Politics & Policy

Meet Sister Mary Cosmo

The United (States) Church of Cosmo

‘The Puritan ice may be melting in most Americans’ veins, but not in Mother’s.”

It is now more than four decades ago that a nude model fretted in Cosmopolitan over her worried mother’s nagging notes. “I could understand, but I couldn’t do what she wanted.”

“Mother apparently thought,” National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. observed in a September 1970 article on the Cosmo phenomenon, “that Alice would lead an abnormal life under the circumstances. Imagine!

Imagine. Positively quaint in the age of porn of all variety on demand.

The young woman went on to explain: “How did the modeling affect my love life? It didn’t. During that period I went with a philosophy professor, a press aide to a governor, a mathematician, a psychologist, a Mexican architect, a Spanish doctor, and a young English banker. They weren’t put off by my profession.”

All completely normal, you see. The name of the game was getting what you wanted, when you wanted it, unencumbered by pesky things like biology.

“They gobbled her up,” Buckley commented, “just like they’ll gobble you up, if you do what Helen Gurley Brown tells you.”

And the great cultural gobbling continues. Not quite the cause for celebration or thanksgiving.

Bill was just coming out of Cosmo immersion research for his piece, “You Are the More Cupcakeable for Being a Cosmopolitan Girl.” “Who needs a church?” he wrote. “Not the Cosmopolitan Girl. She needs Helen Gurley Brown. Who will tell her everything. Listen . . .”

“In her article, ‘How Sexually Generous Should a Girl Be?’” Buckley quotes from a recent issue, “Gael [Greene] tells some of the right and wrong reasons, in her opinion, for going to bed with a man. Do read it! Gael and her husband, Don Forst, New York Times culture editor, have renovated a church for a weekend house (they’re photographed there).”

“But of course!” Buckley observed. “The whole of Cosmopolitan has become a renovated church.”

The Cosmo church is one that was always a bit too satisfy-your-man for feminists, and yet their spirit of faux empowerment has been at the core of the sexual devotional.

“Mrs. Brown is quite aware,” WFB wrote, “that some people believe there are things people should do and things people shouldn’t do. She just wants to help you if it happens that you want to do the things you shouldn’t do. Mrs. Brown is always helping people out.” He notes an exchange where she helps a friend with a book title — Adultery Is for Adults.

Fast forward to the September 2012 issue, and we discover there’s a virgin working at Cosmo. (You can almost hear a “Bingo!” as an editor makes the discovery of such a novelty in their midst.) No turning back the clock here, though, just an irresistible “Help!” cover line. Malia is a “a 23-year-old V-card carrier,” for whom sex is “something everyone else seems to have done that she hasn’t.” No bingo for her, she explains: “I’m not religious, so I’m not saving myself, and I’ve come close to having sex. But when it got down to it, I was never with anyone who I really felt like doing it with. Not that I’ve built up my first time to be some Fifty Shades of Grey, out-of-body experience. I’ve just never seen the appeal in getting it over with.”

Despite being in a Shades-reading moral and literary dungeon, could it be that somehow, amidst the bombardment, she has retained a sense of self-respect and, if not a sacredness, at least a purpose to sex beyond immediate gratification?

For she’s defensive about it, explaining that she’s “fairly normal,” despite her virgin status. And, as if not to worry readers, she makes it clear she is prepared and prepping. “I take birth control,” Malia writes, “own a vibrator, and enjoy flirting as much as any sexually active female. I always figured I’d lose my V card when the time was right, and I’ve never pressured myself about it.”

No pressure, though she did walk into Cosmo “with this underlying fear: When will my coworkers find out that I know as much about sex as a hermit crab?”

There is in Malia something of the legacy of Helen Gurley Brown, the founder of Cosmo, who died at the age of 90 on August 13. Brown’s message was about maintaining an upper hand in relations with men. And yet despite her sexual pioneering, she herself was married to the same man for 51 years.

Malia is also an embodiment, though, of the widespread realization of sexual-revolutionary values. She may not be having sex, but she’s pilled up and pleasured, as if that’s the universal standard for single women. Her confessional comes only pages after a warning to women who might have just gone off the pill: “If you thought there was a no-baby grace period and had sex after you popped your last pill, you could be pregnant.” Here is where the Obama administration has stepped in to make sure no woman (or man — who expects that she has properly suppressed her fertility like a good daughter of the feminist revolution) has reason to worry about responsibility and consequences, as it mandates that employers must cover abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception, even if an employer has moral objections to these things (read: puritanical hang-ups). The move, billed as basic women’s health care, is an official institutionalization, in federal law, of the Cosmofication of America. We’re all cupcakeable now.

Even a Catholic religious sister, teaching or otherwise devoting her life to faithful service, isn’t exempt from the mandate; just call her Sister Mary Cosmo now. Consider the Sisters of Life, who devote their lives to building a culture of life, the antithesis of what this HHS mandate now requires them to buy into. Because they are members of a voluntary association — neither employers nor employees — and wouldn’t fit the narrow definition of “religious” under this administration anyway, they cannot obtain exemptions to protect their religious liberty.

And, of course, this would be made for TV with an attractive policy cheerleader from Georgetown.

The federal government may not have established this church, but under Obama it is its acolyte. Even the virgin has the faith. The puritanical ice can stay in the cube within the walls of a church, but there’s a whole new “adult” view of religious liberty here. It may still be your mother’s Cosmo, but America has experienced the change.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


The Latest