Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gender Lessons from Cosmo

Ah, Cosmopolitan magazine (refered to in short as "Cosmo"). I came across this "woman's" magazine the other day at the gym. I admit, I stole it from the gym when I realized the treasure-trove of blog material inside its glossy pages. I'll also admit that I read this magazine from time to time when I was younger- in waiting rooms, on sports trips, when my mother would buy one.

Upon this latest perusal of the magazine (November 2007), I realized that we could all- women and men alike- learn some things about both genders. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Lesson #1: Men Eat Steak. "Girls" Don't.

Yes, I read it in Cosmo so it's true. A tip on how to "snare guys' attention" is to "Share your fondness for steak. Men love girls who like boy food."

I know. Women, in general, don't really eat. Let alone eat steak. But since the most important thing in a "girl's" life is to score a man, you should at least try to eat steak on occasion.

Which brings me to Lesson #2: The Most Important Thing in a Girl's Life is To Score and Keep a Man.

See, what works in initially scoring a man is to act more like a man. What "doesn't work" according to Cosmo is to act like a girl- you know by saying you "like walks on the beach" or using "excessive emoticons and exclamation points" ("They're Annoying")!!!!

You can keep a man by accomodating parts of his behavior that result from a society that views "acting like a girl" as a negative thing. It's all about accomodating pathologies, you see, not dealing with them from their source. For instance, there's an article entitled "When Guys Get the Blues" that admirably addresses the issue of male depression (which is under-diagnosed and under-reported). As the article states, men are "socialized to believe that depression- and worse, admitting to having it- is emasculating." And so if your "dude" exhibits the behaviors of blowing off paying bills, spending excessively, or abusing drugs/alcohol, you should just sort of suck it up, "proceed with caution," and "steer clear of the D word." [D as in depression, not dude, that is]

It's all about keeping your guy, you see. And you could lose your dude if you make him feel like less of a man by talking with him about depression or suggesting that he's depressed.

Get it, dude? Which brings me to:

Lesson #3: Men and Women are in a Perpetual State of Pre-Adulthood!

Men are "guys" and "dudes."

When women and Cosmo writers talk about men they most often call them "guys." No matter the age of the man. When Cosmo writers talk about your boyfriend they call him "your guy." No matter that you can't own human beings in this country anymore!

Meanwhile, women are "chicks" and "girls."

When Cosmo quotes men talking about women over the age of 18, they are quoted as saying things like "this chick" and "some girl." Cosmo writers even refer to other women as "girls." Continuously calling adult women "girls" is problematic, and widespread. It is also far more common than calling men "boys." Perhaps when women stop being infantilized they will begin to be treated as full adults and human beings in society.

Lesson #4: Sometimes, Like, Really Embarassing Things Happen!!!

There is a section in Cosmo entitled "Confessions" where, contrary to the title, women mostly admit embarassing things that happen to them, rather than admit to acts of which they are guilty. You know, like when a woman and her guy were experimenting with handcuffs and totally going "at it" when the guy's mom walked in!

In fact, 3/6 of these confessions involved a woman being exposed in some way.

Flash forward to the next page. There, we have "Guy Confessions" where "men admit to their dirtiest deeds and most shameless scams ever." Yes, everyone, embarassing things happen to boys too! Especially when it comes to their boners, "packages," and boy parts in general. Tee-hee-hee-hee.

Or something.

Oh, and 6/11 of the boy stories involved the guys doing some asshole thing to a woman. Because, you know, guys are creeps.

But we should still aspire to get and keep one! Especially if they're famous.....

Lesson #5: It's a Given that a Woman Would Want any Famous Man No Matter His Looks, Personality, or Trait Other Than His Fame

At least, that's the implication from the "If He Weren't Famous Would You Date Him?" segment featuring famous yet-non-hotties such as Will Ferrell (95% no), Jack Black (90% no), and David Spade (85% no).

But isn't the more pressing question this: Would you date him just because he's famous?

Lesson #6: Fashion and Beauty are of Second-Most Importance in a Girl's Life (the first, of course, being snaring a man)

Many, many pages of Cosmo are dedicated to fashion and beauty tips. (Not counting the ads). I have nothing to say about this other than that these articles utterly, absolutely bore me and I'm not going to waste time reading about eyeliner, purses, and the new in-style shoe to wear this season that most readers probably can't afford anyway.

Lesson #7: "Real-Life" Story: Professional Cheerleading's Dangerous Lesson for Women!

The most compelling piece was an article in the "Real-Life Reads" section entiteld "Tales of an NFL Cheerleader." In this expose, a former NFL cheerleader details the physical ordeals that such cheerleaders endure to earn a coveted spot on the squad. For instance, body weight is strictly monitored (cheerleaders aren't allowed to "cheer" at games in which they are too heavy), hair colorings/cuts are mandated, manicures are expected, and the cheerleaders are paid a shockingly low amount of money ($6/hour).

In short, the professional cheerleading biz, we learn, is a superficial, cruel world. Apparently, already-thin and in-shape women are encouraged to lose weight and remain uber-thin. They starve themselves, subsisting on caffeine and herbal supplements until that next weigh-in. Always, women are expected to be and remain hot.

I found myself questioning what young girls and women are expected to learn from this article!?

The cheerleading biz sees women as valuable insofar as they are hot and thin, and that is just wrong! How dare the professional cheerleading business exploit women in this way!


Lesson #8: Cosmo Ads' Dangerous Lesson for Women!

A compelling part of Cosmo is its advertisements. They feature beautiful, thin women promoting products that will supposedly make women more beautiful. Leafing through a Cosmo, I wonder if the point of the magazine is, in fact, to merely sell ad space. Surely, people don't read the mag for the substance of the articles....

But I digress.

By observing these ads, one can see that modeling is a superficial, cruel world. Already-thin and in-shape women are encouraged to lose weight and remain uber-thin so they will receive contracts to pose in magazines such as Cosmo. They often starve themselves, subsisting on caffeine and herbal supplements until that next photo shoot. Women are expected to be and remain hot.

What are Cosmo readers supposed to think when they view these ads?

The lesson: Women are valuable insofar as they are hot and thin.

Of course, valuing women in such a way is wrong.

But you wouldn't know it from reading Cosmo. You go, girl!

Cosmo contributes to why feminism is still needed. It is not an solution, it's part of the problem. It promotes stereotypes of both women and men, it utterly ignores non-heterosexual orientations, and largely ignores issues of race and class.

Interestingly, Cosmo had a teeny section on one page entitled "Expired Love Advice" of dated suggestions from former Cosmo magazines that Cosmo now seems embarassed about. For instance, a bit of advice for staying married from a 1966 Cosmo read "Be sympathetic... and often silent. A man rarely divorces a wife because she has nothing to say." Some 1968 advice "For Staying Thin" included "Diet on weekdays, when he is less apt to notice. Eat like everyone else on weekends. Exercise, but out of sight."


So you see, Cosmo has made some progress. Unfortunately, they still assume that a woman's first priority in life is finding and keeping a man, and getting and staying hot and thin. Yet I think that feminist ideas are responsible for some of the progress in the type of thinking seen above.

And, contrary to popular belief, feminism is not some sort of enemy. It challenges assumptions and stereotypes based on gender. And that is threatening to some, I suppose. For instance, to those who sell the idea that women should be thin and hot, and that women should be subservient to men.

But generally, feminism gives us the tools to examine how bits of "pop" culture such as Cosmo are harmful to women and men.

Why is that so hard for so many people to swallow?

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