Monday, October 27, 2014

Makeup, MENA and Sex

Last week, as I was getting one of my children ready for her day, I heard this story on NPR about Cosmopolitan, aka Cosmo magazine. A couple of thoughts.

First, a rousing cheer for Joanna Coles' central message that women can be interested in both "mascara and the Middle East". Damn it, yes we can, and this writer certainly is (well, not mascara, because it always gets in my eyes, but no one loves red lipstick more than I do). I realize that some people may think I take chances because what I talk about on my Twitter feed is more about current events than writing tips, but I'm making a very conservative bet that there are plenty of women out there who like to read romance and women's fiction who also care passionately about politics, both domestic and international. I have never understood why being interested in clothing and cosmetics was supposed to preclude an interest in the rest of the world.

Second, while I applaud Coles' mission, it's a mistake to characterize the Cosmo of years past as being strictly concerned with sex. (I read my first sex graphic sex descriptions in Our Bodies Ourselves and then Princess Daisy.) Yes, I read explicit things in Cosmo, but I also read about women trying to navigate their way through the workplace, Camille Paglia, the importance of managing money and profiles of up-and-coming women (and no, they weren't all models). Among the articles about sex wasn't just (an admittedly weird) piece about oral sex in the age of HIV/AIDS, but also sexual harassment, sexual violence and sex addiction. None of it, I might add, was glamorized.

Helen Gurley Brown, founder of Cosmopolitan

Finally, it's great that we live in a world where we can take for granted being sexual as a given, but when the modern version of Cosmo was birthed, that wasn't a given. Our sexual expression, but in private and in public, was more tightly circumscribed. In other words, there were far fewer ways to do it "right" (and not simply in the court of public opinion). And many can argue that even today talking about sex and being in control of our sexuality is still something many begrudge young women (see Purity Pledges). So while Cosmo may be snickered at for talking about sex (what's that about, really?), it's still quietly revolutionary that they do so.

So women (and the men among you so inclined), go forth, be a badass, talk about sex, cosmetics and politics and then go vote. In other words, be a real person- that's still revolutionary.

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