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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fun, Fearless, Feminist?: An Exploration of COSMOPOLITAN Magazine's Ongoing Fight for Feminist Legitimacy Within the Changing Landscape of American Feminisms


This paper examines Cosmopolitan magazine content about feminism and sexuality from 1996 to 2017, and how the magazine has reflected, contrasted with, or ignored prominent ideas in the history of American feminisms. Specifically focusing on Cosmopolitan’s framing of feminism in the 2010s, excerpts from content containing the search terms ‘feminism’ or ‘feminist’ from 1996 to 2017 are contextualized within historical background and reflect upon the historical moments that preceded and created them. Primary source text is considered in conversation with sex-positive feminism(s), as well as intersectional and queer feminisms. In the nuanced context of mainstream American feminisms over the last several decades, the conflict between Cosmopolitan and its critics can be understood as a reflection of the tensions between sex-positive feminists and other feminists from a variety of theoretical backgrounds. Regardless, women worldwide turn to Cosmopolitan, making it a critical locus for the study of women’s sexuality and their engagement with feminism.

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