advertising · body image · eating disorders · fitness · gender policing · media · objectification · sex

Really, Walmart? Really?

I don’t love Walmart. I don’t love Cosmo Magazine. I really don’t love what Walmart has done with Cosmo Magazine in 5000 locations in the good ole’ USA. Sam brought this article to our attention on our contributor discussion page and said, “Blog fodder. Do feminists agree with conservatives on this one?” I swear sometimes she says stuff just to get me riled up enough to write a blog. . .oh. . .wait.

So in a nutshell, Cosmo will not be available at the checkout where all the precious minds of little girls might get polluted with its sordid sexual content. Dawn Hawkins of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (Formerly known as Morality in the Media) claimed it as a victory of her organization’s own making, referencing #metoo as the inspiration for this action. Walmart made a vague statement about it being a “business decision” in which it “consulted” with unnamed entities. Cosmo isn’t being banned. It’s just being moved.

Honestly, do I care? I hate Cosmo. I mostly hate it because it over promises on the sex tips. Here’s an example, “7 Best Sex Positions for Female Orgasm“. It says these tips will “guarantee to help you orgasm”. But you know what? That’s bullshit. I’ve tried every one of them. I want my guarantee! They get me every time and dash my hopes. But you know what else is in there? This gem about the fight to include women’s choice into Obamacare. There’s also this one about my current favourite teen that isn’t related to me, Emma Gonzales, and the photoshopped picture of her ripping up the bill of rights.

When Sam asked if feminists agreed with conservatives, I will confess to having a trauma trigger. It all goes back to a time in 1990. I was a young impressionable law student and I read Catharine MacKinnon. For those who are too young to remember, these were troubled times in the feminist movement (I mean, when aren’t there troubled times). There was a general agreement that pornography, as conceptualized by the patriarchy, was not great for women. It was not about our pleasure, it was not about our agency, it was not about our actual bodies. It was about our function and that function was to arouse and get off men. That’s objectifying. That’s an impoverished view of women and women’s sexuality. But in the hopes of doing something about it, feminists teamed up with the “moral majority” of conservative evangelical politics. They argued for an end to the scourge using legal tools and in the process, did a terrible disservice to a lot of women, including me. In this discourse, sexuality became even more of a source of shame and, as happens, marginalized sexuality took the brunt of it. Somehow the mainstream porn industry continued to thrive while it was harder for alternate voices to get in there and change any of these narratives. Things didn’t get better for women as a result of this unholy alliance because it got hijacked by the more powerful partner in the endeavour. (This is an admittedly uncomplicated summary).

Meanwhile I wasted 10 years of my life not doing fun sexy things that I wanted to do because I thought it would make me a bad feminist. Did those well meaning white lady anti-porn feminists mean for any of this to happen? Of course not. But you can be sure that the folks like Ms. Hawkins would be pretty pleased that I stayed away from all that perverted hanky panky I was trying not to think about.

So, back to beleaguered Cosmo. I wish it was not such a trashy mag. I wish it portrayed more real bodies. I wish the sex advice was better. But other than that, it’s not the worst. They have stopped putting diet advice on the cover. There is a lot in the magazine that speaks to women’s agency. That it reports on celebrity gossip is not a thing that should banish it to the back shelves. I’m curious if that trashiest of trash piles the National Enquirer can still be found eye level with the kidletts? Likely. The hypocrisy is beyond the pale.

A brief perusal of the website of the NCOSE indicates that its main focus is on enforcing and strengthening obscenity law, educating young people about the dangers of overconsumption of porn, prohibiting the exchange of sex for money and somehow “stopping the demand for purchased sex”, I guess through the punishment of being caught (?). While their goals are around the protection of women and vulnerable young people, their tools involve repressing the material, not educating or empowering the victims in the ways I think are helpful. Their aims are also decidedly not sex or sex work positive. I guess that’s where we differ, me and Ms. Hawkins. Cosmo is imperfect, but it is somewhat educational. It reflects reality. NCOSE targeted Cosmo because it is a somewhat sex positive liberal trash mag. I will take that over a sex negative conservative mouth piece of a shameful president any day of the week.

So the answer, Sam, is NO!


A Gif of an older glamorous white woman in big sunglasses and a scarf wagging her finger and shaking her head, “Nuh uh, honey”.

7 thoughts on “Really, Walmart? Really?

  1. So it’s not the sex I object to when it comes to Cosmo, as bad as their sex advice is. It’s the models and the beauty tips. It’s the beauty ideal I ached after and starved myself for as a teenager. I’m not for censorship. I have strongly principled free speech views. But I think it’s consistent wth strongly held free speech views to care about what children see at the cash register. I’ve long thought that it if we don’t allow Playboy etc at the cash register then we shouldn’t allow Cosmo. There are lots of studies about girls and self esteem and exposure to this imagery. It’s toxic. Of course it’s an opportunity for conversation. But I’m not sure in terms of effect, how much parents can do. This one puzzles me. I don’t think it’s sex negative to care about exposing young girls and boys to completely unrealistic models for sexiness. What’s wrong with keeping both Playboy and Cosmo in a section of the store for adults? I’m sorry about the company I’m keeping when I say that I think this might not be so bad. And I certainly get to that position for different reasons.

    1. I hear you. And then all he magazines need to be not at the checkout. And there would have to be an entirely separate campaign. Not affiliated with this sort of agenda.

      1. Judging by the headlines I see at most checkouts all the world cares about is the hidden troubles in the relationships of people I’ve never heard of. And rumours of pregnancy for jennifer aniston.

    2. I would love to read more of these studies. But Cosmo is a magazine aimed at women. Surely many women enjoy reading it and take comfort in making themselves more beautiful by applying tips from it. Would not realgating it to the porn section of the magazine rack and labeling it toxic be a strike against those women? Judging by the commercial success of Cosmo this population must be significant.

  2. Thanks for the post, Susan– as always, really thought-provoking. I agree with Sam in worrying much more about the photoshopped and destructive images of women. That’s not limited to Cosmo– it’s everywhere in print media, broadcast and online. In fact, I find Women’s Health (hah!) and Shape magazine (and their ilk) more destructive than Cosmo– Cosmo’s not pretending to be a self-help guide (not really), but these other magazines are trumpeting so-called health and beauty advice for general consumption. So I am inclined to say leave Cosmo alone, and move those other mags away from kids…

    1. Interesting. When I was a young teen there wasn’t all that much fitness imagery. It was all about being pretty, sexy, attractive, etc. That meant being thin, having large breasts, with long hair, etc etc. Not to mention, being able bodied and white, privilege I didn’t even realize I had then. But it was what I thought as a young teen thar sexy looked like.

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