Joanna Coles: ‘Cosmopolitan’ is a ‘deeply feminist’ magazine

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Joanna Coles is hot list winner. ()
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Peter Sterne

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After Adweek’s first-ever Hot List Gala at Capitale last night, Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles told Capital that her magazine was doing more to advance women’s rights than feminist academics were.

“There’s nothing more mainstream than equal pay for equal work. I mean, it’s completely obvious that’s what feminism should be for, and for women’s right to choose what happens to their own bodies,” she said.

“It’s unbelievable in 2013 we happen to be talking about this, but the battle over healthcare, the battle for women’s right to choose their own contraception, that ludicrous panel full of old men in Washington ruling what women could and couldn’t do—where is feminism then?” she asked. “Where are all the left-wing academics?”

“Actually, Cosmo has been out there clamoring all along for this,” she added.

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Coles made these comments after Adweek named her “editor of the year” and Cosmopolitan “hottest magazine of the year.” Sheryl Sandberg, who in addition to being COO of Facebook is also Cosmopolitan’s careers editor, was named “digital executive of the year.”

In total, Adweek named fifty-six winners across all print, digital, and television categories. Other magazines honored included Wired for “hottest magazine in digital,” The Atlantic for “hottest thought leader,” Harper’s Bazaar for “hottest fashion magazine,” and WSJ. for “hottest lifestyle magazine.”

Before this year, Adweek had included fewer categories and only announced the winners in a special issue of the magazine. This year was the first time the Hot List had been turned into a gala, complete with a celebrity host—"Saturday Night Live" cast member Cecily Strong.

Cosmopolitan, the ultimate winner, may be best known for the sex tips it advertises on its cover, and before introducing Coles, Strong joked that the editor knew all “659 ways to drive your man wild with an ice cube.” Coles played along in her acceptance speech, deadpanning that she usually spent her Monday night trying out new sex positions.

But after the gala, Coles assured Capital that her magazine is about much more than just a contemporary Kama Sutra.

“It’s this intoxicating smorgasbord of ideas that really reflect what a young woman is interested in, from sex and love to work and giving back and friendships and family,” she said. “I think that it’s only people who have never read it who have a very trivial view of it.”

The magazine, Coles said, has always been a “deeply feminist” magazine that fought for women’s rights.

“We’ve been covering issues that, oddly, I don’t think are political, but in the current climate feel political,” she said.

She then listed a number of such issues: “equal pay for equal work,” “sensible control for guns,” and “access to contraception and access to abortion, should, God forbid, you need one.”

As long as these issues are being debated, Coles wants Cosmopolitan to take a stand on them.

“Those issues have become incredibly politicized, and so we feel it’s important to have a point of view on them,” she said. “And our point of view is always that women have choice and that we have the women’s back.”

Coles contrasted Cosmopolitan's approach to these issues with that of the modern feminist movement, which she believes has become overly academic and irrelevant to most women's lives.

"I’m very disappointed that what I think of as classic, mainstream feminism has been hijacked by the campuses across America and made to feel too self-referential and really not that relevant to women who actually need to fight for their rights at the moment," she said.

Cosmopolitan has been criticized for its unpaid internship program. Its parent company Hearst, as well as competitors including Condé Nast, have been sued by former interns who allege they were paid less than minimum wage. A few months ago, Condé Nast announced that it would end its internship program. Hearst has not yet announced any changes to its internship program.

“I’m not sure what the Hearst policy will be,” Coles told Capital. “I think a lot of interns, or I hope a lot of the interns that worked for me at Cosmo, or before I was at Cosmo I was the editor of Marie Claire, found it valuable experience.”

When asked whether unpaid internships prevent poorer women from gaining entry to the media industry, she argued that internships actually benefit less affluent women.

“A lot of the people who get hurt by this are working class women who no longer get the chance to come and intern,” she said. “We would have interns that maybe did bar jobs in the evening because they understood the real experience they were getting was invaluable, so I think it’s young women who didn’t have connections who will end up getting screwed by [internships ending],” she said.