On March 28th, the conservative group National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) did figurative victory laps around Walmart after the big box store announced a new company policy banning the display of Cosmopolitan magazine at their checkout counters. Cosmo will be pulled from the cash register aisles at 5,000 Walmart stores nationwide in what the retailer says is “mostly a business decision” — but NCOSE claimed in a press release that it’s an effort to “protect minors from the sexually explicit material Cosmopolitan embodies and perpetuates.”
As so many people have already pointed out, this decision is not only misguided and inherently sexist, but counterproductive to the #MeToo movement it claims to be supporting.
In a statement about their decision, NCOSE (formerly Morality in Media) made claims that Walmart has a desire to “change corporate policies that facilitate sexual exploitation” — but it appears that their efforts only go so far as women’s magazines in checkout aisles.
If Walmart was really concerned with its sexist corporate culture, then it would work harder to reach gender parity in the workplace. According to a 2017 report, the company is still struggling with gender bias in how it posts jobs and attracts employees. Instead of tackling this problem, they chose to hide a magazine made by women, for women, from women who are perfectly capable of independently deciding how they feel about Cosmo covers and content.
According to the NCOSE, removing Cosmo from the checkout aisles is in step with the #MeToo movement’s effort to “combat sexually exploitative influences in our society.” Yet it seems that their concerns are limited to the “exploitative influence” of powerful women.
In Walmart stores across the nation, young girls will now be “protected” from seeing groundbreaking cover stars like Laverne Cox and Cardi B on the cover of Cosmo, but young teens will still see a plethora of misogynistic video games like Grand Theft Auto and Dead or Alive displayed in the electronics section — media that objectifies and sexualizes women without their consent.
In the swimwear section, men and women can still buy those cheesy, crude T-shirts designed to look like a large breasted woman in a bikini. Parents can buy their tiny toddlers a top that says “Juicy Pretty Things,” but don’t worry, a teenage girl can’t accidentally stumble upon a magazine with stories about how to talk to the guy in your life about taking the #MeToo movement seriously
For years, NCOSE has compared Cosmo and Playboy, citing the latter’s “hypersexualized cover models” as one of the main sources of their complaints. The group wants to equate the top-selling magazine to pornography, yet, they fail to recognize the reality that more women consume porn than men. What’s more, they fail to recognize the benefits of porn to women’s health and sexuality, just as they fail to recognize that Cosmo’s “sexually explicit material” is centered around the idea of consent, pleasure, and empowerment.
Walmart will still sell, and thus profit from, Cosmo, but the magazine will be removed from checkout aisles. NCOSE claims this will, somehow, protect girls and women, but in reality they are only harming the swaths of female employees at Cosmo who could potentially see reduced sales in their magazine.
Walmart is not the first success story for the NCOSE. The group previously removed Cosmo from the checkout aisles of stores like Rite Aid, Marsh Supermarkets, and Food Lion. In fact, they admit that their fight with the women’s magazine is “a longtime priority.” According to the group, “Customers should not be forced to be exposed to this content when they are trying to check-out at the store.”
The reality? Women are perfectly capable of deciding what content to consume, and what content to avoid. The #MeToo movement is about empowering women and protecting their rights, not sheltering them from bare skin and consensual sex tips. NCOSE’s inauthenticity and Walmart’s hypocrisy is shameful.