It’s extremely refreshing to see a significant women’s publication adding health and reproductive rights coverage to their editorial selections. When Cosmopolitan’s website began covering these hugely important issues, and finding knowledgeable writers to share their insights, people took notice.
Cosmo has always been known for frank talk about sex and sexuality, and encouraging women to talk about it and embrace it. This jump to discussion of the other side of sex issues- abortion, access to birth control and the political restrictions being placed on women’s bodies- seems like a no brainer. But for a major national publication to take on these “controversial” topics is an enormous victory for women and girls everywhere.
Lori Fradkin has been one of the women behind these positive developments. She was hired last year with the intention of being a powerful ally for women, and since her start she has been successful- tirelessly finding and sharing meaningful stories that impact women in a way the publication never has.
There have been some major changes at Cosmopolitan.com, which has previously been known more for bedroom tips than women’s reproductive rights. Why was it important to start creating more content that focused on topics like abortion and its stigma, and the political control over access to contraception?
Cosmopolitan.com is always going to cover sex and relationships and fashion and beauty – and we should – but we also want to represent a broader spectrum of issues that matter to women. Yes, topics like abortion and contraception are political, but one of the things we’ve tried to do is show that they’re also personal. Government decisions and court rulings affect real women, and when women’s freedoms to make choices about their lives are restricted, we feel it’s important to draw attention to that. Joanna Coles has made it a priority to cover these issues in the magazine since she took over as editor, and my editor, Amy Odell, has done the same for Cosmopolitan.com. Of course, because we’re working online, we’re able to cover news as it breaks – what happened, but also what it means for women – and do original reporting without such a long lead time.
How have your readers responded to the editorial evolution? Has your audience changed?
The audience has grown significantly since Amy took over – we had 25 million uniques in March – and part of that is just that Hearst is really investing in Cosmo’s presence online. Amy has hired talented editors and writers, and as a result, we’re able to produce more quality content every day. It’s hard to say exactly how much of a role the serious coverage of these topics has played in the growth, but I think these stories have gotten the attention of some people who might not have looked at Cosmo in a while or who had a preconceived notion of what we publish that wasn’t necessarily accurate. The feedback has been great so far, and I’m always happy to see women tweeting about our stories and telling their followers to check us out because we’ve been doing such fantastic coverage of issues like reproductive rights. I’ve also had freelance writers reach out to me to pitch stories about these topics because we’re on their radar now, so there’s been a wonderful snowball effect.
Do you have a favorite moment or response from the changes? Do you have a “success story” because of an article you’ve featured on the site?
I was really thrilled about the recent Think Progress article highlighting Cosmo’s serious coverage of reproductive rights. Also, I keep an eye on the Facebook shares for our articles, and it’s really exciting to see that almost 30,000 people have shared two different articles on something like abortion clinic protesters. I think it can be difficult to get a wide audience interested in the specifics of a Supreme Court case, but we’ve been able to humanize the issues and show their real-world implications. It’s also always exciting when someone like Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards gives us a shout-out.
What does feminism mean to you?
The first thing that always comes to mind when I hear questions about what feminism means is a quote from Caitlin Moran’s book How to Be a Woman: “So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants. a) Do you have a vagina? And b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.” Of course men can be feminists too. Feminism is the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. I don’t know how this could not be important to me as a woman, so it plays a huge role both in my own life and how I approach stories for our readers. I will say, though, that this wasn’t always something I thought about to the same extent. If you had asked me ten years ago if I thought men and women should be paid the same amount for the same work, I would have said yes, of course, but I wasn’t necessarily informed about the latest discussions of equal pay. I didn’t take gender studies classes or have older family members who were active in feminist organizations or vocal about these issues. Instead, through a combination of working in women’s media and simply getting older, I’ve started to engage in conversations that have made me think much more about the role of women in this world in general and the specific role I want to play in it.
What can women do to be more supportive of one another?
I think this question is tricky because it implies that women don’t support one another, and I worry about making generalizations like this. I work with almost all women at Cosmopolitan.com, and my team at my previous job was also all women – and I’ve found these to be really positive experiences. That said, I think a little more empathy all around is a good thing. It is absolutely fine for women to disagree with each other and critique each other’s work, but I find much of the judgment to be unproductive and exhausting. I just had brunch with a friend, and we were discussing what our lives will be like when we have kids one day. We both plan to have children and are excited to experience that phase of our lives when we get there, but we both also said something like, “Ugh, I don’t want to have to deal with people who question why you’re feeding your kid a certain way or who feel compelled to point out something else you’re doing wrong.” I think the fact that we both had that reaction and didn’t have to explain what we meant says something about the way women sometimes treat each other. This is just one example, but I think we need to accept the fact that there’s not really a “right” way to do pretty much anything.
What do you hope to see for the next generation of women?
I hope women have better access to health care, including reproductive health care. I hope women in the LGBT community are given equal rights throughout the country. I hope the wage gap finally closes. And I hope to see a female president.
What women inspire you?
On a professional level, I’m inspired by creative women who have a vision for a project and make it happen – Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Leslye Headland, Diablo Cody, Jill Soloway. I realize these are all people working in Hollywood, but it’s not the fame aspect that excites me. Rather, it’s the way they tell stories about women through their writing, something I want to do through my own writing and through the writing of the people whose work I edit.
On a personal level, I’m inspired by my mom. I don’t have kids yet, but I still think about all the decisions you have to make in raising a child, particularly a girl. How do you get her to eat healthy foods without giving her the impression that some foods are “bad”? How hard do you push her in school without making her feel completely overwhelmed? How do you let her know that you understand what she’s going through and protect her while letting her figure out things on her own? I don’t know if my mom knew the answer to these questions – and I can’t imagine how she could have since she had me at 24 – but somehow she got it right. Of course I still have insecurities, but I’m pretty comfortable with the way I turned out and I know a lot of it had to do with my upbringing. She also maintains close relationships by making time for the important people in her life – my dad, my grandma, other family members, her friends – and I hope I always do the same with the people in mine.
What books or media have had an impact on your life?
After Nora Ephron died, I realized how little of her work I’d read, and I went on a bit of a binge. Turns out there’s a reason her name always comes up on lists like this. I am already looking forward to the documentary about her life. I am also a huge fan of Lena Dunham. In addition to liking Girls and Tiny Furniture, I find her to be so thoughtful and articulate in interviews in a way I aspire to be. I heard her read excerpts from her upcoming book last fall, and I can’t wait for it to be published.
I also just read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, and I thought it was terrific. Not only is the writing great, but she’s so honest and compassionate with the people seeking her advice. These lines from the chapter “Transcend” stuck with me, and I remember them when I think about my own personal essays and when I give advice to writers: “I teach memoir writing occasionally. I always ask my students to answer two questions about the work they and their peers have written: What happened in this story? and What is this story about? It’s a useful way to see what’s there. A lot of times, it isn’t much. Or rather, it’s a bunch of what happened that ends up being about nothing at all. You get no points for living, I tell my students. It isn’t enough to have had an interesting or hilarious or tragic life. Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bear on our lives. For what happened to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means.”
What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
I think I’m a good friend. I’m still close with many of the friends I grew up with, and my circle has grown over the years to include college friends and friends I met in New York. I really care about what’s going on in their lives, and I think they know they can trust me when they need to talk about anything. I think the members of my family feel the same way, which is also important to me.
Follow Lori on Twitter @LoriFradkin.
Photo credit: Kathleen Kamphausen