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Author Topic: Some Thoughts on Cosmo
-Firefly-
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I just read a very interesting and thought provoking article about Cosmo's impact on women and their views of sex that I wanted to share: Rethinking the Bedside Bible

The author brings up some very good points about Cosmo's narrow, heteronormative views, as well as a big focus on penis-in-vagina intercourse and male-receptive oral sex.

Any thoughts on the points brought up by the author? More things you would've added? Redeeming qualities that you've found in Cosmo?

Please share!

(For a similar great read, check out our new blog feature: Bodaciously Bad Advice: Standardized Testing)

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Felixosaurus
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Another point about Cosmo et al is the amount of stuff they make up! They arn't just promoting a normative understanding of sex, but actually manufacturing it! The following are from the following article

Liza Featherstone (2002). Faking it: Sex, lies, and women's magazines. Columbia Journalism Review, 40(6), 60-61

that I used for some school stuff a while back.


quote:
A former Cosmopolitan editor, interviewed by cell phone during a manicure/pedicure, says that Cosmo nearly always changed the ages of people quoted, to hit the magazine's mid-twenty-something target readership. Writers and editors often interview their friends, and "we didn't know anyone of the correct age. Such a nuisance!"

One Marie Claire writer says that very often, after interviewing couples in intimate detail about their sex life, her editors will ask her to go back to her sources and ask them to change their answers. "It's totally unethical," she says, "and puts me as a writer in an uncomfortable, awkward position." Still, she admits, she complies.

Even more oddly, many of the people discussed in these stories simply do not exist. The former Cosmo editor says that when the qualifier "Names have been changed" appeared, the characters in the story were composites. But a fact-checker at another top-circulation women's magazine says, "'Composite' gives it too much credit. It's much more invented than that. `Names have been changed' can mean anything, including `Totally made up.'"

"I don't think I ever made anything up wholesale,"the ex-Cosmo editor says. "But in a tight spot, we'd brainstorm." The anecdotes, she says, "were always things that could have happened."

I found this little gem most interesting.

quote:
"I quoted my best friend all through school who's from Cleveland, Ohio, like I am. And she told me that she and her husband - they had been married like, eight years - had sex five times a week. And so it was edited out and it was actually changed to three times a week!" Why? "Because the editor couldn't believe that a couple, married for eight years, was having sex five times a week."


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-Firefly-
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Thanks for posting those Felixosaurus! Very interesting!

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Vero
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Felixosaurus
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Any time!

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Atonement
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You know, as much as I think that these types of magazines are pretensios and stereotypical, I'm going to have to dissagree.

First, most of those tips really do gear toward pleasing men. However, Assuming that you are a woman sleeping with a man, you wouldn't really need an article on how to preform oral sex on a woman, since it would be really hard to go down on yourself (unless you're REALLY flexible)

Also, I don't really think there's a need to involve same-sex sex tips. The magazine is pretty clearly geared towards heterosexual women, and while i haven't seen one, I'm sure the LGBT comunity has magazines more geared to them. And think of it this way: If you were a lesbian and didn't like the idea of sleeping with a guy, would you really want to have to read through all the advice for people who do? I think it' a lot more convienient for everyone to have their own magazine.

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-Jill
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atonement9, I think you make some valid points -- a single magazine cannot be expected to meet the needs of everyone. However,
quote:
While Cosmo boasts about being the mag for “Fun, Fearless, Females” (or FFFs), flipping through their pages regularly will show that their idea of a woman is your conventionally beautiful, middle class, white, heterosexual woman.
That ignores the race and class issues that many, many women that Cosmo purports to represent face, not to mention the reality that most women do not meet the standards of conventional beauty.

quote:
And if you are looking to excite yourself and your partner(s) with something new and hot, you might benefit from knowing more than just how to lick his bits or “ride him like a cowgirl.”

...

Furthermore, when they write about sex, they can be more provocative by talking about more than just P/V sex, blowjobs, how to please a man, or how to have an orgasm with your man.

Another issue I have is how does a magazine aimed at heterosexual women manage to be mostly about pleasing heterosexual men? Where are the articles or even magazines about pleasing hetero women? I can't imagine a satisfying sex life for anyone if the focus is always on one partner's pleasure and only that partner's pleasure.

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Atonement
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I agree with you completely about the race and class issues, i just forgot to comment on them.

However, I think the ads about pleasing hetero women aren't there because they're assuming that men won't be reading them. However, if you read through the tp 20 list thing, they do have some advice for women, like how to better enjoy an orgasm and things like that.

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Jill2000Plus
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But just because the magazine is being read by women doesn't mean there shouldn't be advice on what they can do and what they can ask their partners to do to give themselves more pleasure during partnered sex, if we are to own our own sexualities then we should be able to find information on things that we might find give us a lot of pleasure as well as information on what our partners might enjoy. The emphasis on v-p intercourse does not include all heterosexual women, and while I'm not expecting Cosmo to become a radical lesbian separatist tract, it should be inclusive of lesbians as well as heterosexual women, it would not cause a problem for them to feature articles on lesbian sex as well as het sex (aside from a few bigots cancelling their subscription), and the advice therein could be adopted by heterosexual women to some extent as well. If they never mention anal play, then they are excluding mention of something that both men and women can enjoy.

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EVivian
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While Cosmo does certainly have a lot of nonsense and a very narrow worldview, I don't see anything highly objectionable about it. I occasionally borrow my roommate's old magazines and read them for a good giggle (and to see if any of the sex tips aren't entirely silly or entirely obvious). I only see them as possibly being an issue if women actually allow them to seriously impact their worldview and define their values by what's in a magazine.

As far as there being no articles or magazines being about pleasing heterosexual women, I've actually talked to my boyfriend about this. He claims that when he was younger, he got into his dad's magazines (Maxim, I belive, though I'm not sure) and there were indeed articles about pleasing one's female partner. A couple of little things he's good (sexually, that is) at he actually first picked up from said magazines. [Wink] So, while I haven't read any such magazines or articles myself, I don't think they are entirely nonexistent. Also, even though Cosmo advertises its sex tips a lot, most of it is more about fashion and silly stories and such, not just sex.

As far as advice on "what they can do and what they can ask their partners to do to give themselves more pleasure during partnered sex", there are articles (I don't know how frequently, as my sample size of Cosmos I've read is low) about one's own sexual pleasure and anatomy. Honestly, any sorts of sex tips are only so useful, and the real focus should of course be on communication with one's partner. That said, it would be cool to see Cosmo occasionally have articles on, say, buying and using a vibrator for example, rather than assume that women can't have sexual pleasure without men.

I personally think that given Cosmo's target audience, the focus on heterosexual vaginal intercourse makes sense. I can't imagine a large number of women who read Cosmo anyway being particularly interested in articles with lesbian sex tips, for example. There are magazines geared exclusively at gay women, aren't there, so why should Cosmo be attempting to cater to them as well? I just don't see the point in adding articles on something that would be irrelevent to the vast majority of the magazine's readers.

Cosmo is marketed towards a particular demographic and, while this may lead to a narrow choice of content and a selection of articles which I personally find banal, I don't find anything about it strongly offensive either.

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Jill2000Plus
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I definitely think that Cosmo should have more articles about masturbation and vibrators, I still want to know why they focus on vaginal intercourse so much because, guess what, not all straight women like that, and many would like more of other kinds of activities and less of intercourse, are you abnormal if you just want mutual masturbation and/or oral? Cosmo seems to present this as an undesirable state of extended adolescence. Cosmo isn't just aimed at heterosexual women, it's promoting a heteronormative view of what het sex is, that doesn't acknowledge the variety of things that hetero couples might want to do sexually. And Maxim and their ilk are still sexist nonsense, even if it's sexist nonsense that mentions the clitoris once in a blue moon. Plus, (reiterating what others have said) the whole message of Cosmo is aimed at conventionally attractive white middle class straight women, and I want to know why that is and why it is presumed that all straight women care deeply about how they look or should. I'm aware that sex tips are only so useful, but that doesn't mean that what sex tips are on offer should be so specifically geared to a restrictive version of het sex. I'm glad they offer position advice, and I don't think it's wrong for them to have articles on how to give a good blowjob or handjob, but there's so much more they should be offering on a regular basis. Cosmo is still represented as *the* women's magazine, and it's got all the problems I just mentioned along with a complete absence of any content that could be described as geeky or nerdy, because women are all interested in fashion, parties and celebrity gossip and not in anything else apparently, they do have some good points, such as articles on domestic violence and shoutouts for charities that work to end maternal death in childbirth, but that doesn't do away with my list of complaints.

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EVivian
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Have you read many copies of Maxim? I personally haven't read it myself, so I'm going to refrain from commenting on how sexist it may or may not be since I haven't read it. Indeed, I don't think I ever claimed that they weren't sexist, and I thought the issue mentioned was whether any male magazine ever mentions female pleasure, not whether their overall tone or agenda is sexist in some way, which is a rather different matter.

From what I've read of Cosmo, it does mention oral sex (fellatio, at least) fairly often. Just because it focuses on certain activities doesn't mean it's condemning anything else. I don't know what the statistics are for how many women prefer vaginal intercourse to mutual masturbation, for example, so I can't say one way or the other which should get more attention. Cosmo should perhaps diversify, but really, if one wants a more varied view of sex and sexual techniques, there are dozens of other sources.

Why is Cosmo has a certain target audience? Well, why is any product geared towards a particular audience?

I'm extraordinarily geeky and nerdy myself, and have zero interest in fashion, but that means I go and read other magazines, books, or websites. Should geeky magazines be expected to have articles on fashion on occasion? Or should only fashion magazines be expected to give time to geeky articles? If most readers of Cosmo don't want any nerdy content, there's no reason to add it.

Cosmo may present itself as "the" women's magazine, but plenty of companies try to place their product as being "the" soap or "the" source of car advice. It's simply how marketing is. If Cosmo had far less on fashion, articles on fixing your computer, information on lesbian sex & anal play, and no celebrity gossip, the target audience would be somehwat different, I imagine. It would be a different magazine. I might prefer that different magazine and find it much more relevent to my life, but that doesn't mean I expect that all women should prefer it. No magazine can claim to represent all women, and even if one does (which I've never seen Cosmo do explicitly), their marketing strategy usually makes their much smaller target audience clear.

Of course Cosmo has problems and a narrow worldview (as I stated before), but unless there's evidence of a great deal of women seriously allowing this one magazine to narrow their lives and interests, then I don't see any strong harm in it existing in its current state. I would far prefer to read other sources for sex advice/information, geeky interests, and how to be an empowered woman, but I recognize my preferences with those and where to seek such information may not be the same as anyone else's. My roommate likes Cosmo in its current state and my best friend enjoys occasionally buying a copy to peruse, and neither of them is, from what I can tell, at all the worse for it.

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giustilc
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Something I think people here have to realize is that Cosmo doesn't put out a magazine as a social service. It's a business, and whatever claptrap they spout about being "an agent of social change," they publish the articles that they think will sell the most copies. While I'll readily agree that the occasional feature on vibrators, masturbatory techniques, anal sex, etc. would be nice, overall the magazine is just catering to a specific demographic: straight women who like vaginal intercourse.

The article sums up my view of it in its last paragraph, talking about how Cosmo is not the be-all end-all of sexual information, which is READILY available from reliable, discreet sources on the internet. Everyone knows the type of stuff in Cosmo, and if you're not interested in that, then...don't buy it!

It's interesting to me how the fact that this is about sex rather than anything else makes it a big deal. I thought about how this would be a problem if it were some other kind of magazine, like a video gaming one. If I complained that Nintendo Power didn't have enough articles about Playstation games, everyone would say that's ridiculous. =P

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bluejumprope
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I think it's inaccurate to say that Cosmo simply has a specific audience in the same way that Macworld or Consumer Reports does. There's an element of freedom of choice when reading and absorbing those magazines that isn't there with Cosmo. Cosmo doesn't just target a neutral audience, it CREATES and reinforces a culture that hurts women (and everyone).

In other words, I don't think you can distinguish between the "fashion" in Cosmo and their suggestions of what it means to be a "real" or "attractive" woman.

That message of what it means to be a woman has a ginormous affect, i.e. how ten year old girls are dieting, eating disorders in women of every age, hugely unhealthy relationship expectations, the destructive global and personal effects of consumerism, and homophobia/heterosexism.

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giustilc
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I know *I* can "distinguish between the 'fashion' in Cosmo and their suggestions of what it means to be a 'real' or 'attractive' woman." Cosmo doesn't CREATE that image--our culture at large does. Cosmo is just a mirror that reflects the prevailing bias. Does it reinforce it in some ways? Sure. But I think anyone insecure enough to let Cosmo affect them that profoundly would find something that would produce the same effect elsewhere even if Cosmo didn't exist.

I agree that a lot of the things you list in your list ARE big problems, but they are't with Cosmo. Cosmo is more a symptom of a larger cultural sickness, and it's unfair to blame them for all the ills of society.

EDIT: Also, what kids are reading Cosmo?! Slap those parents; nothing with "sex" on the cover should be given to a ten-year-old!

[ 06-03-2009, 06:45 PM: Message edited by: giustilc ]

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Jill2000Plus
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When I was 10, I would have appreciated some accurate sex education, including, yes, books with the word sex included.

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Heather
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Hey, always down for having some good, vigorous debate here. Just a couple quick reminders that a) let's not jest about slapping anyone, even casually, and b) let's also bear in mind that kids pick up all kinds of things that aren't given to them by adults.

I'd add in this that given how many readers of Cosmo there are and how the majority of women are NOT that big on intercourse, it might be more accurate to define Cosmo readers as women who are an aspirational demographic when it comes to enjoying vaginal intercourse or fitting other heteronormative ideas of sex. But then, I think even that is guessing: I'm not sure we can really have any idea what kind of sex women who buy Cosmopolitan enjoy or aspire to enjoy.

Lastly, looking at the history of Cosmo might be helpful. Given my age, I'd have to say I agree that a lot of what's being complained about here is something that Cosmo not only enables but DID have a hand in creating. Women's magazines pre-Cosmo were pretty different stuff, and it led the charge when it came to the kind of sexual content it has in it. I can't think of another women's mag that did before then, even though post-Cosmo plenty have followed in kind afterwards.

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