08/07/2012 03:34 pm ET

Why 'Cosmo' Is Actually Important

Cosmo, as both a magazine and a worldwide brand, is full of contradictions. Most basically, it's a publication that became what it was thanks to Helen Gurley Brown, a powerful and sometimes revolutionary woman — and at the same time, its content can look neither empowering nor revolutionary. In the New York Times magazine this weekend, Edith Zimmerman highlighted these contradictions. She cites headlines like "Eeek! You’ll Die When You Read What These ‘Normal’ Guys Wanted Once Their Pants Hit the Floor” (from American Cosmo) and “Oops! My V Zone Is Strange!” (from the South Korean version, which underscore the mag's reputation as, in one of her friends' words, "trash." But then she quotes the editor of Cosmo Kazakhstan's message to her readers: "You are strong, you can control your life, you can earn as much as men do and you can have sex before marriage and not be condemned by society." It's messages like this that make Cosmo tough to dismiss.

That's what Gail Dines would like readers to do, though. In a Guardian response to Zimmerman's piece, Dines (who also wrote a polemic against pornography) argues that Cosmo is materialistic and obsessively focused on pleasing men, and that instead, women deserve "a bestselling magazine that devoted itself to giving women great orgasms on our own terms."

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