Monday, July 7, 2008

A Feminist Tour of Cosmopolitan: July Issue 2008

I recently received the July 2008 edition of Cosmopolitan as a joke for my birthday, and I thought that it would be interesting to examine it from a feminist perspective. This is what I found:
The Cover:
Carrie Underwood. Well, at least she’s dressed. Better than most covers, where the women look like they are "dressed" for men’s magazines. Also the cover says “man” “he” or “guy” seven times but “women” or “she” only once.

After the credits, we have the “Cosmo Beauty Coupons!” OMGZ!

Then we have a couple of pages of ads: make-up, soap, face cream, shoes.

Next the “Why Don’t You…” section. “Why don’t you get a killer bikini butt, make sangria, seduce a dude with soft skin, treat him to a chilly thrill, stay on your guy’s mind 24/7?” Well, I think it’s become obvious that this is a heteronormative magazine. And we haven’t even gotten to the articles yet.

Then comes the “Hot Sheet: 10 Things Being Buzzed About Right Now”. I think my favorites are number 3, 5, and 7.
3. “Decoding Dude Dates” informs the reader how to determine if two guys out together are dating or just friends. If they are gay, Cosmo writer Molly Fahner explains, they may: whisper, share an armrest, eat from the same popcorn, or sit with their feet on the floor. But, if they are just friends, they will talk loudly, keep their spaces separate, and eat from individual bags.
5. “56: The percentage of women who would rather be thinner than smarter.”
7. “Saving Men” Yep. Cosmo wrote about the book “Save the Males.” And gave it merit.

The Carrie Underwood interview comes next. It’s a pretty standard celebrity interview detailing her love life and asking if she considers herself a “good girl” or a “bad girl”.

“Why You May Be Avoiding Love” explains that women are putting off marriage longer and longer, which it encourages. Okay, that’s good. 1 Point for Cosmo.

Well, minus that point. I flipped the page to find the question and accompanying photos “Cheek Peek vs. Bare Butt”. And I got to ask myself the immortal question: Do I prefer Kate Hudson in a regular bikini or a thong bikini? Almost as thought provoking as “To be or not to be”?

Another make-up ad and then the regular feature, “Sexy vs. Skanky”; keeping it classy every month, Cosmo, with this column.

Then the “Confessions” and “Guy Confessions” feature with a several anecdotes about embarrassing moments and silly stories. Pretty standard magazine fare.

A few more ads, including an Axe ad.

“The Man Report” attempts to help women understand men (because men all think and act the same).

Next Cosmo helps its readers understand their man by the position he sleeps in. Nothing like avoiding actual communication with your partner.

Another section on understanding the men comes next. Nothing too shocking.

More ads.

Then the “Guy without his shirt”, this month featuring 24 year old, Brett Novek from Florida and his very chiseled chest.

Then there’s an interview with Usher and a few more ads.

Then a couple of “stories” on clothing, which are really ads.
Followed by a few “stories” on makeup, which are really ads.
Then a few “stories” on hair, perfume, skin, and hair, which are really ads.

An interview with Vanessa Hudgens, and more ads.

Then an article on having “Extra-Naughty Sex.” I am all for exploring your body and having any kind of sex you like, but this article encourages women to try new kinds of sex for their partner’s pleasure, not their own. (There is one line about how adventurous sex affects adrenaline and dopamine in the brain will affect the reader’s pleasure, but the vast majority of the article focuses on the benefits for the man) Of course, partner’s pleasure is important, but with only 30% of women having an orgasm every time and 74% of men having orgasms every time they have sex, being a little selfish in bed is acceptable.

Next Cosmos readers will discover “50 Tiny Gestures That Make Him Love You More”. Many of the tips are sweet, but some are just silly: “Buy him a big, manly flashlight (a “manly flashlight” seriously?!).”

An article about masturbation is featured next. Yay for masturbation! But, seriously, good for Cosmo for encouraging women to explore their bodies and discover what gives them pleasure.

“Advice Guy Pals Want to Give You” is basically another article written to help women understand men.

Then “The Hottest Words to Say During Sex” tells women what to say when they orgasm, so men will know they’ve done a good job. Okay…

“Ask Him Anything” is a sex advice column, followed by the fictional “Bedroom Blog”.

“The Cosmo Post” features stories about real women such as “Running On Hope” about a running club for the homeless and “My Dad Was a Sperm Donor.”

More ads.

Then “Summer Dangers You Don’t Think About” includes “Road Hazards”, “Hiking Trails”, “Biking and Jogging Paths” and “Anywhere After Dark.” That’s nice, Cosmo, make women afraid to go anywhere after dark.

Another ad posing as a “story”.

Then the “Bitch It Out” section, featuring women’s stories about what is pissing them off this month. Sigh. I really hate the word “bitch”.

A few more standard magazine articles.

Oh, wonderful. “10 Signs You’re Being Too Bitchy” it’s a satire article, but the use of the word “bitch” again makes me very uncomfortable.

Then, “Fascinating Facts About Rich Guys”. This blog has gotten comments calling all women golddiggers, and I’ve often wondered where they come from. None of my friends plan on marrying a guy for his money. But, I think we’ve found the source of these rumors.

“Caught Butt Naked” is a collection of anecdotes about being caught having sex.

A fashion spread featuring a white model.
Another fashion spread featuring a white model.

Some more standard magazine articles.

Then, Cosmo has an article on STDs. Okay, cool.

An astrology page is next. Pretty standard.

Next is Cosmo’s “Red-Hot Reads” which features an excerpt from an “erotic novel.”

A few pages of ads.

A quiz: “Do Guys See You As Girlfriend Material?”
Cosmo is a magazine. Its meant to be light and silly. But, the tone of the magazine is decidedly regressive. Between the pages and pages of ads, Cosmo re-inforces some pretty sorry ideas and sets the standard for other women's magazines.
I think my dream women's magazine would be radically different. It would feature an awesome female blogger on the cover (Jessica from Feministing, maybe) and have articles about travel, news, food and stories about friendship and lasting love (between people of all races, genders, religions, and economic classes). What would your ideal magazine look like?


Lindsay said...

Then “The Hottest Words to Say During Sex” tells women what to say when they orgasm, so men will know they’ve done a good job. Okay…

If someone feels the urge to say things during sex, I'm sure they don't need a magazine article to tell them what to say. Stupid Cosmo.

I used to love Cosmo and would overlook its frequent non-feminist aspects (like focusing on male pleasure during sex, which is so heteronormative itself), but after that whole "gray rape" debacle, I've sworn it off. I should have gotten a subscription to Bitch just to offset the money I used to spend on it.

Love love love this, Kate.

Amelia said...

Kate, I adore thee. But I always have.

I was totally reading that very same magazine a few minutes ago when I was on the exercise bike. Good golly. You mentioned a lot of the things that really irked me about it.

My ideal magazine (and I would love to try this! Or my own newspaper, at least) first of all, would contain absolutely no airbrushed pictures. Not at all, unless done as satire to point out the absurdities of the practice.

It would also include body/sex advice, but instead of focusing on the heteronormative "How to please your man" stuff, and the "Your body is hideous unless it's a size -12" junk, it would be useful information, and it would absolutely not assume that every reader has vast stores of sexual/body knowledge. I know a lot of women are shamed into ignorance about their bodies, and I would try to correct that through my ideal magazine.

It would also feature real women making a real difference. And I would love it to have contributions from readers. I'm not just talking "OMG this is my embarrassing story" type stuff. I mean real stories (fiction or non), real questions, real answers from REAL women readers.

Ah, the list could go on.

Great post, Kate!

Lindsay said...

Start your own online magazine and do just that. You could even do a hard copy issue and distribute it around to whomever wants it.


Amelia said...

That would be incredibly awesome. But I have no idea how! Do you, Lindsay?

Anonymous said...

amelia, i think having your blog is the first step

Anonymous said...

My ideal magazine wouldn't focus specifically on "gender issues" or be hawked to one narrowly-defined group belonging to one narrowly-defined sex category. I never did understand the idea of creating magazines FOR women or men. The category of "woman" or "man" isn't all-inclusive and periodicals marketed to one or the other tend to play into this "us against them" mentality.

The subject and content is what matters most to me. A magazine on parenting and pregnancy, while popular with women primarily, need not exclude men from its readership. Same goes for dating or fashion or photography or anything else under the sun. These aren't "gender issues" per se and need be marketed as such.

But then again, I rarely read magazines. The Skeptic is one I do recommend and Reason has some good articles. Fashion and so-called women's magazines do nothing for me personally.

Anonymous said...

I find that my ideal magazine would contain things I see online every day. I don't need magazines with the internet!

I, too, would have no airbrushed pictures. There would be features on just how it's done. There would not always be a bloody woman on the cover. Why is it that men's magazines have women on the cover, and women's magazines also have women on the cover? Maybe we could have something else for a change, like a piece of art or something. I'd like articles that surprised me.

* It would always have something about foreign people, perhaps an article on women in Iran or dissidents in China.

* It would not only focus on girlfriend/boyfriend relationships, but on all kinds of love WITHOUT labelling them. I do not believe in labelling your love, really. It would have articles about how things have changed over the years and street surveys on society's attitudes towards things that matter.

* It would run articles and interviews with women doing things usually done by men: women in comedy, women directing, etc. It would also have articles questioning mainstream culture, such as whether cheerleading was degrading or empowering to women, why there are more women going into the science and medicine courses but less coming out the other end, articles about whether we should buy cheap clothes from the high street or whether it's more ethical to go second hand.

I can think of hundreds of things I'd rather read than Cosmo.