Cosmo Woman ensures SA is safe for 'Sex': John Carlin reports from Pretoria on a legal appeal to censors against a ban on photographs from the Madonna bestseller

HEAD bent, an eighty-something professor of Afrikaans literature sat in a darkened room on a sweltering Pretoria morning stealthily leafing through a glossy magazine.

At page 143 he paused. A naked blonde woman was lying on her back masturbating with a high- heeled shoe. The professor peered in wonder, in astonishment, in confusion. His was no solitary sport. He had a question to answer, a weighty social responsibility to discharge. Was this picture calculated, in the legal definition, 'to excite lust'?

Sitting in a row alongside Professor A P Grove, whose works are used as set texts for Afrikaner schoolchildren, were four other men and two women, all engaged in the same task. The Publications Appeal Board was sitting to determine whether to uphold a ban imposed on the December issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, which carried photographs from Madonna's book Sex.

Facing the board were two lawyers, one acting for the state, the other for Cosmopolitan. Three hours later a new phenomenon on the South African political landscape, Cosmo Woman, had emerged victorious.

Cosmo Woman, the magazine's editor Jane Raphaely explained to the board, had once been Cosmo Girl, 'someone who knew that life was short and there to be enjoyed'. Cosmo Woman was an altogether more formidable specimen who knew that life was hard and who battled to establish herself in the world.

Ms Raphaely's lawyer was Cosmo Woman at her best. Lauren Jacobson, Madonna's age or slightly younger, runs a small but prodigiously successful law firm. Standing there before the board, she showed why. Erect, blonde and sure-voiced, a dash of red lipstick and an elegant hint of decolletage underlined a confident, intimidating femininity.

Like mesmerised schoolboys, the five men - Prof Grove, Willie Botha, Dan Morkel, Mike Hough and Kotie de Jager, a dominee (minister) of the Dutch Reformed Church - followed her every gesture, her every inflection, her every pause.

'If the committee seeks to ban this publication because here and there a breast, a nipple or buttocks are on view, it is misguided,' she chided. 'Body parts are not the focus and emphasis of these photographs.'

Cosmopolitan in taste as in demeanour, she quoted - to much shifting of male buttocks - from the New York Times Review of Books: 'When she (Madonna) challenges patriarchy, heterosexuality and white men, she strikes at power where it lives.'

As to the aesthetic qualities of the pictures in question, Cosmo Woman said these were beyond dispute. To prove the point she called as witness a university fine arts professor by the name of Bob Cnoops. Would he elaborate on the artistic merits of the first picture, Madonna tugging with her teeth at a ring attached to the left nipple of a bald black man? 'The light, the texture,' Prof Cnoops enthused, 'the unique silvery effect.' She nodded, glanced at Prof Grove, found he was suitably bemused, and turned the page.

The picture of Madonna standing before a mirror squeezing her breasts betokened what, would he say? 'Innocence,' affirmed Prof Cnoops. 'Yes, a beautiful image of innocence.' 'Good boy,' her eyes said.

And the one in which Madonna holds a bottle of suntan oil between her legs and squeezes its contents on to Naomi Campbell's bare abdomen? 'Humour.' Correct again. And the high-heeled shoe between the legs? 'Innocence, again . . . ' he muttered, turning to the goddess for approval. Ve-ry good.

Mr Trumpie, acting for the state, never had a chance. He stood, hands on hips. There was one question he wanted to ask the professor. Yes. One question. 'Would he agree that the picture on page 143 depicted an ogsm?'


Mr Trumpie fidgeted. His assistant stood up and, with a copy of the magazine under his arm, bolted out of the chamber. Mr Trumpie, himself repressing the urge to flee, took a deep breath. Cosmo Woman fixed him with one of Madonna's innocent stares.

'Would you say that that picture uh . . . uh . . . uh?' 'Oh, you mean does it convey a sense of orgasm?' 'Yes, yes, yes . . . that's what I mean.' 'Well yes, I would say so. But she's turning conventional sexual icons upside down, tongue in cheek.' 'No further questions,' said Mr Trumpie, collapsing into his chair.

But the ordeal was not over. He stood up again and, like a man desperate to go to the lavatory, he rushed through his prepared text: 'The reasonable reader will be shocked . . . and will not only regard this as a blatantly shameless intrusion upon the privacy of the sex act and the nude female body, but also as calculated to excite lust . . . The publication is therefore undesirable.'

'Not undesirable]' rang back the verdict half-an-hour later. Prof Grove had caved in, the citadels of white male power had been stormed, the patriarchal order had been annihilated. One of Madonna's poems, one which Cosmopolitan reproduced, captured the moment best: She did it to remind everybody/that she could bring happiness/or she could bring danger/kind of like the lone ranger. Cosmo Woman rode home triumphant to the poem's beat.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions