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The misogyny of magazines

BY SAMANTHA MILLER | DECEMBER 04, 2009 7:30 AM

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“Cosmopolitan is the lifestylist for millions of fun, fearless females who want to be the best they can be in every area of their lives.”

So the titular magazine explains on its website. Given this declaration of female empowerment and improvement, the reality of what one of the United States’ most-purchased newsstand magazines chooses to highlight for its women clientele is disturbing.

Have you opened Cosmopolitan or any women’s magazine lately? Actually, you needn’t bother even opening it — reading its cover will, for all intents and purposes, prove my point. The content contained in such magazines — I’ll use Cosmopolitan as my example since it’s the top seller in this category — is more offensive than any of the not-so-subtly misogynistic content contained in popular men’s magazines. (Details magazine’s recent “Can You Still Afford to be a Player” story is a gem.)

What Cosmopolitan gets so wrong, even more so than most of its competition, is the belief that the area “fun, fearless females” should be singularly concerned with is the improvement of their romantic (notably, always heterosexual) relationships. Each month’s cover stories, for example, are all so unabashedly aimed at making the reader more attractive to men and making men happy, it feels like it’s trying to take its “fun, fearless female” readers and turn them into something closer to needy, insecure women who have lives that revolve around the desires — often the carnal ones — of men.

Let’s take a moment to examine the amazing examples of journalism that are December’s Cosmopolitan cover stories.

The top story, listed in the page’s largest print, promises to reveal “his No. 1 sex wish” accompanied by another story meant to warn you of the “wacked-out things guys say in bed.” And if the previously mentioned sex wish doesn’t make the men flock to you, no worries! Cosmo will reveal the “colors that make a man’s heart race.” His heart still not racing, ladies? Well, maybe stress is “turning you into a raging bitch” (really?), or perhaps you just need to “get rid of your muffin top” to catch his eye. Still no luck? Well, “love is harder in the winter,” so maybe it’s not all your fault you’re not getting a man.

If you do manage to attract a man using some of the ridiculous suggestions listed in Cosmopolitan, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to scare any normal guy off after reading way too much into his body language in the “what his hug reveals” story (if he “thumps your upper back” that means he’s not into you — it’s science.) If this happens, fear not, for next month’s issue will give you plenty of new tips to make your life revolve around men once again.

And if for some crazy reason you’re not in the mood to read about how to get your man and keep him? Well, uh, there is a story about the pop performer Fergie in the magazine … and how she gets and keeps her man (you see, she’s the “Madonna and the whore”). Sigh.

Cosmopolitan published its first issue in 1886, making it one of the United States’ oldest magazines still in circulation. In its 100-plus years of circulation, did it not get the memo that women no longer need to revolve their life around the opposite sex to be “the best they can be” and be happy? It’s not 1886 anymore, Cosmopolitan. Two feminist movements, women presidential candidates, female Supreme Court members, and great strides in education and the workforce separate women now from then.

So why hasn’t this magazine evolved with the rest of us?

It just seems wrong that the nation’s most popular women’s magazine places so much emphasis on females making the opposite sex happy instead of making themselves happy. It seems to me this will not bring anyone a whole lot closer to being a “fun, fearless female” than it will being consumed with simply pleasing a member of the opposite sex.


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