The Cosmo Girl Travels

Could this magazine fight abuse? Only if it names and shames.

Cosmopolitan magazine, that icon of glossy, expensive femininity, recently announced that it would, starting in April, provide an Arabic version of its monthly for the delectation of customers in the lands of Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Did you pay attention to that list? Those are awfully diverse countries, despite their common membership in the Middle East. Everyone can understand getting Cosmo into Lebanon, which strict Muslims regard as having fallen morals. It’s the French, okay? What’s a country to do once it’s been governed by people who eat buttery croissants for breakfast and add cream to their café?

Bahrain? Not so much, not after its government accepted the military “help” of Saudi Arabia to put down protest.

And Saudi Arabia? What are they smoking, those lovely waxed people at Cosmo? Take a look at the photo above. Does that look like a Saudi Arabian woman?

Of course it does, they’ll purr. Beneath the black robes, and with a bit more style sense than usual. Bring a Saudi woman to New York or Paris, and she’ll snarf up the latest fashion. She may even be in the market for Cosmo-style advice on her body (diet!), car (but Saudi women are forbidden to drive!) and marital relations.

Okay, that’s where it ends. Because that’s where it has to finish. While there may be some in the stricter, less woman-friendly regimes of the Middle East who would wave off fashion with an indulgent smile, does Cosmo really believe that its outrageous brand of me-first-ism will fly in Saudi?

What planet are they on?

With protest marking the past few months all over the Middle East, women have been in the thick of it. Reducing restrictions on all citizens meant that women foresaw an end to their own repression. For too many years, their concerns (including female genital mutilation, at 90% still horribly common even among educated Egyptian families) were ignored or only whispered about. At last, they thought, they might gain a foothold in controlling their own lives.

What’s become painfully clear is that in each country, men who topple dictatorships with the help of women have no intention of improving women’s lives. Such men are often highly conservative when it comes to family relationships and control over daughters and wives. They’re enthusiastic about forming new governments, and thoroughly unwilling to improve the lot of women.

While women from upper-middle-class families have education and responsible work, they are just as oppressed by antiquated systems of government as if they were extremely poor.

Cosmopolitan, a product of the 1960s and 70s, has dumbed down lately. With so much openness, what is there left to talk about? Plenty, as it happens. Exploitation of women is still present in the West. Ninety percent of non-trafficked prostitutes have clinical depression – which means that men who use these prostitutes for sex are taking advantage of another person’s mental illness. Prostitutes who are trafficked are nothing more than slaves – the men who use their bodies for sex participate in slavery with every thrust. It’s time these guys were outed, and Cosmo could open the door.

Exploitation in the Middle East goes much, much farther still. Yet Cosmo, which could utilize the same zest and zeal of its campaigns forty years ago, is silent on persistent abuse.

Oddly, that makes Cosmo kin of their sworn enemies who kept silence on so much: the Victorians.

Women in the Middle East are often aware of Western culture as conveyed to them though movies, Facebook, Twitter, relatives who live abroad – they just cannot incorporate much of it into the realities of their own lives. Even the little that Cosmo represents may be too much for its new host countries to accept.

Any country that invests men with the responsibility to look after strangers’ dress and behavior should not be taken aback when the same men express vehement objections to the lustful, flirty, high-maintenance lives that Cosmo advocates. And when said objections come equipped with a lighted match?

I would not want to own a newsstand when the first Cosmo hits the racks.

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