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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Groesbeck: Contrary to Local Billboard, Cosmopolitan is not Porn

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It’s hard to miss the billboard on I-15 that reads, “Cosmopolitan magazine contains porn.” It shines directly at us, on a bright pink sign with a link to CosmoHurtsKids.com. Only in Utah are we not up in arms about the inescapably insulting billboard that not only diminishes women’s rights to sexual freedom, but also serves as a warped variation of the objectification of women’s bodies.

On the surface, this provocative claim slapped on the interstate is stating two arguments. One, that kids are vulnerable. Two, that content from Cosmopolitan is porn. Both are debatable, and a diversion from the real harm of this billboard: that it aids to objectify women in harmful and sexist ways, and that it plays on a culture of shame further pushing the healthy artful expression of bodies and sexuality into the shadows.

The goal of the website is “to have Cosmo labelled as ‘adult material’ so that it cannot be sold to anyone under 18 years of age,” claims Victoria Hearst, family to the Hearst Corporation — which publishes Cosmopolitan.

Hearst’s argument sounds like the “what about the kids?” phrase that people throw out when something doesn’t match their values and therefore means children will be harmed and their growth disrupted. It’s an all-too-easy out, and an irrelevant point so that Hearst can project her own neurosis and claim that naked bodies are destructive to society.

Hearst is victimizing the people of Utah. The argument she makes plays into the culture of shame surrounding porn within a religiously dominant culture, and so people are afraid or ashamed to confront it for the further harm it creates, and the way it distracts from more important issues.

Not only is her argument is an enforcement of her morality onto the people of Utah, but her message is harmful, and will only have a warping effect if it does alter perceptions and behavior.

Societal pressures to enforce morality are direct routes to obsessions and curiosity, highlighting and hyper-focusing on the behavior that is considered unwelcome. Prohibition, laws, and shame-driven external pressure frequently have the opposite of their intended effects.

If we were to say that images and information of sexual behaviors and experiences were fundamentally corrupt, it would teach both teens and adults that what they feel and desire is not normal, creating an environment of shame around something so vital and powerful. Voicing to women that their desires and bodies are dangerous and immoral is absolutely creating an atmosphere where it is essential that women hide and keep what they feel inside to themselves. That is shame.

Shaming doesn’t work and it will never work. We can say we disagree with something, but shaming as a form of punishment that is solely harming and at no time helpful. Shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging,” said Brené Brown, Ph.D.

Not to mention the inherent sexism of the glaring message. This billboard targets the sexual aspects of women. There are magazines published for men that contain the exact same content, but no one is shaming them for reading it, or for the company selling it to the world. There is no billboard stating, “GQ magazine contains porn.” It’s unfair. Cosmopolitan and the porn industry are chastened for allowing men to watch porn. Similar to the way in which women are exclusively ridiculed for allowing men to sexually abuse them. Instead of acknowledging the insidious ways in which the media can be damaging through unattainable ideals, it tells women their bodies are intrinsically dangerous. A valuable message would ask for a magazine that isn’t afraid of women’s exposed skin in all its real and un-retouched beauty — freeing women to their rightful sexual liberation and empowered exploration in their own lives.

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