RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For generations of young women Cosmopolitan Magazine has meant one thing - sex. Before the Internet it was the place to go to get advice on things that weren't discussed in polite company, essentially how to please your man and look fabulous doing it.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
That was the only focus really until Joanna Coles became editor and decided to give the Cosmo woman a makeover.
MARTIN: As part of our Changing Lives of Women Series we visited Coles' office at Cosmo's headquarters in New York. And one of the first things you notice is the rolling rack of clothes and shoes.
JOANNA COLES: I've got a lot of Manolo BBs, which are the standard pair of stilettos, but I can't wear them all day without ending up bent double. So I tend to wear them...
MARTIN: I didn't know there was a standard stiletto?
COLES: Well, I think it's the standard stiletto. Is the sort of go-to stiletto, at least for me. It really gives you legs.
MARTIN: Were you always this fabulous?
COLES: I came to fabulousity quite late in life. For 20 years I was a reporter and your job as a reporter is really to disappear; it's to observe. And then I suddenly realized that I didn't have to do that anymore and I could actually have fun with clothes.
INSKEEP: Since Coles took over two years ago the magazine has had some notable firsts. This year Cosmo received for the first time in its history a prestigious national magazine award for a 12-page piece on contraception. And Cosmo is diving head first into politics, endorsing political candidates for the first time.
MARTIN: I sat down with Joanna Coles and the November issue of Cosmo to discuss recent changes at the magazine.
COLES: One of the things Cosmo feels really strongly about is we need more women candidates running and we need more women across the parties in D.C. We've seen what the men are up to you and it appears to be not very much. There's total gridlock in Washington and I'm a big believer in you just have to have a seat at the table. And I don't like that contraception is called or labeled as a women's issue; contraception is a couple's issue. Men like having sex, too, and men don't want to have to have a baby every time they have sex. In fact if you presented them with that option they would never want to have sex again. So I think it's important that we frame this in terms of both men and women. And I think it's also been seen as a specifically Democratic issue, and we have a lot of young Republican readers who feel that they want access to contraception. They want to control when they have a baby, and for a woman when she has a child it's the single most important economic decision she'll ever make in her life and we want her to have a choice over that.
MARTIN: I want to ask you about what you just said, but first I want you to describe this cover.
COLES: Well, we have a wonderful picture of Emily Ratajkowski who is the mistress in "Gone Girl" on the cover. And inside we have six or seven pictures of her showing off her magnificently toned body. And I love the headline, which is (reading) I feel lucky that I can wear what I want, sleep with who I want and dance how I want and still be a feminist.
MARTIN: So let's unpack that a little bit - Cosmos place in American feminism - because we should also point out this very attractive, young woman is wearing a very low-cut shirt.
COLES: Well, she's wearing a white shirt which we've unbuttoned to the waist so you can see some ample cleavage, which is what I think you're getting at.
MARTIN: Some of the headlines - can you read some of these for me?
COLES: I can. (Reading) The lazy girl's secret to glowing skin. A little to the left, make him better in bed.
Cosmo when it started under the genius Helen Gurley Brown really came to life at the same time as the pill. So Helen was very conscious of suddenly women being able to have sex in a completely different way, and we tend to think of it as being important that women can have fulfilling sex lives on their own terms.
MARTIN: There's also a headline on here that's different than the others. Can you read this?
COLES: Well, this says (reading) Cosmo Careers, you deserve a raise - exactly what to say to get it. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, is our careers editor. And this is a 16-page section explaining the wage gap; explaining how to negotiate a raise.
MARTIN: But I do have to say this woman who is half-naked on your magazine does not look like she's about to go negotiate for a raise.
COLES: Well, I don't think anyone would suggest that you negotiate for a raise with your shirt undone to your waist, but I think that she is being very handsomely paid for "Gone Girl."
MARTIN: You don't see a contradiction though in those two ideas? That you can be this woman who is on the cover and be the young woman who's trying to negotiate a higher salary for herself?
COLES: Well, I think that women's lives are multi-led. I have no problem understanding that women are interested in mascara and the Middle East. Men are allowed to talk about sports relentlessly and yet we still take them seriously. I don't understand why women can't talk about fashion or sex or love or wanting more money and not be taken as seriously as men.
MARTIN: You've been out, you've talked with people who read your magazine. What has surprised you when you've had those conversations?
COLES: I was very surprised by the tremendous affection people have for Cosmo, especially slightly older women who grew up reading Cosmo and who owed a lot of their knowledge about sex to Cosmo. There's always a sense in which people nod, nod, wink, wink, oh, I find out about orgasms through Cosmo, which is what Gayle King told me.
COLES: So there's a sense in which Cosmo for a lot of women has had a really central role in their life. And younger women like it because it's funny, but they also know that it's got their back. It really does care about whether or not they've got the confidence to ask for a raise. And it really does care that they know which protection to use to make sure that they can have fun having sex without getting pregnant.
MARTIN: How is she doing today? How is the Cosmo woman doing?
COLES: Well, I think the Cosmo woman is doing pretty well today. You know, there a lot of them going to college, although they are saddled with college debt, which a problem. But I think that young women today feel that so much more is possible for them than certainly 30 years ago when I was growing up. And I think they look around and although there are still very few female leaders in American business and there's still not enough women in government it does make a difference to see Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook or Marissa Mayer at Yahoo. It's really important that we have these role models so women feel I too could do this if they want to. I'm not saying everybody has to run a boardroom of course not, but if you want to run your own business you should be able to, and we want to give you the tools and the psychological kind of input to be able to do that.
MARTIN: Joanna Coles, the editor in chief of Cosmo magazine. Thanks so much for talking with us.
COLES: My pleasure.
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