Walmart removing “Cosmo” from the checkout aisle gets the #MeToo movement all wrong

If you love perusing your favorite magazines while standing in the checkout line at Walmart, you’ll soon see one less magazine as you wait. Walmart announced they’re removing Cosmopolitan magazine from checkout aisles because the covers are too “sexually objectifying and explicit.”

Cosmo is consistently one of the top-selling women’s magazines, but in an apparent effort to “change corporate policies that facilitate sexual exploitation,” the big box chain says it will remove Cosmo from display at the registers, citing the #MeToo movement and efforts to “combat sexually exploitative influences in our society.” The store will still sell the magazine, but won’t display it near the registers.

Concerns about Cosmo‘s covers have been raised for years by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which compares Cosmo to Playboy magazine due to the graphic language and “hypersexualized cover models.” The NCOSE has previously succeeded in removing Cosmo from other store checkout aisles, including Rite Aid, Marsh Supermarkets, and Food Lion in recent years.

The magazine will be removed from the checkout aisles at 5,000 Walmart stores nationwide in an effort to “protect minors from the sexually explicit material that Cosmopolitan embodies and perpetuates.”

According to NPR, Walmart said in a statement that the move was “primarily a business decision,” but added that “the concerns raised [by the NCOSE] were heard.”

Dawn Hawkins, the Executive Director of the NCOSE said, “This is what real change looks like in our #MeToo culture, and NCOSE is proud to work with a major corporation like Walmart to combat sexually exploitative influences in our society. Women, men, and children are bombarded daily with sexually objectifying and explicit materials, not only online, but in the checkout line at the store.”

Hawkins specifically targeted the magazine’s choice of cover models and sexual cover lines, comparing them to pornographic magazines like Playboy.

"Cosmo sends the same messages about female sexuality as Playboy. It places women’s value primarily on their ability to sexually satisfy a man and therefore plays into the same culture where men view and treat women as inanimate sex objects. Further, Cosmo targets young girls by placing former Disney stars on its covers, despite the enclosed sexually erotic articles which describe risky sexual acts like public, intoxicated, or anal sex in detail. Customers should not be forced to be exposed to this content when they are trying to check-out at the store," she said.

She added, “Walmart’s removal of Cosmo from checkout lines is an incremental but significant step toward creating a culture where women and girls are valued as whole persons, rather than as sexual objects. We are grateful for Walmart’s cooperation and for Walmart leadership’s recognition that corporations must do their part to change #MeToo culture,” applauding Walmart for the decision to “implement this pivotal policy change.”

Here’s the thing: It’s 100% true that women are hypersexualized on many magazine covers, and it is absolutely a problem that should be addressed. However, Walmart’s decision also seems to be fueled by distinctly non-sex positive attitudes, and continues to promote a negative stigma around female sexuality and exploration.

Cosmopolitan isn’t marketed toward children, but to young adult women who shouldn’t be ashamed of their sexuality. Using the #MeToo movement as a reason to limit the magazine’s visibility on these specific grounds feels backwards; the current discussion around sexual agency and consent should also involve sexual empowerment and freedom, which Cosmo has long championed in its pages.

It’s certainly a tricky situation, and only time will tell if other retailers follow suit. For its part, neither Cosmopolitan nor its parent company, Hearst, have commented on Walmart’s decision.

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