‘real men’ trope is everywhere. ‘Real Men Don’t Buy Girls’ is Ashton and Demi’s campaign to shame pedophiles, replete with the unspoken implication that ‘real men’ never have to pay for sex with women of any age …

“When I ask my students at the beginning of my Men & Masculinity course about ‘real men’, I get responses like, ‘real men aren’t afraid to show affection,’ or ‘real men like to dance,’ or ‘real men can cry in public and not care what anyone else thinks.’ My students want to subvert the traditional ‘sturdy oak’ model of masculinity. They mean well. But all they’re doing is swapping one unattainable ideal for another. Just as ‘real women have curves’ delegitimises countless slim women, ‘real men aren’t afraid to cry’ shames those men who for any number of reasons are awkward about public displays of emotion. The contemporary ‘real man’ ideal presents itself as inclusive, but it’s just another cultural straightjacket.”

So what is a “real man” according to… erm… real men?

Eddie thinks there’s a difference between being a “good man” and a “real man”:

“‘Man up’, for me, means being the best man you can be. Being selfless, being kind, being adult enough to handle responsibility while never taking yourself too seriously.”

While those traits may be what Eddie views as “good man qualities”, for the next guy they could be polar opposites. Being a good man is in the eye of the beholder, it would seem.

For me, respecting people and, especially, your significant other is paramount to “manning up” (or “human[ning] up”, as Irin Carmon puts it): being able to exert your opinion and standing up for what you believe in without the use of violence.

As Filipovic continues: “There is something very, very wrong with a masculinity premised on violence.” Where are men getting these messages that violence and aggression = machismo? (Um, years of socialisation and the media come to mind…)

For the founders of The Man Up Campaign, a “global initiative that engages youth to stop gender-based violence”, this ideal seems to be the consensus. “‘Our call to action challenges each of us to “man up” and declare that violence against women and girls must end,’ its mission statement reads.”

As recent as 50, 20, even ten years ago, being a “man” involved a large portion of physical aggression. And, despite feminism’s and gender equality’s best efforts, a look at many mainstream representations of men in the media, that stereotype still rings true today.

But if we can, through initiatives such as The Man Up Campaign, make it so that being called a “pussy”, like being called “gay,” is nothing to be ashamed of, even just for one person, then I think it’s a job well done.

After all, pussies push small humans out of them so they can’t be all that weak!

Related: Newspaper Clipping of the Week: Man Up.

Elsewhere: [The Good Men Project] Manning Up.

[Jezebel] Why Are Men Feeling So “Manxious” About The Rise of Women?

[Time] High Manxiety.

[Feministe] Masculinity Crisis.

[Jezebel] Stop Telling Men to “Man Up”.

[Jezebel] Real Women Have… Bodies.

[The Man Up Campaign] Homepage.

[New York Times] On Language: The Meaning of “Man Up”.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Julia Gillard is anti-marriage, period:

“After reading all of Gillard’s statements on this issue and after speaking to those who have talked to her about it, I am convinced she doesn’t believe in marriage at all, for anyone.” [ABC Unleashed]

The “Born This Way” versus choice debate continues:

“But I think the most serious problem with this argument is that it reinforces the idea that we need an excuse to be queer. As a result, using this line subtly supports the idea that being queer requires excusing in some way. Don’t use it. Don’t allow straight people to generate an understanding of queer sexuality that sounds like: ‘Well, of course Bob wouldn’t wish to be queer, but he was born this way. I guess we better give him equal rights—poor Bob, he just can’t help it. We shouldn’t punish him for something he didn’t choose!’

“Meanwhile the real reason that you shouldn’t punish Bob for queerness is because there’s nothing wrong with it!” [Social Justice League]

If you’re unfamiliar with the personhood debate, or just unclear on what it all means, this article by Jill Filipovic is a must-read. [Guardian]

Here’s another great article on Personhood and what it means for abortion laws:

“… As the Personhood message penetrates, then society will understand why women need to be punished just as surely as they understand why there can be no exceptions for rape/incest [bolded text mine].” [Salon]

Why Kyle Sandilands is a dickhead. [The Punch]

“Rethinking the Strong Female Character.” [Canonball]

Kelly Osbourne repents for her past “tranny” wrongs. [HuffPo]

And Warren Beatty and Annette Benning’s transgender son thinks Chaz Bono is a misogynist. [Super-Mattachine]

“27 & Unmarried? In China, You’re One of the ‘Leftover Women’.” Gah, only three years left for me! [Jezebel, Ms. Magazine]

What White Ribbon Day means for men. [MamaMia]

The double standards of talking about what goes on down there. [Owning Pink]

Knowing all the evils facing women in our society, would you want to bring a baby girl into the world? [Jezebel]

My, what lovely lady lumps Kristen Wiig has. All the better to be named GQ’s “Bro of the Year” with, my dear. [Jezebel]

“Eve as Literary Hero”. [Imagine Today]

Ms. Piggy as feminist and Kermit as douchefrog. [Jezebel]

Meshel Laurie on the Matthew Newton saga. [MamaMia]

On being single. [Girls Are Made from Pepsi]

Gah! “Pro-Life Feminism is the Future”. [Washington Post]

Images via Jezebel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider Costume Resource.