A Response From Cosmo

by Cara on September 4, 2007

in assholes, media, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, slut-shaming, violence against women and girls

Most of you, by now, have probably heard about the disgusting Cosmo article about “gray rape” that was published in this month’s issue. For those of you who haven’t, the term is one made up by anti-feminist (though she would probably deny the descriptor) author Laura Session Stepp, who thinks that some rapes fall into a “gray” area where it’s impossible to tell if a woman consented or not. First of all, that’s bullshit, because if you didn’t see or hear her consent, she didn’t. Secondly, Sessions Stepp blames these types of rapes on the female victims, for being too sexually forward or drinking too heavily. What’s more, all of the women in the article in Cosmo, clearly said no. The fact that the women were drinking in no way makes that no any less valid.

My letter and Cosmo‘s response after the jump.

My letter:

Dear Cosmo,

When it comes to “gray rape,” there is no such thing. There is only rape. Date rape is rape. Rape when the woman is drunk is rape. Rape when the woman cannot remember everything is rape. No means no. A lack of a clear “yes” means no. The inability to consent, due to severe intoxication or unconsciousness means no. All of these things are rape, even if you sleep around, or go to parties, or drink a lot. Rape is rape.

Acting as though rape is a blurry line is not only offensive, but highly irresponsible. How many women who have been raped under these circumstances opened up your magazine to see you blaming them for what was done? How many pressed charges, only to see an article saying that they shouldn’t have? How many rapists have ruined good lives and walked free, only to be excused as decent guys who don’t deserve to be called the rapists they are by a women’s magazine? I am disgusted, and you should be, too.

You not only need to print a letter like mine. You also need to publish a strong worded apology and retraction. To [sic] many rapes occur in this country already. Too many men are rapists. Too many rape victims blame themselves. Stop adding to the problem and setting women’s rights back decades.

Cosmo’s response:

Dear Reader,

We received your letter of concern regarding our September story “A New Kind of Date Rape” and want to address what seems to be a misunderstanding. Cosmopolitan did not invent the term gray rape. The phrase emerged when the author of our article, Laura Sessions Stepp, was researching a book on today’s hookup culture.

In fact, the words were used by women who were left confused after a sexual encounter they were not one hundred percent sure they had consented to and by women who had known friends who were similarly confused. The confusion, many of these women admitted, was the result of having been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the encounter. Our article endeavored to help victims in these situations make sense of their ordeal, explain their avenues of recourse, and offer advice on how women can prevent so-called gray rapes from happening.

Cosmopolitan has a long history of covering the topic of sexual assault and, more important, of being an advocate for victims. Linda Fairstein, a former Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor of 25 years, is a regular contributor to our pages. She and other rape experts applaud Cosmopolitan’s efforts to keep our readers educated about such difficult issues as sexual assault.


The Editors of Cosmopolitan

Here’s the thing. I’m impressed by the fact that I received any response at all. I write letters like this one all of the time, and 19 out of 20 times, I get nothing in return (except for maybe an automatic receipt). It took them a week, but they got back to me.

But I’m really fucking insulted that someone actually took the time to read my letter and then respond to it with this insulting tripe. I mean, seriously, if you’re going to be an asshole, just ignore the letter completely. Please.

I also love the condescension of assuming that it’s a “misunderstanding.” No, you fuckers, actually, I know that you didn’t make up the term, but the fact that you printed a whole damn article about it without any form of criticism means that you promoted it, and you are ultimately responsible for what’s in your magazine. I don’t care if that’s what the women called it. If women are going around saying “it was kind of rape,” we should be doing a better job of educating women, not printing their sadly uninformed statements as truth.

I plan on emailing them back to tell them as much. I know that mine is far from the only letter that they’ve received. There’s a whole campaign going, and I encourage you to participate if you haven’t already. I think that this flippant response gives us every right to go no holds barred on their asses.  And if there are any further developments, rest assured that I will let you know.


1 Trina September 5, 2007 at 3:08 am

I posted on this as well (http://welcometosuffragettecity.blogspot.com/2007/09/cosmo-spreads-damaging-misinformation.html), and found the email address (available on the web at her website) of Cosmo editor-in-chief Kate White: Kate@KateWhite.com.

I’d also like to point out that this isn’t the first time Cosmo has spread misinformation about a serious sexual health issue; in January 1988, they claimed, long after medical science had proved otherwise, that women could not get HIV from having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man, and that it is impossible to transmit HIV in the missionary position. (http://nymag.com/news/features/17158/index2.html)

2 brandann September 5, 2007 at 3:15 am

wow. actually, cara…i received the same reply…word for word. i was just as angered, and found it just as condesending as you did. i KNOW they didn’t make it up…and in my letter i TOLD them that they had a responsibility. another example of how they really don’t care for women at all…

i haven’t responded yet, b/c as i said on feministing, i didn’t get to read the whole thing myself, most of it was read to me over the phone. articles like this are one of the reasons i quit reading this garbage, and have been urging my friends to quit as well…

if i come up w/ a good reply, i will let you know…
it won’t be as eloquent as yours i am sure…but it will be something…
grr…nothing like bulk mail condescension…

3 AlexandraK September 5, 2007 at 4:04 am

If she’s “confused” as to whether she gave consent, then it’s rape. Having sex with a woman who’s too intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated to even recall whether she wanted sex is criminal. No, Cosmopolitan doesn’t give a flying fuck about women; they care about their profit. They promote the idea that sexual prowess is akin to feminist strength.

Sure, there’s a difference between getting drunk and making stupid decisions and becoming inebriated and being taken advantage of. The absolutely abhorrent thing about their message is that it muddies the date-rape-drug waters even more. If we condone rape when the woman has voluntarily drunk herself into oblivion, then it becomes much tougher to pursue cases in which the woman was drugged. She does not get to a hospital in time to have drug tests taken, but she swears that she only had a small amount to drink and was suddenly incapacitated, and all a rapist has to say is, “Nah, you were trashed after doing tequila shots off the bar. It’s not my fault that you told me you wanted to sleep with me and then changed your mind.”

As you said, we have to educate women that their intoxication, while somewhat misguided, is not an excuse for another person to abuse them. These women (who may not even exist. I have no faith in Cosmopolitan’s editorial integrity) are perpetuating and promoting a sexist, misogynistic norm. Cosmo is truly a piece of shit.

4 brandann September 5, 2007 at 4:26 am

amen to that

*does a double take*

did i really just say that?

i mean…i agree wholely!

5 Cara September 5, 2007 at 8:13 am

Ha! I was half expecting to hear that brandann. What complete and total fuckers.

I did respond. I have even less faith that they’ll answer this time than I had last time. But that’s not really the point . . . the point, I think, is to inundate them with letters.

It will be particularly interesting to see how far their lack of journalistic integrity extends when the next issue comes out. Think that they’ll print a single negative letter about the article?

6 norbizness September 5, 2007 at 9:30 am

It could have been worse; the form letter could have signed off with “Stay Sassy!”

7 dew September 5, 2007 at 4:53 pm

I guess I’ve always considered Cosmo such a bastion of misogyny that this surprises me not at all.

I hope you’ll keep us updated about whether or not they print your letter or others like it.

8 Saorla September 5, 2007 at 10:30 pm

Oh yeah – I got exactly the same response. It made me so angry so read that condescending piece of shit. I’m going to write back to them again today

9 wtf April 15, 2008 at 1:54 am

thoroughly disgusted by the response from these “magazine editors,” if you can bring yourself to call them that, but not surprised.

cosmo’s been raping women for years with their garbage. they work for an artifical, soulless media that tries to manipulate women into conforming to its ideals of what women should be. (photoshop-dependent to sell covers, anyone?)

NO THANKS to this subscription – they can shove it where the sun doesn’t shine!

10 april November 10, 2008 at 11:24 pm

Here’s an example thats helped me a lot whenever I try to figure out if something is sexist or wrong; picture this;
A guy goes out to a sports bar and gets drunk. I mean really drunk. He watches the game with another football fanatic, a big guy, personal trainer who offers to help the skinny drunk guy too work out sometime, and buys him another drink. By the end of the game, drunk guy is obviously too drunk too drive so the personal trainer guy offers to drop him home. Turns out, the trainer is on the DL and has sex with the skinny drunk guy. Drunk guy is not bi, not gay and never consented, but he’s humiliated because he was too drunk to resist or fight the guy, and doesnt want anyone to know what happened. Was he “gray raped”? Did he consent? Was it his fault for getting too drunk? Does anyone ask “Well is he normally promiscuous?” Or even worse, “Well, what was he wearing”??

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