I recently blogged about the death of Helen Gurley Brown, long-time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, who was famous for having taken control of a small and inoffensive mid-western magazine and then, for the next 30-odd years, single-handedly turning it into a toxic global brand of feminist and sexual ideology. Some people have defended her on the grounds that she taught women to be ambitious and to work hard – but for what ends? So that they had the spending power and the self-sufficiency to sleep with whom they wanted when they wanted?
Any way, it is good to learn from Fox News that Victoria Hearst, a granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, founder of the Hearst publishing empire (immortalised in the film Citizen Kane), has now attacked the magazine for the corrupting influence of its pornographic content on young girls. Victoria, who became an evangelical Christian in 1995, is frank about her views. She says: “About 12 years ago, before the Lord told me to found Praise Him Ministries in 2001, I noticed how pornographic the content of Cosmopolitan magazine was. I telephoned Frank Bennack, head of the company, and told him Cosmopolitan should not be sold to minors and that I would like to address the board about it.”
Predictably perhaps, “He refused to allow it and refused to admit that Cosmo is pornography. Sex sells and the company does not care that Cosmo goes into the hands of children.” She decided to bypass him and to send her petition directly to each board member. “I never received a response from the company,” she admits, “but I had delivered the message God wanted… and never looked at Cosmo again.” She is clear that “the magazine promotes a lifestyle that can be dangerous to women’s emotional and physical wellbeing. It should never be sold to anyone under 18.”
In March this year Hearst heard of a similar campaign being waged against her family’s publishing empire by a former model, Nicole Weider, who wants the magazine put in a wrapper and only sold to adults. They are now joining forces. “We are not trying to censor Cosmopolitan magazine or to stop the Hearst Corporation from printing it,” says Hearst; “We are simply asking [the company] to take responsibility for the magazine’s pornographic content and voluntarily bag it and make sure it is sold to adults only.”
With no cooperation from the company, the two women are now contacting legislators and other figures in authority to have the magazine placed under the guidelines of US states’ laws concerning “material harmful to minors”. They believe the contents of the magazine meet the dictionary definition of pornography and the states’ laws. Hearst says her colleague “has received many letters from young girls who testified that they were hurt by reading Cosmo”. She adds: “I am only concerned about keeping pornography out of the hands of children. I am very confident that our mission will be accomplished. How long will it take? As long as it takes. Nicole and I will not quit.”
Cynics might say that younger girls can still read copies of the magazine bought for them by older friends. But it is still a brave stand, it is a good cause and it is a start. Hearst mentions recent cover stories in Cosmopolitan with titles like “25 sex moves he secretly wishes you’d try” and “The naughty orgasm trick couples love”. I checked out the current issue at our local newsagents, unwrapped and on a low shelf along with children’s comics: cover titles included “How 50 shades is your sex life? Real couples invite Cosmo into their bedrooms”; inside stories included, “3% of women forget the guy’s name after a holiday one-night stand!” and “Sex on the beach – your and his holiday confessions”. How depressing that a generation of young women whose grandmothers fought for serious issues like the right to vote are reading this – well, pornography.
I also checked out Praise Him Ministries. Hearst, then in a destructive relationship, had prayed: “God, I don’t know what I’m doing any more. You take the wheel. You drive. I’ll go wherever You lead.” She was led to found her Ministries, to run a Sunday morning radio show called “Praise Him” and to be a volunteer for Good News Jail and Prison Ministry. In contrast, Helen Gurley Brown’s philosophy for Cosmopolitan magazine was “If you’re not a sex object you’re in trouble” and “You can have your titular recognition. I’ll take money and power.” Victoria and Nicole are right in their campaign to stop impressionable young girls from following this poisonous message.