Monday, June 30, 2008

Feminists and `Cosmopolitan' Historically

(The following article first appeared in the 9/9/92 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly newspaper, Downtown.)

Although Cosmopolitan was successful historically at making a lot of cash for the men who run the Hearst Corporation and the Hearst Dynasty by selling Cosmopolitan primarily to economically independent women, feminist women in the 1960s criticized Gurley-Brown’s editorial politics almost as soon as her altered Cosmopolitan first appeared on the newsstand. For instance, as Current Biography 1969 noted, “Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique…criticized the new Cosmopolitan outlook as debasing women: `Instead of urging women to live a broader life, it is an immature teenage-level sexual fantasy. It is the idea that woman is nothing but a sex object…’”

But by the early 1980s—when corporate feminist ideology was seen as less subversive by the U.S. Establishment mainstream media—Gurley-Brown told a Contemporary Authors interviewer:

“I consider myself a feminist, and I don’t think the women’s movement and I have any great differences at this stage of the game. Gloria Steinem is a good friend…I honor and respect her totally. The movement is here to stay, it’s not going to go away.”

And again, in an April 16, 1968 New York Times Op-Ed column, Hearst’s then-Cosmopolitan editor called herself a “feminist”—although she criticized “the way feminists—of whom I am proudly one, but not on this issue” were acting as if the mid-1980s reappearance of the miniskirt in the world of women’s fashion was “some major affront to womanhood.”

Although Hearst’s Cosmopolitan editor had been calling herself a “feminist” for many years before 1992, you still didn’t find too much mention of women like Alexandra Kollontai, Agnes Smedley or Simone de Beauvoir on its pages in the 1990s—or too many articles encouraging working women and intellectual Amazons to fight against the patriarchal U.S. corporate establishment on a political level. A 1992 Cosmopolitan issue which was published during the month before the New York presidential primary, for example, contained no article about 1992 election issues, but many articles like the following: 1. “Beauty Bar: Soothing Soaks for a Smooth Sexy Body;” 2. “Beauty Helpline;” 3. “How $50 Can Recycle Last Year’s Wardrobe;” 4. “What’s New In Beauty;” 5. “On My Mind: Lying With (and to) your Love;” 6. “March Horoscope;” 7. “The Joy Of Being Rotten Or How To Get Revenge;” 8. “I Had An Affair With My Handsome Assistant;” and 9. “Roadblock To Intimacy…When Sex Isn’t Enough.”

(Downtown 9/9/92)

Next: Institutional Sexism At The Hearst Corporation Historically

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