101 Ways to Exist for Men: A review of the March 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine

Since high school, too much of my time has been spent repairing relationships with my body and reshaping my thoughts about what it is to be a woman. This process largely entailed ignoring the propaganda that partially created the damage in the first place. However, this month’s edition of Cosmopolitan brought me down memory lane and left me reminiscing over the many misconceptions that weighed down my 13-year-old mind.

I remember thinking that striving for male attention, being ashamed of having a period and being unhappy unless you were skinny, youthful and loved by others was normal. One of the main culprits for the formation of these harmful ideas is the “biggest women’s magazine brand in the world.”

The overarching theme in Cosmopolitan’s language is normalized in many settings, and it continues to reinforce harmful gender roles. Cosmo’s pages are riddled with phrases advising all women on how to please the men of the world, in and out of the bedroom.

In one article titled “Keeping the Lust Alive,” women are encouraged to compliment their boyfriend, sneak into his place of work to watch him in action and playfully flirt with him. This one-directional call to action not only dispels any expectation of a focus on female happiness and pleasure, but also uses pronouns assuming heterosexuality as a means to create an exclusive and heteronormative box.

One particular article boasted that 55 per cent of guys think periods are “natural” or “awesome,” as if male validation is necessary in order for women to make peace with our bodies. From stories of staining a pair of pants at school to interpreting spotting as a sign of impending death, first-period stories often range from embarrassing to sad. Many women experience a damaged relationship to their period because of the shaming involved in their initial experience. These relationships cannot heal from a foundation rooted in male encouragement and acceptance, or in assumptions that all people who get periods are cisgender women.

Another article titled “Steak and Potatoes for your Boyfriend” provides a script for making the perfect dinner date. The problem isn’t that it encourages doing something nice for someone you care about, it’s that it shows us where the priorities lie for the most popular women’s magazine. 

With cover stories like “The #1 Way to Tell if He’s Truly into You,” Cosmo is demonstrating that these are normal things to be worrying about. Obsessing over the thoughts of others and putting their pleasure above yours is not what young girls should be encouraged to do.

In university, I am surrounded by women who defy body-shaming norms, embrace non-heterosexual identities, are interested in their own pleasure and celebrate their periods. Just last month, a group of Mount Allison students got on stage to perform monologues about broken relationships with the female body, discoveries of female pleasure and the targeting of trans women.

Every year, I am in awe of my peers who participate in the Vagina Monologues and feel blessed to have them to look up to. I only wish my 13-year-old self had the same opportunity. In short, future 13-year-olds would be better off if the Vagina Monologues became the most popular reading material for women.

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