Cosmo's Guide to the Midterm Elections Is Terrible, But Not for the Reasons Critics Are Focusing On



Cosmopolitan magazine is best known for giving women "mindblowing sex" tips and advice on "makeup that flirts for you." But ladies are multifaceted beings and—just as it's possible for men to care deeply about both the fate of the free world and their fantasy football stats—I see no inherent tension between wanting lean thighs without lunges and not wanting to bomb Syria. So I applaud Cosmo's decision to inject a little more political coverage into its milieu, especially as we approach midterm-election time. 

I was also excited to see that they hired a sharp, experienced writer like Jill Filipovic to help head up the magazine's politics coverage. Filipovic is also a columnist for The Guardian and a graduate of New York University School of Law. 

However. The #CosmoVotes guide—in which the magazine "is endorsing candidates for the first time ever"—kind of makes me want to puke, and my gag reflex got going right from the title: "How We Decided Which Midterm Candidates Are the Best for Women." Call me crazy, but I assume that what's "best for" women will vary greatly based on their individual values, viewpoints, and circumstances. Cosmo's editors, however, seem to believe some sisterhood of the magical vagina makes women into a political monolith.

This is what's ultimately so disappointing/infuriating about Cosmo's efforts. If the magazine was really serious about rebranding as a somewhat-less-fluffy, somewhat-more-feminist publication, why not tell the truth about candidates' positions and let women position themselves as voters? Why not trust women to decide for themselves what candidates and policies are "best for" them? As it stands, Cosmo merely parrots a bunch of mainstream Democratic talking points:

The candidates we support will back laws promoting birth control access, including bills to protect women's health from corporate interference and reverse the Hobby Lobby decision, as well as equal pay for equal work initiatives, including the Paycheck Fairness Act. And since nearly two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce is female, Cosmopolitan will also look at candidates' positions on raising the minimum wage.

That last one seems like a bit of a stretch here. I'm not saying women shouldn't or don't care about whether we raise the minimum wage, but it's not really a "women's issue" in the way pay equity and birth control access are. It is, however, a big Democratic candidate issue this election season. In fact, just about everything Cosmo endorses comes straight from liberal midterm candidates' playbooks. The magazine pledges to only support politicans who favor stricter gun control, more environmental regulations, and the Obamcare contraception mandate.

Cosmo Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles even accuses North Carolina candidate Thom Tillis of not "believ[ing] in access to contraception," despite the fact that Tillis has been speaking out in favor of making birth control available over the counter. Later in the same interview, Coles said: 

I think young women voters are going to be the voters that actually turn the election. We want them to know what's at stake.


There's nothing wrong with publications leaning one way or the other politically, or taking an institutionally centrist position while hiring individual writers that slant left or right. Yet Cosmo is trying to portray itself as a friendly, impartial arbiter of "what's at stake" for women in this election while explicitly pushing the DNC's wish list. This is not service journalism, nor opinion journalism; it is advocacy. And the magazine's refusal to acknowledge that leaves me cold. 

This wouldn't be the first time Cosmo has served as a mouthpiece for Democrat policies. Throughout the past year or so, the magazine has run numerous pieces on how the Affordable Care Act is good for women and frequently devoted social media posts to urging young women to sign up with the health insurance exchanges. "The White House says it has no formal publicity agreement with Cosmopolitan," noted Reuters in June 2013. "But Coles met with senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett last week at the White House, which is in discussions with potential Obamacare promoters including the National Football League, as it prepares for a full-scale public education campaign this fall." And Coles was back for a personal meeting with President Obama in May 2014.  

Some truly patronizing and shitty coverage of #CosmoVotes from conservative media (think: "LOL, a ladies' rag covering politics!") is giving Cosmo and supporters leeway to claim the high ground here. But there's nothing noble or ethical about spreading Obama administration propaganda while pretending to be an objective outlet for coverage of women's issues.