Tits Are Not The Main Problem With Lads Mags

Lads mags have six weeks to 'cover-up' or risk being dropped from Co-Op stores. It's not the girls in bikinis that's the real problem however. The real issue goes much deeper.
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Lads mags have six weeks to 'cover-up' or risk being dropped from Co-Op stores. It's not the girls in bikinis that's the real problem however. The real issue goes much deeper.

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Being a lady with strong opinions on lads’ mags is a little like being a lactose intolerant person with firm ideas about the catering at the European Festival of Cheese. In a way, it’s all moot. They’re not for me. FHM is an abbreviation of For Him Magazine – that is what professional detectives might call a massive clue. It’s like That Time My Dad Accidentally Bought Empire – he threw the magazine down in disgust, muttering “there’s nothing but films in here!”

But I do have strong opinions, as the mags might not be for me, but they do affect me. I am one of millions of women who have to hang out with men who get exposed to many pictures of oiled, parted buttocks. Buttocks don’t bother me. Boobs don’t bother me. But I am bothered by the content of some lads’ mags – the ones that aren’t a joyful carnival of heterosexuality, but a passing out parade, in which all the women will be looked up and down, and found wanting. Where women aren’t collaborators, but concubines, and men are expected to prove their manliness by behaving as erotic connoisseurs. Impossible-to-please connoisseurs.

I am a semi regular reader of FHM (I like to read it while eating a Yorkie) and I enjoy it very much. It’s funny. It’s sensible. Its pulling advice is fundamentally “be a kind and reasonable human being, because no-one likes a tool”. I don’t think it’s emitting any sexist pollution. GQ is as likely to feature an extended essay about longing for a manic pixie dream girl who turned out to just be a shadow in the snow as it is to run a piece about muffs and measurements. These magazines make me feel like part of Team Human Race. Boys and girls like sex, they like each other and they all fundamentally want to make each other happy in the least complicated way possible. But there are the other magazines – the ones that make me feel grubby, and disposable, and sad, and scared.

I used to go out with a man who was a regular consumer of the more frequently published, less high end titles on the market. I was younger, and desperate to please – or at least, desperate to prove that I wasn’t intimidated by Abi and Lucy and Rosie and co. I was, but I could see the appeal – they were all beautiful, smooth and smiley. But I wasn’t upset by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of young women in pants. I was upset by the way they were supplied. I was bothered by the jokes page, which was missing the subtitle “at the expense of women!” I hated the way they praised and prized a certain kind of man – one who practised promiscuity at the expense of everything else. Yet similarly sexually adventurous women were measured on a weird, men only stock market index, their perceived value lessening with every encounter.  And I was distressed by the way they were marketed. “Women! Don’t ask for any help on a Tuesday!” was the way one publicised its publication date. The magazines might be full of fantasy women, but they’re offering a welcome respite from real life ones – those you do your duty by, but never have fun with.

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I was scared to tell my boyfriend how I felt, because I knew he’d tell me it was “only a bit of fun”, and like the magazine, he’d be laughing at me, not with me. But the endless, relentless drip of sad making sexism carried on. My ex boyfriend was often very angry with me. He was angry about the life I’d had before him, angry about my weight, angry about my Tweets, angry when I wrote, and angriest of all whenever I told him I needed him. I don’t think the magazines made him into a monster. But I do think they enhanced and confirmed a world view he held which could damage both sexes spectacularly.

I recently encountered a Twitter feed called @GuyCodes, which is drip drip dripping super sad stuff into the timeline of over half a million people. There are many similar accounts and imitators. “Arguing with a woman is like buying a lottery ticket... You're probably not gonna win but you're sure as hell gonna try it” it tells us. And “#turnoff She has a lot of guy friends”. It’s not the sort of thing that would even make you spill your tea in shock – but it’s a regular, dreary confirmation that many men see women as the enemy. A force to control, not a comrade. And young, impressionable men might be making their minds up about the world and themselves, and in their search for identity, they’ll decide the way they react to women is part of what makes them men. And the sexism will form the background to their growing up, like amateur actors shouting “rhubarb! RHUBARB!” and they will be lost.

I don’t believe there’s anything inherently wrong with pictures of tits. It’s the context of the tits that’s cause for concern. I’d be happy for lads’ mags to stay on the shelves if they could all prove they were doing something positive for gender relations. They could tell men why they might be angry, and how they can stop. They can write about us as people – not bags of intolerable extravagance, moodiness and neuroses who are only to be tolerated for our tits. They should celebrate our bodies, but not talk about bra sizes as if they want us built to spec. But if more magazines talked about and treated women as human beings, I’m not sure we’d need the tit pics any more after all.