She recently won the Silver Award in the Best Perfume Blog category at the 7th Annual Basenotes Awards. Her perfume reviews are legendary. Her taste is immaculate. Her writing is lush and evocative. She is Victoria of Bois de Jasmin and this is her Slap.
When Helen Gurley Brown became chief editor of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1965 and changed its focus towards enpowering women to express their sexuality, the move was hardly uncontroversial. Yet, I cannot help thinking when I flip through Cosmo that there is nothing empowering in its features. “How to Seduce Him…” “How to Give Him the Greatest Pleasure He Has Ever Known…” “5 Things Men Love…” In fact, Cosmopolitan is only one of many magazines that suffer from the overwhelming emphasis on “how to please your man.” In one article we are given guidelines on how to understand what he wants before he utters the words and in another we are taught how to double guess him. We are encouraged to wear vanilla rich fragrances because they remind him of his mother and grapefruit perfumes because some unsubstantiated study suggests this will help men to perceive us as younger. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with thinking of others and offering a pleasant surprise to our loved ones, but I take issue with women’s magazines when they forget about the woman herself. What about discovering one’s own interests? What about pleasing oneself for a change?
There is a lot talk of feminism, egalitarian values and how far we have gone since the 50s, but at the same time, the rhetoric of guilt and sacrifice surrounding the issues of marriage, motherhood and relationships is strikingly palpable. When we assess the success and failure of the feminist movement in terms other than income, the story becomes even more complicated. As Madeleine Bunting notes in her article Let's talk about sex in The Guardian, “Female rates of depression continue to be twice those of men; rates of adolescent eating disorders and self-harm are on the rise. Women report high levels of stress in managing complicated double shifts - a day in the office sandwiched between the chores of running a home. Women account for a disproportionate number in the sharp increase in those claiming incapacity benefit.”
Although women’s magazines should not be blamed for all of the problems in our society, they seem to perpetuate the self-denial of one’s own desires. Ultimately, the need to assert our point of view seems to be lost, which goes beyond beauty and perfume and influences other facets of our lives and careers. We are bombarded with messages designed to influence what we want to such an extent that after a while it is impossible to separate our own wishes from those of others.
While I slap publications like Cosmo for their failure to truly empower their target audience, I acknowledge that they can provide amusing distraction. Perhaps, in the end, discovering your own pleasures is not a job that any columnist or pundit of the moment can ever do for you.