Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Professors weigh in on objectification of women after Walmart removes Cosmopolitan from checkout lines

Hiding magazines doesn’t stop hyper-sexualization, experts say

Professors weigh in on objectification of women after Walmart removes Cosmopolitan from checkout lines

Cosmopolitan displayed on a  magazine rack in Walmart stores.

Walmart recently announced that chains across the country will remove Cosmopolitan from checkout lines, citing the magazine’s objectifying material, according to USA TODAY.

The best-selling magazine promotes content for “fun, fearless females,” reaching more than 18 million readers per month, according to Cosmopolitan’s parent company, Hearst Communications. Most magazine covers are of a sexual nature, with women wearing racy clothing while taglines promote sex tips, games and other advice.

While Cosmopolitan can still be found in Walmart’s magazine racks, some wonder where people should draw the line between sexual empowerment and sexual objectification.

Cara Okopny, a professor of critical race, gender and culture studies at AU, said no one should have the power to remove objectifying images at their discretion.

“It’s tricky when we censor who gets to see what. You’re controlling women,” Okopny said. “In this way, a woman is being told to look like this, but not like that; behave like this but not like that.”

With the power to remove media content at will, the women on the covers of these magazines are being told that there is something wrong with them, Okopny said. Women often choose to be featured in magazines to forward their careers.

“Removing that content is taking away their agency or their autonomy,” Okopny said. “This is shaming, which diminishes the value and power of a woman’s choice.”

Rather than targeting the model by removing magazines, Okopny said people should challenge the larger institutional ideas that shape how society views women. This can be done by boycotting the magazine or creating an awareness campaign.

“If there’s a hit to [a corporation’s] bottom line, they will take action,” Okopny said.

Margot Susca, an AU professor of journalism and communication, argues that removing the magazines with objectifying images is “putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.”

Rather than regulating media content, Susca said children should be taught how to better understand media content.

“Having your ‘best sex life ever’ is not achieved by what Cosmo teaches but through sex-ed in schools, parents, and education,” Susca said.

Susca compared the topic of sex in the U.S. to that in the Netherlands. There, children are introduced to the sexual differences between males and females as early as kindergarten, she said.

Because sex education is not taught until middle or high school in the U.S., young girls learn about their sexuality from the media. Regulating media content will not solve a cultural problem that demonizes sex but hypersexualizes women, Susca said.

“Hypersexualization … cannot be done by one woman or one magazine,” Susca said. “It’s embedded in a culture that teaches women the most important thing is to be beautiful and sexually desired.”

Okopny said that because hypersexualization is marketable to corporate executives, women’s bodies are being commodified.

“This implies that sex is the only thing women are good for,” Okopny said. “It is the total disembodiment of a woman.”

By hypersexualizing women, magazines like Cosmopolitan teach their readership to tolerate unacceptable behavior from the opposite sex, Susca said.

“The ‘bad boy behavior’ is often glorified in U.S. culture where women are taught to allow men to treat them poorly,” Susca said. “If [boys] can have sex with and then kill a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto 5, then [they] are being taught to not only objectify women, but to physically hurt them.”

Susca added that models are photoshopped, airbrushed and styled. She said that consumers have to consider when reading magazines like Cosmopolitan that the photos used are staged.

Both Okopny and Susca advise media consumers to take what they see with a grain of salt. Susca added that it’s important for people to understand that these kinds of images portray the idea that sex is the only thing the model has to offer. 

tmattei@theeagleonline.com


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