Lose the lad mags: a round-up and something that’s bugging me

UK Feminista and Object unveiled their latest project earlier this week: telling shops to get rid of lad mags, or it might break equality law, constituting sexual harassment. Now, I’m not particularly convinced by the legal argument, with even the lawyers couching their analysis in “may” rather than “does” constitute sexual harassment or discrimination.

I’m also not particularly convinced by the arguments surrounding objectification of women underpinning it, and have similar reservations to those surrounding the No More Page 3 campaign.

However, I’m late to the party in critiquing Lose the Lad Mags. It looks like others have got there first and made some very good points, so I am going to link to a few things which are worth reading.

Dangerous Dolls: ‘Object’ and Lose the Lads’ Mags (plasticdollheads)
Is it cold outside Kat? (itsjustahobby)
Lose the magging sexism (Squeamish Bikini)

All of these cover many of the problems fairly well: that sexism in magazines are not a problem limited to Nuts and Loaded; that objectification arguments are missing the point by focusing solely on image; that lad mags are a symptom of the problem rather than a cause; that banning something isn’t necessarily the best way forward.

I have another quibble to add. The campaigners have made a statement, as have lawyers involved, but there are voices missing: the voices of women who work in shops where lads’ mags are stocked and feel harassed and discriminated against by being forced to handle them. It is their voices which should be front and central in the Lose the Lad Mags campaigns, not those of spokespeople drafting official press releases.

It is their voices, their needs and wants, that matter.

And I suspect my feelings about this campaign would be very different if it weren’t led by lawyers and professional activists. A group of women who work in retail, gathering together to organise against an employment practice that harms them is a different thing entirely to a top-down campaign organised by groups who exist largely to get rid of lad mags. What it feels like here is instrumentalising some possible concerns that workers may have about an employment rights issue, in order to push an agenda. I say “possibly” here because in all the noise, we haven’t heard the voices of workers who may feel harassed here.

There is a world of difference between people who are most troubled by an issue leading on finding a solution, and an edict about how to solve a problem coming from above. Such top-down organisation is inherently paternalistic, smacking of a perception of knowing what is best for those poor little women. Is this really a pressing employment rights issue for women who work in shops? Maybe. We don’t know, because we’re only hearing from activists and lawyers telling us what they think and how they imagine women working in shops should feel.

What this campaign should look like, if it is indeed a major problem affecting workers, is support. These big organisations should not be leading, but quietly providing resources and a microphone, as it is not their battle. This battle belongs to the women workers who feel harassed and discriminated against, who find themselves in already-precarious retail work with little to do. These issues of workers’ rights are all part of the class struggle. Unfortunately, Lose the Lad Mags has not connected these dots, nor has it provided any solutions:  I do not see any offers from Lose the Lad Mags to help with legal fees, no guidance in organising in the workplace in different ways which might work better–after all, with the cuts to Legal Aid a lawsuit is something potentially-affected women cannot afford.

And it is sad, because these may be women who need help, yet are being treated as little more than pawns, potential mouthpieces to legitimise the campaign.

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16 responses to “Lose the lad mags: a round-up and something that’s bugging me

  • Primula Bond

    Am also angry older woman and writer of erotica but these mags on supermarket shelves have long seemed to be me to be like those tacky topless calendars in mechanics’ workshops or porn in City stockbrokers’ offices ie embarrassing to women at best, offensive at worst and on the most part I think are far less in circulation because female colleagues have objected. I think I would object if I was stacking shelves in Tesco and faced with squirming boob-squeezing girlies on the covers, so I assume these lawyers have had complaints etc along the way. Let’s be real here. The tone of the magazines is sniggering, puerile and mocking – cocking a snook at sexual harassment laws or respect for female views. There is nothing harmful, I’m sure, but nothing respectful either. They have their place, but the top shelf and/or a plastic wrapper would be a start,

    • stavvers

      No offence, but what you’ve decided the women affected thing is utterly irrelevant here. We don’t need to listen to your voice. Further comments will not be approved.

  • judisutherland

    I believe the mags are damaging to society in general. I don’t work in a shop, but I do shop in them, and I hate to see this stuff. The campaign has had to focus on employment legislation purely because there is no hate speech legislation in this country that covers gender-based nastiness. If these were things said about Jews, or gay people,or black people in magazines, there is a law that would protect us.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, it’s not just the photos that are a problem, it’s the text.

    http://www.surrey.ac.uk/mediacentre/press/2011/69535_are_sex_offenders_and_lads_mags_using_the_same_language.htm

    • stavvers

      Again, this campaign is instrumentalising women who work in shops. To this campaign, technically your voice should be irrelevant.

  • jemima101

    i wonder if you saw carters post, his concern too was the workers, tho from a different perspective, as a trade unionist he saw working class women being “fooled” into believing they could refuse to do a requirement of the job, and being sacked. I think he saw it in class terms, as you are privileged people speaking for and using less privileged. Anyway, here is the post.

    http://itsjustahobby.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/slow-news-days/

    • stavvers

      I think that is an important issue, and I really do worry for any workers who do try to pursue this without adequate support.

  • Korhomme (@Korhomme)

    It’s certainly activists pushing an agenda; scratch the surface, and there are lots of surrounding oddities. Is the occasional cover of “Amateur Photographer” objectionable, or is it “art”. Why is, say, Cosmo not objectionable — or might it be objectionable to some men who stack shelves? And why should “lads” in wheelchairs be unable to reach the mags they are looking for?

  • chiller

    What about women who use the shops who feel harassed and discriminated against? Which is where I’m coming from on this campaign (in case it’s not clear, I want those mags gone). This goes beyond the direct issue of harassment of employees and to the issue of the male perception that women’s bodies are there for them to form opinions about and then express those opinions in the form of street harassment.

    That is why I signed No More Page 3, despite being pro the models used in that paper and in lads mags, and it is why I signed to get rid of lad mags. *I* feel harassed by it. Don’t I count?

    • stavvers

      Have you not read what the Lose the Lad Mags campaign is about? It’s not about you. It’s about shop workers. Or at least, ostensibly it is.

      And it’s this false concern I find pretty abhorrent, when it immediately collapses into “but what about *me*”

    • stavvers

      Sorry, that might have come across as rude, but by all means have that campaign about how you don’t want to see that shit, just don’t instrumentalise shop workers, clearly without their involvement, to do it.

  • redpesto

    “in all the noise, we haven’t heard the voices of workers who may feel harassed here.”

    1- If it was about workers, you’d think their trade unions would be involved. Are they?

    2 – if it is about workers, then I’m sure UK Feminista/Object have someone lined up who will helpfully make the case for them, even if they have to ask for one of their membership/supporters to step forward.

  • Lizzie

    You make a lot of excellent points and yep perhaps one of the biggest problems is that this campaign is not grass-roots in origin which takes away a lot of impact.

    That said, women are endlessly told there’s no problem with this stuff, we’re so innoculated against it, told we’re prudish for objecting. Is it surprising that so few workers would be comfortable speaking out on it publicly when they could be condemned and given misogynistic abuse in return, for example.

    So I’m not sure that the lack of voices from workers is indicative that most women in retail are completely happy handling these mags.

    I’m interested in the parallel of how such images became unacceptable in offices. At one time, women would have been harangued for complaining about that. Are there lessons to be learned from that battle, perhaps?

  • Jake

    I’m not sure shop workers would be comfortable with raising their concerns about work issues. In doesn’t matter what the ‘law’ is, if they want you out, they’ll get you out and their won’t be much you can do about it – in my experience.

    • stavvers

      Absolutely. I find it disappointing that if LtLM are really interested in protecting workers’ rights they’re not, you know, throwing loads of energy into going all-out in improving workers’ rights universally.

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