Cosmopolitan article degrades women, doesn't deserve attention

I HAVE never been a big fan of Cosmopolitan magazine. I don't really think that the - ahem - "values" system it promotes is necessarily one that we as a society want to be embracing, nor did I ever buy into the common argument it was just "harmless fun" and has no influence on society. Call me uptight if you wish, but as many psychologists would argue, environment is a huge - some would say the primary - factor in the shaping of individuals. Cosmo, sadly, is a fairly influential part of the environment in which girls mature in the modern age. Despite all of this, I have bitten my lip when I occasionally crossed paths with one of the monthly issues glorifying promiscuous sex and superficiality. One particular article in the December 2001 issue crossed the line, however, and I am not shutting up anymore.

This month, the makers of Cosmo have decided to team up with their male counterpart Maxim to bring us a new guide on how to pick up men at a party, "How to Get Picked Up at a Party." At first glance this seems innocent enough, and for now we will ignore the implication found in this article - like far too many other pieces that run in Cosmo - that having sex with people who essentially are strangers is acceptable and possibly even a good thing. The most disturbing instructions found in the article and those this column addresses do not relate directly to women's relationships with men, but to their relationships with other women.

The article, after a short introduction, moves quickly to instructions as to how to attract attention upon entering a party. The first instruction that is given to the reader is as follows: "Tell your knockout friend that the party is off, and walk through the door surrounded by a few pals who are, shall we say, a little less gifted in the looks department." This kind of statement implies a valuing of individuals on a strictly superficial basis, which is in itself an atrocity. The editors of Cosmo should be ashamed of themselves for the unabashed manner in which they allow this type of implication to run throughout their magazine.

Though much more could be said on this topic, the core problem is made even clearer by a statement just a few lines later: "Discourage your friends from wearing anything short, low-cut, or leather - then be sure to show up sporting all of the above." Yet again the editors of Cosmo have outdone themselves. They have managed to encourage dressing like a whore as well as manipulative, egotistical, ruthless opportunism in one foul swoop.

In short, what Cosmo is suggesting is that the reader of this article should make attracting the attention of men she does not know her central priority, adopt any means necessary to realize this goal, and, most disturbingly, do everything possible to put her friends at a disadvantage in attracting these men in order to better her chances. This includes presumably lying to her more attractive friends in order to keep them out of the picture and attempting to make her already less-attractive friends even more so in order to take them out of the game as well.

Later in the article comes the most blatant and disturbing encouragement of this small-scale Machiavellianism. The authors note that, although showing up at a party alone reflects badly on one - and thus diminishes the chances of picking up men - having friends around could scare off potential hook-ups, and so instructs our reader how to, "use [their friends] ... then lose 'em."

For a magazine allegedly supposed to "empower" women, its text doesn't suggest much respect for them. This article, in three pages, manages to give as advice everything that a woman should try to avoid. True friendships between women are precious and rare, and to see the term "friend" used in this manner is nothing short of sickening.

It is ridiculous to assert that everyone who reads Cosmo magazine exactly follows the instructions it sets forth. However, by reading the magazine we are - whether we realize it or not and regardless of our intentions - influencing our concept of the world around us and our place in it, not to mention increasing demand for its production. In the future, before we blindly consume Cosmo or any other product of its kind, we need to stop and think about how we are influencing ourselves and others, and consider instead moving toward a return to Christian morality in society that only we can bring about through our actions.

After reading this article, one cannot help but sense the implication that women are good for little barring their ability to aid in the attraction of men, who are what really matter. There are not words to express the repulsion one should feel as the text of this magazine forces the realization of the degree to which the values system embraced by so many women has derailed in the last few decades. If this is empowerment and independence, I'll take my apron, thanks.

(Laura Parcells' column appears Fridays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

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