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.