The world awoke this morning to the news of UK Feminista and Object’s hot-off-the-press campaign bidding to put an end to the sale of ‘Lads’ mags’ in UK superstores. The groups have joined with a team of lawyers under the “Lose the Lads’ Mags” banner to highlight a piece of legislation that may prove instrumental in the end of lads’ mag sales.
Under the Equality Act 2010, displaying and selling lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images can constitute sexual harassment or sex discrimination towards those working in store, and customers may also have a claim under this piece of legislation.
This part of the campaign is run in parallel to a petition calling on stores to “lose the lads’ mags” which, it is hoped, will serve as increased pressure on stores as the discussion is spotlighted.
UTV Radio host Frank Mitchell was the person who first alerted me to the petition: he had caught wind of the campaign and wanted to discuss it on his morning show. He asked me to talk about why lads’ mags are something worth banning. My response is below (and I believe this discussion is more worthwhile than the campaign itself, which, like its predecessors, has its flaws: none of which should keep you signing the petition, though.)
1. By defining pornography as images purposed to arouse the viewer sexually, we imply that lads’ mags include pornography. Therein lies my objection to them. I blogged extensively last year on porn and how it has been found to be severely addictive and present a whole host of personal and societal problems. Furthermore, research continues to show links between exposure to pornography and sexually aggressive behaviours – see, for example, the recently released study by Maggie Atkinson. Lads’ mags aren’t just ‘glamour’ or appreciation of the female form.
2. Lads’ mags promote the idea of woman as sexual objects; dehumanising and objectifying us. The attitudes conveyed in magazines like Zoo, Nuts, FHM and co spread into wider society, as lad culture becomes general culture. A culture rooted in pornography is dangerous to women. Not only are there pornographic issues in the publications the campaign seeks to do away with, the attitudes in articles and features are harmonious to the objectifying manner in which women are seen in still images: that is, women are present only for the sexual arousal, pleasure and satisfaction of men: we are here to be looked at, unresponsive, still. Is this is what is believed about women, what kind of behaviour does it incite?
3. But women are not the only ones lads’ mags attempt to exploit. Lads’ mags suggest a narrow and harmful mould of masculinity and culture for men. “Lad culture” is not true to the diversity and complexity of men. It is dangerous reductionism to streamline men into only being capable of sexual arousal, running after the latest protein shake or video game.
These points do not directly address the impact of lads’ mags on children (who, let’s not kid ourselves, do have access to them) or on the models who provide their images. Let’s save that for another day, shall we?
Frank also interviewed a Page 3 model who suggested that her involvement in the industry was sexually liberating and that the readership of lads’ mags sought only to harmlessly enjoy the female form. There are always arguments both for and against that are compelling and reasonable in their context; this particular discussion of course brings up the issue of censorship. (Tonight I have also appreciated comments on women’s magazines who objectify and reduce women in a similar, and at times more harmful, way.) I enjoyed hearing Laura’s thoughts but found that her ultimate argument, that we shouldn’t ban lads’ mags if we don’t ban meat for vegetarians or cigarettes for non-smokers to avoid offending them, to be flawed. The sale of cigarettes does not lead to me being harassed or assaulted. The sale of lads’ mags does.
I have never addressed the issue of ‘internet trolls’ or Twitter abuse before, as I believe that most of the time, these people and their comments should be ignored and not fed. However, as the faceless misogynists weighed in on the
#losetheladsmags conversation this afternoon from their temporary accounts by suggesting I get back into the kitchen and surmising that I must be single because “no man could put up with me”, I was reminded both that we still have a long way to go, but perhaps more importantly, the conversation is happening (or, at the very least, people are hearing opinions that provoke somewhat reflective reactions in them)…and that is key. Because more than a piece of legislation, more than a petition – it is of utmost importance that we regularly take stock of what we are saying, through our culture (of the lad variety or otherwise.) What do we think of each other, as men and women; and indeed, what do we think of ourselves?