Editor’s Note: Melissa Blake is a freelance writer and blogger from Illinois. She covers disability rights and women’s issues and has written for The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Glamour and Racked among others. Read her blog, So About What I Said, and follow her on Twitter. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers.
Citing the #MeToo movement and a “business decision,” Walmart, along with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, announced this week that it would be removing Cosmopolitan magazines from the checkout lines at some 5,000 store locations, saying in a statement: “As with all products in our store, we continue to evaluate our assortment and make changes. Walmart will continue to offer Cosmopolitan to customers that wish to purchase the magazine, but it will no longer be located in the checkout aisles. While this was primarily a business decision, the concerns raised were heard.”
In a statement announcing its work with Walmart, the center described the “real change” it was undertaking.
“This is what real change looks like in our #MeToo culture, and NCOSE is proud to work with a major corporation like Walmart to combat sexually exploitative influences in our society,” Dawn Hawkins, executive director at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said in a statement.
“Women, men, and children are bombarded daily with sexually objectifying and explicit materials, not only online, but in the checkout line at the store.”
I can’t help but see this decision as both troubling and problematic. To co-opt a movement that has allowed so many women to come forward and give a voice to their experiences of sexual assault seems like nothing short of an attempt to silence them. The #MeToo movement is about empowerment, not silencing, so to adopt the movement in this way seems incredibly insensitive and misguided.
The venerable women’s magazine has come under fire in the past for its risqué cover lines, and in today’s version, it’s definitely not your grandmother’s Cosmo of the 1950s. But in 2018, that’s actually a good thing; this change is long overdue, and Walmart is just wrong to ignore it.
Cosmo has done an amazing job of changing with the times and truly reflecting where women are today. In fact, former editors-in-chief Kate White and Joanna Coles worked tirelessly transforming the magazine from the antiquated days of instructing women on how to keep a home and please their husbands, bringing it into the age of navigating the workplace and social media. The magazine has since been at the forefront of what matters most to the modern woman, reporting on key issues that affect their lives, such as sexual assault, reproductive rights, career issues and mental health. They were also one of the publications that made me feel comfortable writing about my disability in 2016.
In other words, Cosmo is much more than the supposedly smutty sex bible this move by Walmart implies. It’s a teaching tool and fully embraces the needs of its readers. And it asks and swiftly answers the question: What does it mean to be a woman in 2018? The 2018 woman is empowered. She’s emboldened to go for what she wants – both in her work and in her relationships – so why can’t that be celebrated instead of demonized?
Like many young women, I came of age reading and absorbing every single page of Cosmo. I’d come home from the library on weekends with stacks of back issues and spend hours poring over the articles. When I was a teenager, it became as necessary to me as any health class textbook. The articles were accessible, informative and relatable, and, perhaps even more important, the editors never talked down to their readers or shamed them; I always felt like I was having a conversation with my wise older sister.
Walmart’s move sends a terrible message: that women, even in 2018, should stay silent about the things that really matter to them.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, in particular, has a long history of being vocal in condemning Cosmo, going so far as to put the magazine on its Watch List and calling its crusade against the magazine a “long-time priority.”
Putting the magazine farther back in the store is like saying women should hide, that they shouldn’t be seen. It sends the message that women should be ashamed of their sexuality, and the age-old double standard comes into play: Men are applauded when it comes to sexuality and women are vilified for it. If women wouldn’t “dress so provocatively.” If women wouldn’t “wear so much makeup.” If women wouldn’t “be so outspoken” – all issues brought to light during the #MeToo movement, the same movement the center claims to be supporting with its removal of Cosmo from checkout lines.
Meanwhile, magazines geared toward men, such as Esquire and Sports Illustrated, remain in full view, oftentimes, in those very same checkout lines. What are young women supposed to think when they see magazine covers of women in bikinis front and center and see Cosmo secluded to the back of the store? That women’s bodies should be regarded as shameful instead of celebrated?
For years, Cosmo has been a force to propel women forward in all aspects of their lives. In a world where women have to fight to be seen, fight to be heard and fight to just be, their appearance in the checkout line is not a battle they should have to fight.