by: Khai Devon
I’m not supposed to like Cosmopolitan magazine. After all, I’m not a woman and I am a feminist. And it’s pretty common to joke about Cosmo. This is the glossy magazine that brought us such fabulous sex tips as “place his penis in your armpit—make sure to use plenty of lube” and “firmly hold his penis with both palms and twist in opposite directions.” (If you don’t know why that second one is a bad idea, you had an unhappy childhood and I’m sorry). Cosmo is renowned for being full of frivolous frippery and fucking. And yet, and yet. When I am feeling particularly girly and I need a night off, I buy a Cosmo and I feel no twinge of guilt in my Friedan-tilled and Faludi-planted feminist heart.
Sure, some of the lack of guilt is because I’m pretty easy on myself when I decide I need a night off, but more of it is because not only does Cosmo not violate my feminist ideals, but it actually helps advance the feminist cause in its own glossy gossip and fashion magazine way. In fact, I bet even Susan Faludi herself would be okay with me reading the current incarnations of Cosmo magazine.
In the first place, Cosmopolitan is a perfect example of the spoonful of sugar theory. Yes, there are pages of makeup and fashion tips, detailing the ways in which women can make themselves appear more traditionally attractive and advertise their sexual availability without having to wear a sandwich board that says “I can haz ur babby plz?” But sandwiched between the guide to finding the perfect pair of jeans to make your ass look fabulous and the guide to buying and applying fake eyelashes, are articles about self-confidence. About demanding raises, and making sure you’re being paid what you’re worth. About proper health care and how to access it. About treating yourself with respect. About policy and law changes that directly affect women in America. Education and empowerment is education and empowerment, even in this season’s hottest colors.
And speaking of hot. Sure, Cosmo may not always get it right with their sex tips, and they may market exclusively to a heterosexual, cissexual market—but they do accept and embrace a woman as a sexual being, refusing to slut-shame or engage in the virgin/whore discourse surrounding female sexuality in this society. Cosmo uses their position in popular culture and their matter-of-fact assumption that adult women are having sex to allow and encourage their readers to own their own bodies and pleasure. Cosmo screams, from every magazine stand and grocery store check out line, that it is okay to be a woman and to be a sexual being.
And not just a sexual being. Cosmo also makes a concerted effort to display positive, strong female role models for their readers. They host an annual banquet for the fifty most influential women in the world, honoring politicians and business women as well as inspirational athletes and humanitarians. After this banquet, Cosmopolitan runs a feature edition that focuses on the women’s accomplishments and impact on the world around them.
Look, Cosmo is no Backlash. It’s no Feminine Mystique. But it doesn’t have to be. No one is asking it to be, and if they are, then they are the ones in the wrong. Cosmopolitan is glossy. And in its way, it advances feminist ideals in a palatable, engaging format that reaches an audience statistically growing unenamored and disengaged with the feminist movement. Besides, there’s no law that says feminists have to be uninterested in pretty things or in being pretty themselves. That, my friends, is just a stereotype—and since when are we about stereotyping people?
Khai Devon is a genderqueer lesbian poet with a dreamer’s sensibility and a compulsion to create the world sie wants to live in. Sie writes blogs at http://disturbinglynormal.wordpress.com, and http://duffelbagandadream.wordpress.com, updating whenever the words overflow and sie has internet access. Sie also writes poems like sie’s breathing, and sie’d like it if you emailed hir at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wanted to talk about poetry, activism, or anything sie’s written about here.