The180·The 180

Should Cosmo magazine be hidden from young eyes?

A new campaign wants to hide Cosmopolitan magazine from the eyes of minors, relegated to the same covered section that houses Playboy and Hustler. But one feminist says Cosmo has an important place in society and in the racks at grocery store check-outs.

Campaign wants retailers to treat Cosmopolitan magazine like Playboy and Hustler

Should Cosmo magazine be hidden from the eyes of minors? (AP Photo/Hearst) (The Associated Press)

It's hard to miss Cosmopolitan magazine at the checkout. The provocative cover photos are overlaid with headlines that promise lessons in style and seduction. And as one of the biggest-selling American titles in Canada and around the world, Cosmo is a big part of the cultural landscape.

But there's a crusade afoot to get Cosmopolitan out of sight, out of mind, and maybe out of print. 

"Cosmo Hurts Minors" is spearheaded by Victoria Hearst, a born-again Christian and the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, who founded Cosmo's publishing company. She wants Cosmo out of reach and sight of minors — hidden away alongside Playboy and Hustler.

"When I've talked to people in stores about this, I get women who say, 'That thing is right in front of my child's face. I turn it around in the rack,'" Hearst says. "You've got half-naked women on the cover and all of these 'orgasms' and 'sex' right in everybody's face — which Cosmo says it does intentionally because it 'wants to get sex right out there.'"

But not everyone wants to Cosmopolitan hidden from minors. Globe and Mail columnist Nathalie Atkinson recently wrote a defense of the magazine. 

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

You wrote that "Cosmo's quizzes and over-the-top sex tips may elicit an eye-roll, but they were subversive at a very crucial moment of mid-1960s agitation, and they're still necessary." Why are they necessary?

They're still necessary because there's constant challenge to what the women's movement of the late 60s and 70s won; the sort of ground that's been won ... The fact that women could, at the grocery store or newsstand, buy a magazine that on its very cover had things like 'satisfy yourself' or 'blow his mind' or 'enjoy sex' — and let alone enjoy sex but actually be seen to be talking about it in public — was incredibly subversive.

I don't understand this idea that someone wakes up on their 18th birthday, ready to vote and fully formed, and somehow overnight they've learned everything.- Nathalie Atkinson

But that was then and this is now. Is it still subversive, is it still intrinsic to everything else that's going on?

They are because if we start policing women's sexuality in the public sphere and suggest that women's sexuality is obscene, which is what was done leading up to and including the 60s, I think that's a big loss and it's quite dangerous.

So why not sell the magazine behind the counter? Why not just let readers who aren't minors ask the cashier for it?

I certainly picked it up in my teens — as I did with Joy of Sex that was in my parents' library — and I don't understand this idea that someone wakes up on their 18th birthday, ready to vote and fully formed, and somehow overnight they've learned everything.

I think if an adolescent is mature and curious, they should be able to — without shame and without having to ask for something behind the counter — be able to look at that stuff.


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