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Tits Are Not The Main Problem With Lads Mags

by Daisy Buchanan
31 August 2013 14 Comments

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.

Loaded Nuts Zoo

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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’70s Soviet Magazine Covers

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.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Sam Diss 3:22 pm, 30-Jul-2013

Totally agree. As I said before, the horrible magazines (and their irksome sexist 'troll' ilk) are ruining boobs for normal blokes and that's a shame 'cos boobs are right nice, like.

MG 3:45 pm, 30-Jul-2013

I kind of agree with this, but wouldn't you also say that women's magazines portray women in a FAR more damaging light? i.e. instead of saying 'Look at Rosie, isn't she beautiful and wouldn't you love to have her as your girlfriend', they say 'look at Rosie, she has cellulite on her thighs and her boobs are ever so slightly saggy. Make sure YOU don't end up like her by following our thirteen top tips on page 6.' Also, let's be honest, the entire media is filled with the gender bashing you talk about. The 'women, don't ask for help on a Tuesday' advert would have been sandwiched between all manner of 'isn't dad stupid. He can't cook,' and 'don't you wish men could do two things at once like women?' or 'It's Christmas, which means dad will be drunk while mum saves the day' type ads. It just seems to me that the whole debate has handily been centred on lad's mags because the feminist groups at the centre of it don't like them. If they were truly after 'gender equality' as they claim, there are far bigger issues to address with the media and what's allowed to be printed than just one (rapidly declining) market of men's magazines...

John Anthony Lake 3:49 pm, 30-Jul-2013

Thanks for this, Daisy. What pisses me off is the way the so-called "battle of the sexes" is continually exploited to make money (ironically, for men and women alike - there are plenty of porn baronesses). There is no battle of the sexes, just couples who aren't suited for each other.

Tim 4:10 pm, 30-Jul-2013

Daisy, to blame lads mags for the failure of your relationship is ridiculous, and looks like you've done it solely to be topical. As someone that's worked for one of the 'less high end' magazines you describe (but don't name for some reason) for many years I can tell you that not once, ever, have we published a single joke that's been at the expense of women, let alone a whole section like that every week. Promiscuous are never championed, at all. And sexually adventurous women never, EVER had their value diminished. I actually doubt you've ever read a copy of Nuts, seeing as you've quoted an advertising line (incorrectly) that's not been used since 2005. Why don't you write a piece decrying the use of close-up photos of celebrity cellulite that the women's weeklies thrive on? That's what young impressionable women will be looking at. Or the 'look at the state of her without make-up on' pics in the likes of Heat magazine? How about Cosmopolitan, presumably you're absolutely fine with this: http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/love-sex/cosmo-centerfolds/ Nothing like treating men as human beings when they fit in the 'sexiest tennis players naked' eh? And interestingly you championed the '50 shades of grey' effect in your piece for The Guardian, a book about women submitting themselves sexually to men, and said you hoped it would have an 'effect' on teenage girls? As with most of the arguments over the past couple of days, this piece is riddled with hypocrisy.

Daisy 5:05 pm, 30-Jul-2013

Tim, I think you've missed the point of the piece. I'm championing equality between the sexes and don't support anything that undermines that. Unfortunately I don't have copies of Nuts and Zoo to hand, but when I was reading them (around 2010/2011) they were packed with comments about women's 'value'. If you read my Guardian piece carefully, you'd understand that it mentions 50 Shades of Grey because the fact it inspired such an enormous cultural response suggests women's independent sexual exploration hadn't been mentioned in the mainstream, and it needed to be. As a commentator and journalist, I am going to write pieces that are 'solely' topical. That's my job.

bnd 7:16 pm, 30-Jul-2013

firstly, i always thought those adverts were done with a bit of irony? (before irony about gender roles was banned). second, those magazines are aimed at teens, stop dating oafs. third, and @tim - my instincts tell me Daisy is probably right and they are full if sexism, but i couldnt tell from memory. Bit of research beyond an anecdote about ur ex and THAT advert wouldnt have hurt your argument though. Finally, ive got a feeling this kind of mag is done for in a few years anyway, so maybe its not worth too much fuss about

craigo 9:58 am, 1-Aug-2013

No Daisy, you're wrong. Silly woman ;)

bnd 5:42 pm, 2-Aug-2013

so the main problem with lads mags is anecdotal speculation from when my bastard ex read it a few years ago then. ban it immediately!

John D 4:52 pm, 9-Aug-2013

I'm not the type to be taken in by this stuff usually, I thought the whole 'women on bank notes' thing was a distraction (real issues that feminists should be concentrating on are obviously not for me to say, its not my fight, but when things such as FGM are still such a big problem in the world, it seemed odd when Jane Austen being on a tenner was top of the news agenda). I similarly lumped this issue in with the same sort of sentiment, i.e. a big fuss about a not very big issue, and a distraction from real problems. However, this article has changed my opinion on the issue; I, for obvious reasons, have never viewed it from this point of view, but completely understand where you are coming from. There is definitely a vein of the adversarial that runs between men and women, and anything which further propagates or glorifies this further, especially to people who are still forming their view of the world, is probably a bad thing. I think one thing in which you can take solace is the very steep decline in circulation these sorts of publications have experienced over the last few years, it is a significant and deep rooted decline and their days are probably numbered. Lets hope this is a sign that the issues you are alluding to are also in decline. Thanks for a very well written piece. p.s. your ex sounds like a dick! John

James Griffiths 8:34 am, 14-Aug-2013

Daisy, I wrote a piece in response to the recent furore. As a man exposed to pornography and lads' mags I'm not a mindless sexist, however I do argue with women and I do find myself smashing my head against a brick wall at times - this isn't because I read lads' mags. I have also in the past (like many men) been bombarded with complaints by women about failing to understand them. The same applies to men who, just like women, internally complain to each other about women not understanding them. This has nothing to do with magazines, it's probably to do with socialisation, with relatively homogeneous friendship groups (i.e. men often socialise mostly with men, and vice versa) which impacts upon mutual understanding. Your point about not being able to have guy mates is also a one-sided assessment. I doubt many women I know would appreciate it if their boyfriend had lots of girls in their social group either, that is unless it was a mixed couples group. You seem to be suggesting that jealousy and control are male-specific phenomena derived from absent minded titillation from magazines. I fundamentally disagree, having been on the receiving end of both by women, just as many of my male friends also have. My assessment of Nuts also shows that although women are objectified (something I don’t find intrinsically bad – men and women sexually objectify, the former more so), they are not dehumanised, nor is sexual promiscuity on the part of men portrayed a cherished asset in their articles, which mostly focus on cars, electronics products, football and weird pointless facts, interspersed with a few shots of Lucy Pinder who aside from posing with her boobs out, opines on the royal baby, favourite recent films and premier league football (i.e. conversations lads would share with each other). I fear you have perpetuated a straw man argument. I am willing to debate about the depiction of sexuality in public domain, but focusing on a few innocuous lads’ mags, in the face of increased objectification of the male form (see the recent Minstrels ad), online pornography and self-flagellating women’s magazines, is cop-out feminism which never pursues actual equality. Instead it seems to commit two wrongs in pursuing a right. I juxtapose lads’ mags with the niqab in Britain, which does indeed dehumanise women, yet feminist movements would never dare say as such: http://jimmygriff.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/hypocritical-hysterical-feminism.html

Nikabby 4:08 am, 21-Aug-2013

@James - good luck getting anyone who writes for a living to discuss the niqab. It is a balance, on the one hand we can use faux feminism to build a career, but talking about Islam is a potential career-ender. Shame because it is a far more important topic if we are talking of women's rights

Jolly Boy John 10:49 am, 31-Aug-2013

At the end of the day they are basically shit, porn comics for halfwits. Shame that many of the halfwits think it's real.

Sisterlambrusco 3:46 pm, 17-Sep-2013

Daisy, I agree 100% with your article. Lads Mags didnt create inequality but they promote it. I dont think they should be banned, but they should not be stocked in shops where they are in full view of customers of all ages and sexes. It might be a mans right to buy it, but its also my right to go into a shop with my 4 year old son and not have to see one. The argument I have with my boyfriend (who would rather read a newspaper) about this issue is the fact that men gawk at topless women in these magazines, but wouldnt allow another man to look at their girlfiends in the same state of nakedness. Why? because the woman in the magazine is an object and the girlfriend 'belongs' to them.

Mr 1:47 am, 15-Oct-2013

@sister - think you missed Daisy's point. Her problem isn't with the flesh on display but the attitude therein. Although, I believe this campaign is based on lawyers championing the right not to be exposed to porn if you work in a supermarket. That, I don't have much argument with. What I don't get is how exactly lads mags are supposed to be dividing us all and, as some people have been saying (not the author here), how they exactly contribute to abuse. I actually don't think they're that bad, at all. What has been striking for me seeing recent developments is the lack of evidence produced to back up the claims of devilish sexism that feature. I'd like to see some. To me, it seems it is just another bogeyman bandwagon for people to jump on. It seems that once this kind of train starts its wheels, people love to jump on it. Do they even know what they are arguing about? If you don't want kids to see them then wrap them up for sure. But then you better get to work on the Internet cos last night I saw a girl in a collar and leash being walked around the garden like a dog, before.....well not really but you get the picture.

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