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Yesterday, the big conversation at the intersection of media and retail was Walmart’s decision to stop selling Cosmopolitan at its checkout lines. The magazine will still be sold on shelves elsewhere in its stores, Walmart said, but the move — motivated by Cosmo’s “hypersexualized and degrading article titles that regularly promote pornography, sexting, BDSM, group sex, anal sex, and more,” according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which says it worked with Walmart on the change — quickly whipped up a debate over whether Walmart was right to do so.
We’ve returned to a familiar place: A retailer makes a morally or politically weighted decision about what it sells, and people get mad about it. We’ve seen this a lot in the last few years, in the fallout to Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump’s label and in numerous brands’ policy changes around gun sales following the Parkland, Florida, shooting (Walmart among them).
While some people have been praising Walmart for making its unavoidable checkout areas more “family friendly,” others are pointing out the hypocrisy of the move. After NCOSE executive director Dawn Hawkins said in a statement that “This is what real change looks like in our #MeToo culture,” the internet flooded with responses like this:
Confusing. Walmart is going to remove @Cosmopolitan Magazine from its checkout lines, in part as a response to the #MeToo movement, says @USAToday . But Me Too is about harassment, not sex, and certainly not women enjoying sex. Everything is being thrown into the panic blender.— Lenore Skenazy (@FreeRangeKids) March 28, 2018
Others contended out that magazines are less harmful to the American population than guns.
@Walmart quick question for ya - so you choose not to sell @Cosmopolitan magazines because it objectifies women (fair enough), but you’re still selling guns and ammo after HOW MANY school shootings? Am I missing something here?— Samantha Schroeter (@samanthalinden3) March 28, 2018
And some people pointed out that while Cosmo is famous for its sex-heavy cover lines, it’s certainly not the only magazine to dig into the topic.
Dude wait until you read Good Housekeeping. Basically a sex MANUAL right there in walmart— Mikki Halpin (@mikkipedia) March 28, 2018
Sex toys! https://t.co/c84iqhd8xf
Good stuff in here about touching yourself in front of your partner https://t.co/RgR4xCSUiP
Arousal gel! https://t.co/WMQP8TW159
Meanwhile, one Twitter user had this sage piece of advice for Walmart.
Big Wigs of Walmart! Do not come to Paris. If Cosmopolitan magazine offends thee, surely the cashier and barista openly discussing Cunnilingus will stop your heart.— Dolores (@Losephine) March 28, 2018
Not everyone wants the stores they shop at to take political or moral stances, but a lot of people do, in part because said stores can actually get things done. Increasingly, it can seem suspect when a retailer doesn’t speak out on a major national issue (not that Cosmo’s sex tips are that). Still, these kinds of choices — which are so often described as “business decisions,” as Walmart said yesterday — means that retailers are always going to be alienating one customer group or another. That’s just the cost of doing business.