The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 32


Similar to the Simpsons Illustrated series, this was just a way for me to try to answer/exorcise questions that have been in the back of my mind for some time now.  Reference librarian that I am, I’ve been trained to look for the question-behind-the-question, because often what we ask is not what we really want to know; it’s what we think will tell us what we want to know.  With Simpsons Illustrated, the question I asked was “how many times does Matt Groening’s signature appear”; the real question was “how many times did it need to appear?”.  The answer to the first question is 108, or almost 11 per issue; the answer to the second question is “not nearly that many, you’d think”.

For Cosmopolitan, the first question (“does it always”) was covering the other, more crucial one (“why”). I feel like I must have guessed at the why after my undergraduate college career, especially once I’d taken the Psychology of Women course. But, like I’ve been saying since the beginning, you have to verify these things, find out whether the opposite is true, before you can be confident in what you “know”. So the “why” of it turns out to have answers at multiple levels: the consumer level, the writer level, the editor level, the publisher level, the business level. When you put all those answers together, you do get a bleak picture. Businesses have an interest in upholding the status quo because businesses are a part of the status quo.  They want to propagate ideas that keep them in the black. Businesses have long traditions of hiring psychologists to work on advertising.  If you can make someone feel they have some lack, you can get them to buy the fix for it. In the words of Mr. Boogalow from the 1980 film The Apple:

Cultivate a need/ Grab them by the greed/ Slaves are guaranteed

Publishers and editors know that their job is to keep their bosses making money, and they know what will sell magazines. And when you factor in that many women don’t actually read the magazines, well, what are they taking in from it?  Images, promises, bold statements (the ones they see and the ones they hope to say). And, well, those parts of the magazines seem to be getting more gendered over time. And if the idea that people don’t even engage with the light reading they pick up, how can we expect them to seek out good information to make better choices for their diets, for their love lives, for their *sigh* political engagement?

This might be a good time to mention that I did pick up one of these magazines once (I want to say it was Cosmopolitan, but I’m not certain) and looked through one of those articles that promised 153 (or some high number) of sex tips.  There weren’t 153 discrete tips. There were 153 sentences.

I’m 32, and so is this series.  Cosmopolitan will continue to publish covers with celebrities showing cleavage, and I’ll continue to like cleavage. No big surprise there, right? We’d like to think that history tends liberal; that intellect tends liberal; that the universe is bending towards equality.  Rhajon N. Colson-Smith might disagree with you, at least in terms of what business selling messages do.  And I’m sure you know plenty of people who would love for the opposite to be true.

The truth is, as the globe becomes more connected, fewer and fewer people need to be thinkers and innovators for everyone to benefit. And when fewer people are making their voices heard, the bigger ones win. The ones with money win. More money=more chances and ways to get your message out.

How many articles/comics/videos/photographs have you shared on Facebook over the past year?

How many have you written/drawn/made?

If you feel I’m criticizing you, maybe I am. Maybe you deserve it. Maybe I’m just another American white cishet male with a degree and a career and a full set of working limbs and organs telling you what’s what when it’s not my place. But I’d like to think that I’m saying this as much to myself as anyone else:

You’re part of this world. Engage with it.



Boner count: Haha sorry wrong blog


Alexander, Katina. (1990). Cosmo’s queen of cleavage makes no apologies. Orange County Register, O01.

Baker, Christina N. (2005). Images of women’s sexuality in advertisements: a content analysis of black- and white-oriented women’s and men’s magazines. Sex Roles, 52(1/2), 13-27.

Colson-Smith, Rhajon N. (2005). Look Younger, Lose 10 Pounds, and Influence Your Audience: A Content Analysis of Popular Men’s and Women’s Magazine Cover Blurbs and the Messages They Project to Their Readers. (Thesis). East Tennessee State University, Johnson City.

Gough-Yates, Anna. (2003). Understanding Women’s Magazines. London: Routledge.

Smith, Stephanie. (2008). The science of covers: celebs, cleavage and sparkle. Women’s Wear Daily, 195(3), 12.


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