Mad about the boys: Why are the glossies all about men?

Open a women's magazine this month and you'll find relationship advice, sex tips – even a 'man manual'.

You have to wonder why Cosmopolitan felt the need to publish a "sexy" issue this month. Come on – this is a magazine that has built its entire reputation around sex – under it, over it, any way you might possibly want it. It launched in the UK in 1972 on the tsunami of the so-called sexual revolution. It is renowned for emblazoning the word on its covers. Sex is Cosmo's nuts and bolts, its bedrock, its DNA. Did the editor think not enough attention was being paid to nookie?

"It's not a 'sex' issue. It's a 'sex-y' issue," points out Louise Court, who has edited the title for three and a half years. "We thought it was fun. And Cosmo isn't just about sex, even though lots of people think it is." What else is it about? "It's about celebrating life, enjoying yourself, being a good friend and not living in a cocoon," she says.

It is also about men. Much has been made of Cosmo's critical role in sex education back when nice girls wouldn't dream of discussing anal sex over their own dead bodies, never mind tea and biscuits. But decades after Cosmo set out to emancipate bored women, it is still focused on men – and is as full of them as it ever has been: there were its infamous naked centrefold shoots; now there's also a dedicated 'Man Manual' section, to instruct readers in the art of deciphering "what's really on his mind"; and this month 'The Sex and the Single Girl' and 'Sex and the Not So Single Girl' columns have been expanded to a full page each, and readers can learn that men everywhere have the same three things on their minds: Wayne Rooney, barbecues and boobs.

Cosmopolitan is widely considered to be the original women's magazine, and is the second best selling in its market, behind its closest rival (much to Court's chagrin) Glamour, which launched in the UK in 2001 and is edited by Jo Elvin. So isn't it rather dispiriting to the modern woman that it is so retrograde in its agenda?

And it's not just Cosmo: in its wake, other glossies have embraced this prototype. The July issue of Glamour boasts cover lines including: 'Men's all new sex wish list', and 'Lily in Love' – as the chosen angle for its lead interview with the multi-award winning, global pop phenomenon that is Lily Allen. Company magazine's cover shouts 'OMG – Britain's sexiest men!' and More! reveals why the prodigiously successful pop star Rihanna "believes in love again".

So has feminism failed? As women still struggle to gain equal pay and equal representation in parliament, while faced with mass-market soft porn on the covers of glossy men's magazines, are Cosmo et al really suggesting that women should be so focused on men, on how to get one and then how keep him happy?

While Cosmopolitan, Company, Glamour and More! are high on the man factor, elsewhere women's magazines seem to have moved on: there are fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle, the gossip and fashion combos like Grazia and Stylist, and fitness magazines like Zest. Red and Psychologies very successfully plug into a renewed vigour for self-help-style emotional and mental wellbeing articles.

Yet this focus was what changed Cosmo's fortunes in the first place. The magazine's winning formula, really, is that regardless of any revamp it has always stuck to the plan envisaged by its American founding editor, Helen Gurley Brown, in 1965. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"What is extraordinary about Helen," says Court, "is that more than 40 years ago she came up with this blueprint for a magazine which is not trend-driven. She totally got what women would always want to know about." At its launch in the United States in 1886, Cosmopolitan was a very different beast; it ran award-winning fiction and, later, investigative pieces, and remained hugely popular until the Fifties, when the magazine market turned away from general interest titles and sales slumped. It was not until 1965 that Helen Gurley Brown (widely credited as being the original Carrie Bradshaw) arrived to shake things up. She brought her editorial recipe to the UK in the early Seventies, and in time would launch almost 60 other international editions – over which she still presides at the age of 88.

Before Cosmo, Gurley Brown had written Sex and the Single Girl (hence the Carrie comparison), an advice book that encouraged financial independence and said it was OK to have sex before marriage. She also worked as a secretary in an advertising firm until she had proved herself as one of the best copywriters in the business. This gave her first-hand experience of working in the very worst of men's worlds, and makes her sound rather like Mad Men's Peggy Olsen.

Court thinks we've come a long way since the days of Mad Men. "If you're in your early twenties now compared to in the Sixties or Seventies, although women are still paid less overall than men, they totally think they can get to the top. In the Seventies it was just, "Oh, you'll be a secretary." The challenges of sexism haven't been won, but they've moved on."



Carrie and Peggy can be construed as inspirational in different ways, but ultimately both characters wanted one thing: a man. And there lies the uncomfortable dichotomy. Elsewhere, single women are depicted as desperate (Bridget Jones), predatory (Sex and the City's Samantha Jones), or doomed to singledom (Jennifer Aniston) – but in Cosmo they are celebrated.

Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl sold 2 million copies in three weeks in 1962. By today's standards it might sell even more: there are twice the number of single women in the UK than there were 30 years ago. Accordingly, Cosmo's sales are healthy: the last circulation figures (new ones are due in July) showed it was shifting 430,353 copies – despite a £3.40 cover price that is around 70 per cent higher than its £2 competitors – and the website has 618,000 unique users. In the same market, Glamour sells 515,281 copies a month and Company, Cosmo's other close rival, 240,035. The concept of these magazines may – to many modern women – seem to conflict with feminism. But someone is buying them.

All magazines pride themselves on engagement with readers, but Cosmo particularly so. Before the women's magazine market diversified independent young women might have defined themselves as "Cosmo Girls", and they still write in to the magazine in their thousands; and the chat forums on Cosmo's website are always buzzing. Many women credit Cosmo with giving them their first inkling of what sex was all about.

Court won't be drawn when I ask whether the magazine should have a lower age limit, but says firmly, "Sex is for grown-ups. We're talking to women in their twenties, and the important thing is the message: when we talk about sex we say it's something where you should feel in control and never to do something that doesn't feel right to you. Cosmo has a valid role in sex education, but that isn't our job. We're sending an empowering message to women."

Empowerment does not necessarily mean feminism – which remains a dirty word over at Cosmo, no doubt because it is too often, unfortunately, associated with hackneyed caricatures of the bra-burning feminist. The readers, when polled, said they didn't feel it described them, even though they believe in equality. Could it be that they think the word 'feminism' isn't man-friendly?

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit