Informal Feminism

{January 30, 2011}   Why I Read Bitch and Not Cosmo

7 Signs He Wants to Have Sex, 5 Hot Things to Do With Your Guy, How Not to Screw up Your Fertility, Does Your Hair Make You Look Fat and The 15 Hottest Songs to Have Sex To. I was having my second bout of writers block this week. I sat down at my computer and thought about what to write, a bunch of topics flashed through my mind but when I went to write nothing came out. I found myself staring at that annoying blank white Microsoft word screen. Then as I was trying to force myself to write something a tiny thought popped into my brain. I typed cosmo into my Google search bar and was quickly directed to Cosmopolitan Magazine. That is where the beginning of my post comes from; those five titles were the featured articles on Cosmo’s website. Cosmo is one of the more well read “women’s” magazines out there. It could also be said that it is one of the most stereotypical and does more damage then good. In the five titles listed at the beginning of this article something becomes very clear: this magazine is about men, babies and beauty. All the things a girl could ever want or need are supposed to be between these pages but it just continues to recreate a script of the ideal women. As I delved further into the on-line site I just found more of the same articles centered on the same three principles. Let’s look at each of these things individually and unpack the messages that Cosmo sends out to women about men, babies, and beauty.

            When it comes to men Cosmo is supposed to be the expert. How to make him putty in your hands but when you actually read the articles it is clear that this magazine is putting his pleasure first. There are few articles about women in their sex section; almost every article is about what he is thinking and what to do to him and good girlfriend behaviour. It is a training manual for the “perfect” woman. One article was entitled Good Girlfriend: Do this, not that. This article was a list of how to behave in a manner which is considered acceptable by male standards. It was a list that is supposed to be helpful but came off more imperious then anything. What I got out of it was NOT to be yourself and then you can catch the man of your dreams. Almost every article in this section gives you a set of standards and rules to live by and most of them are things that are the complete opposite of what I personally would do in these situations. So the message received is that all you have to do to catch and keep a man, a woman’s ultimately goal in life apparently, is change who you are and become someone else. This “woman’s” magazine has no support for individuality or personal identity nor does it seem to have much respect for women. But, I want to bring it back to the idea of focusing on his pleasure; anything that has to do with sexuality in this magazine is focused on male pleasure. How to make it so that he enjoys himself but what about the woman herself? How and where does her pleasure come in? Why is a magazine that promotes itself as a “women’s” magazine completely blocking out female sexuality and codifying it by male standards? Instead of giving woman an understanding of their own sexuality it just reiterates the idea that woman sexuality and pleasure come second to a man’s. There is also no identification with a homosexual audience, not all women like men but that is clearly never to be discussed within the pages of Cosmo, yet this is supposed to be a magazine that all women can identify with.

            The second issue that is under the microscope is babies. This magazine does not specialize in babies, how to get pregnant, or raising a family. However, when you look at the title of the third article it clearly shows the magazines point of view on the issue. The article itself is about a new form of birth control with b vitamins built into it to make it easier to conceive when you go off the medication. I think it is a good thing that they are promoting the use of Birth Control. What I take issue with is the phrasing of the title How Not to Screw up Your Fertility. It feels as if it is implying that all women will wish to get pregnant at some point. It also is a scare tactic, read and buy this magazine because you could be harming your unconceived baby. There are other sentences in the article itself that reinforce this idea such as “all women of childbearing age should supplement with folic acid” The all was in italics in the article. They are stressing the point that if you are a woman who could have a child you should ensure you are taking these vitamins. However, not all women are looking to have children and the language of this article is distressing because it is regurgitating the ideology that all women are meant to be mothers. This magazine promotes the idea that you can have fun and be sexually free with different men but eventually you will settle into motherhood and family. This language is a way of making women feel bad about themselves if they do not wish to have children or reinforcing the ideology in a woman who might be questioning wanting to be a mother.

            The final issue I have with this magazine is its focus on the western standard of beauty. Does Your Hair Make You Look Fat? The ideal woman is supposed to be slim with big breasts, blond hair and no imperfections. This magazine reinforces that standard with articles on weight loss, how to wear your hair, how to dress. There is no acceptance of other bodies and their place in our world. If you have a body that is different from this standard then they simply provide you with ways to change your body to fit the image. Our society has seen a steady increase in plastic surgery, over 60% since 2000. Women make up 91% of the people getting procedures done. We are constantly bombarded with an image to live up to and ways to make it happen. There is little tolerance for imperfection. The two surgeries that are performed the most on women are breast augmentation and liposuction. I credit some of this to magazines such as Cosmo that do nothing but reinforce this beauty standard and create a readership of women who will never be satisfied and always be critical of themselves. Not only do they constantly print articles that focus on how to fit into this beauty standard, the ads in the magazine recreate the image again and again to remind the woman what she does not look like and that it is not o.k. to be look different. There is no tolerance in this magazine for any type of difference.

            There is hope though and one of its names is Bitch Magazine. This is a magazine that I read frequently, every time it comes out in fact. Bitch Magazine’s claim to fame is being A Feminist Response to Pop Culture. It is only published four times a year and is filled with great articles that support women. They call out issues/adversity that women face, they encourage and celebrate women who are making a difference, have open talks about sexuality in all its different forms and create a space where having a different body from someone else is a good thing. I remember being amazed the first time I found this magazine and read the whole thing cover to cover right then and there, since I have rarely missed an issue. I couldn’t believe that there were women out there who published something so contrary to the mainstream “woman’s” magazine. This truly is a magazine developed for woman and is a space where I find new and interesting things to read all the time.

            Women need more magazines where they can find a voice and that magazine is definitely not Cosmo. Magazines such as Bitch and Ms., this is another magazine that discusses women’s issues in a more political light, are out there but they need more press and a larger readership to sustain themselves. These magazines are designed to allow women access their own world, not the man’s world Cosmo reiterates, through their own eyes. They don’t tell you how to be a better woman but help you to understand that you are a great woman without changing yourself or suppressing your identity.

Bitch Magazine Blog:

Ms. Magazine website:


Theresa says:

Another great post Lizzie, I didn’t even know about BITCH magazine. I think I will take a look. Have a great week and I look forward to another great post next Monday:) Love ya!

Kayly says:

If you ever want to have fun with a guy, read him one of those “100 things to do to him during sex” articles they always put in Cosmo, they include little gems like “press on the space between his balls and his but” or “slide one finger between his buttcheeks” I read one of these to his boyfriend and he answered almost every one with “If you EVER did that to me I would (backhand, slap, kick, etc) you so hard!”

Other times, they’ll tell you ______ will please your man, and then two pages later there will be a “guys speak out” section where he’s talking about how much he hates it when a girl does ______

The whole magazine is about as scattered as the girls who read it.

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