RSS
Should Britain ban racy lads' magazines?
Two feminist groups argue that the mostly naked women on the covers of men's magazines violate British law
 
Have British lads' mags gone too far?
Have British lads' mags gone too far? Illustration by Lauren Hansen | Images courtesy Facebook/LoadedMagazine, Facebook/FHM, Thinkstock

Britain has a booming industry in "lads" magazines — Loaded, Nuts, and FHM, for example — that feature scantily clad women on their covers. That industry found itself under renewed fire over the weekend.

Two feminist groups, UK Feminista and Object, have launched a "Lose the Lads' Mags" campaign, and on Sunday they printed a warning to retailers in Britain's The Guardian:

The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign by UK Feminista and Object is calling on high-street retailers to immediately withdraw lads' mags and papers featuring pornographic front covers from their stores. Each one of these stores is a workplace. Displaying these publications in workplaces, and/or requiring staff to handle them in the course of their jobs, may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Similarly, exposing customers to these publications in the process of displaying them is capable of giving rise to breaches of the Equality Act....

Every mainstream retailer which stocks lads' mags is vulnerable to legal action by staff and, where those publications are visibly on display, by customers. There are, in particular, examples of staff successfully suing employers in respect of exposure to pornographic material at work. Such exposure is actionable where it violates the dignity of individual employees or customers, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. [Guardian]

The letter was signed by 11 lawyers from prominent British law firms.

Lads' mags "dehumanize and objectify women, promoting harmful attitudes that underpin discrimination and violence against women and girls," says Object's Sophie Bennett. "Reducing women to sex objects sends out an incredibly dangerous message that women are constantly sexually available and displaying these publications in everyday spaces normalizes this sexism."

Of course, not everyone agrees. This is nonsense, says Toby Young at Britain's Telegraph. If it's true that supermarkets are legally at risk for selling lads' magazines, that's pretty clear proof that the "Equality Act poses a direct threat to free speech." UK Feminista and Object are wrong on the law, and they don't even have logic on their side, Young says.

If scantily clad women provoked violence against women, "you'd expect an increase in violence against women to coincide with increased sales of lads' mags," Young says.

In fact, the opposite is the case. Lads' mags first appeared in the mid-90s and the most popular ones, such as Loaded, sold upwards of 450,000 at their peak, yet between 1997 and 2009 incidents of domestic violence fell by 64 per cent, according to British Crimes Survey.... This suggest that if there is a link between sexualized images of women and sexual and domestic violence, it is the opposite of the one groups like UK Feminista and Object imagine....

So if these well-heeled, middle-class feminists really care about protecting their more vulnerable sisters, they should be launching a campaign called Save the Lads' Mags, not Lose the Lads' Mags. But, of course, this campaign has nothing to do with defending the rights of those less fortunate than themselves.... No, this is simply about preventing men — predominantly working-class men — from buying magazines that they consider vulgar and in poor taste. [Telegraph]

Hold on, says Doug Barry at Jezebel. A push "to curtail the rampant objectification of women in the media" is hardly the "deeply sinister" plot its critics make it out to be."

There may be, amid the veiled insults of radicalism hurled at feminist groups, a valid argument that efforts to push body magazines out of retailers is an infringement of freedom of expression. However, magazine publishers who specialize in objectifying the female body... aren't really concerned about anyone's freedom of expression rights so long as they can keep profiting off of a culture of sexism and physical objectification. [Jezebel]

There's a definite element of slippery-slope-ism to the "'all pornographic representation demeans women' approach," says Nichi Hodgson in Britain's New Statesman. If you use that rationale on lads' mags, "how long before similar arguments are used to prosecute UK-registered adult businesses, for example?" And let's be honest, she adds: "If lads' mags are 'deeply harmful to women' as UK Feminista director Kat Banyard asserts, then what are women's magazines," with their own terrible female body objectification?

In principal, I wouldn't be sorry to see the demise of lads' mags, in the same way I wouldn't be sorry to see the demise of the Daily Mail, Snog, Marry, Avoid, and inane rom-coms where the dramatic tension is derived from women thinking the presentation of a princess-cut diamond translates to a life time of teak sideboards and babies... But would I actively seek to prosecute any of the above on the basis that they are "deeply harmful" to women? Well, no. Because that would be an undemocratic infringement of civil liberties. It would also do nothing whatsoever to tackle the underlining attitudes and values that encourage such an over-simplistic framing of sex, desire, and male and female roles and thus create a consumer base for lads' mags in the first place. [New Statesman]

The market may take care of lads' magazines before the lawyers can. Steve Legg's men's magazine, Sorted, is seeing a boom in business, perhaps because it is, as Legg says, "designed to stimulate the mind rather than the libido." Men no longer want to view "half-naked women," he argues. They want magazines that are "relevant, informed," and "don't patronize them or objectify women."

That may sound like wishful thinking, or at least a risky bet, but "sales of lads' mags have dropped significantly in the past few years," says Charlotte Philby at Britain's The Independent. "Nuts sold just 80,186 by the end of 2012, down 30 percent in one year. FHM was down 18.5 percent to about 115,000, and Zoo was down 19.3 percent to 44,068."

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week