Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tesco can be a dangerous place.....#losetheladsmags

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice asking if it was time to lose the lads' mags in light of a new campaign set up by UK Feminista and Object. Even though my article was quite mild, and suggested no legislative change whatsoever, merely urging a think about the damage lads' mags and our hypersexualised culture does to women, it attracted some quite aggressive comments. Any time a woman speaks up about these things, there is a queue of mostly men waiting to shout her down and call her names, so it wasn't entirely unexpected. As you can imagine, I'm not one to be put off.

The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign aims to rid the magazine shelves of pictures of half naked women. If men want to read the stuff that's in them, then that's up to them, but do women really have to be subjected to images of scantily clad women on the front covers of these things? What does it tell kids about the world in which they are growing up? Today, they are taking the campaign a step further by asking Tesco to lose the lads' mags.

Simple trips to the supermarket can be quite damaging in that regard. Let's face it, you take your little girl to Tesco and the first thing she's likely to see is pouting, half naked women from the covers of the likes of Nuts and Zoo, not always from a high shelf either. Then you go to the toy bit and she finds herself being pigeonholed into pink and sparkly. Rather than just let kids choose for themselves what they want to play with, toys are segregated into frills and froth for girls and practical, interesting ones for boys. Some egregious examples, like the Early Learning Centre marketing doctors' outfits for boys and nurses' outfits for girls were withdrawn after pressure built on social media.

And if the message is damaging for girls, it's part of the mix that tells boys that the world is run by and for men, that women are second class citizens. When they then, and most of them do, access internet porn and see women being treated as mere receptacles rather than equal partners, they accept that and their expectations of how their own relationships will work are adjusted accordingly.

People have the right to buy whatever rubbish they like. I certainly do. The lure of a Nigel Slater recipe card or Les Miserables DVD have even on rare occasion persuaded me to buy the Dail Fail. What the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign is about is about the imagery that pervades the public space. Women in demeaning, half naked poses on the front pages of magazines where anyone can see them sends a message that women are second class citizens and that has to be wrong and contributes to a misogyny that is much more malevolent than anything I remember when I was growing up. Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism today writes at the Huffington Post about the sorts of things they hear from young girls. There are triggery elements for sexual assault in what follows:

One 13-year-old girl wrote to the Everyday Sexism Project in desperation, saying "I am so scared to have sex it makes me cry nearly every day... some of the boys at school keep sending us these videos of sex... and it looks so horrible and like it hurts... [it's] so scary and painful and the woman is crying and getting hurt." Without any other information to offset these messages, she believed that this was simply what sex was like.
Other young people spoke of boys in school discussions saying "rape is a compliment really" and "it's not rape if you enjoy it". One woman told me of her shock at seeing her 12-year old sister's social networking profiles, where boys in her year left messages saying "Give me a blow job you slag" and "you have no idea how hard I would fuck the living shit out of you". When she refused to send them explicit photographs of herself, they called her "a frigid little bitch". Boys, too, are in desperate need of clear support to overcome the misleading messages they may be receiving online at a young age about their role in sexual relationships and how they should treat partners.
Yes, you read that right. 12 year olds leaving sexually explicit, insulting and intimidating messages on girls' social media profiles.
Last year I wrote about how uncomfortable I felt when a man next to me on the plane was reading one of these lads' mags. Why, I said, do men think it's ok to get their nuts out in public?
If men (I could say people, but who are we trying to kid here?) want to look at this stuff, then there's very little I can do to stop them, but for heavens' sake, can they not do it in the privacy of their own homes? When men ostentatiously read stuff like this in public, it's like they're making a huge statement that they see women as simply being there as window dressing, as decoration, as pleasure enhancers rather than their equals. They clearly feel that they have a right to own all the public space. I felt it was so rude of him and it made me feel uncomfortable. Now, I don't have the right to be protected from being offended, and nor am I asking for it, but I think I have every right to express my displeasure at such insensitive and crude behaviour.
There is so much that needs to be done in terms of changing a culture that is deeply damaging towards women. A debate about the images we consider appropriate in the public space is only a small part of it. In the 70s, every workplace would have had a girly calendar and women just had to put up with it. Things have changed now, and such displays are no longer seen as acceptable. Lads' mags are a regressive step back and their publishers need to think about the images that they put on the covers. If retailers can put pressure of them in that regard, so much the better.

Taking those images out of the public space will give the vital work that comes through education, to promoting understanding, as Laura Bates says, of what a healthy relationship should be, more chance of success.  Is it really too much to ask that women are treated as equal citizens in the media? Caroline Lucas has a Westminster Hall debate on media sexism tomorrow and as I'm in London, I hope to be able to see it. I'll tell you all about it when I do.

If you want to tell Tesco to lose the lads' mags, then you can do so via Facebook, Twitter and Email here.

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