What’s up at The Skinny?

// 24 June 2008

Scotland’s freesheet The Skinny has dropped its LGBT section, and replaced it with a much-smaller, less gay section named “Deviance” – which has been put down to an editorial push to make the listings-based mag more mainstream.

As the editor, Nine, says herself in the article introducing the re-launched section, the move has been unpopular:

Hello and welcome to the Deviance section. It used to be the LGBT section, but now it’ll be covering a broader range of topics along the gender & sexuality spectrum. And, having conducted numerous behind-the-scenes focus groups, I’m all too aware that some of you are going to be less than thrilled about this. So I’d like to take the opportunity to say sorry; but also, tough. I hope your fears will be unfounded and that you’re going to enjoy the read.

There’s a good chance that she’ll produce some excellent copy, as I hear only good things about her journalistic integrity and ability. However, there are obviously some significant issues with branding your LGBT section as “deviance”, however trendily it’s done. Nine explains (a little apologetically, to my mind):

So do we really think you’re a ‘deviant’ if you’re queer or trans or a sex worker, if you’re into bondage or you’re asexual or you have a thing for Tesco checkout assistants? No. Deviance is subjective; no-one’s got the final say on what is ‘normal’. Nor do I subscribe to the belief that everything and everybody featured in these pages is by default edgy and groundbreaking – but I’m looking to see more honest and less sensationalist coverage than we routinely encounter in the press. Maybe it’s more about redefining ‘normal’ rather than dwelling on ‘deviance’. But Normal would’ve been a crap name.

Normal would have been a crap name on many levels, of course, but there’s always the option to opt for something else entirely!

On top of the dodgy naming decision, there’s the fact that while the remit of the section has been greatly expanded, the space devoted to it has also been cut from two to four pages, to one page an issue. Does this represent a sidelining of LGBT issues? A source close to the Skinny told me: “LGBT was gay-centric yes, but it was also the most politically written part of the paper. It was the only dangerous journalism they had.” My source adds: “They were more afraid of alienating straights than they were of losing a gay audience.”

Not good, not good at all.

Meanwhile, The Skinny publishes this extremely one-sided article on the push for the UK to adopt the ‘Swedish model’ (which criminalises men using prostitutes while removing all legal sanctions against women involved in prostitution). The article quotes only two people, both campaigners against this legislative approach. Not a word on what the “radical feminist” supporters of this approach think, except mediated through the words of those on the other side of the argument. It doesn’t bode well for balance in the forthcoming controversial issue of The Skinny dedicated to sex work.

Comments From You

Kate // Posted 24 June 2008 at 5:59 pm

It would be great to see a balanced article on the debate around how best to protect women with respect to sex work. There are feminists on both sides, and I hope The Skinny can offer a contribution that helps us understand each other. At the moment, that balance is sorely lacking.

While it maybe because I myself tend to the “harm reduction” side, and I’m not a supporter of the Swedish model, I tend to find that media branding itself “feminist” takes the abolitionist side most often, and doesn’t offer that balance either. When was the last time an F Word blogger gave a voice to a non-abolitionist sex worker or ex-sex worker, for example?

Jess McCabe // Posted 24 June 2008 at 6:06 pm

When was the last time an F Word blogger gave a voice to a non-abolitionist sex worker or ex-sex worker, for example?

Hmmm, perhaps that’s a fair point, although equally as bloggers expressing our own opinions we are not operating in the same space as a mainstream(ish) magazine… Since I’ve been editor, I’ve not had any feature submissions arguing for legalisation of prostitution.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 24 June 2008 at 8:05 pm

(As a Scot who never reads The Skinny), I think this is a really stupid move. Everybody I know who did read The Skinny was LGBT and are really annoyed at both the space reduction and the title change, which is considered to be somewhere been ridiculous and downright offensive. This is particularly problematic as they are really the only Scottish periodical that devoted any real space to LGBT issues.

m Andrea // Posted 25 June 2008 at 11:16 pm

The new title is exceptionally harmful, no “non-normal” group needs to be marginalized in this way. Many people will see the word and not “get” what these folks are trying to do. Or perhaps they will, and will go on to internalize the overt hostility. The general public has been given permission to hate.

Terrible, awful, horrible, ugly name.

moop // Posted 28 June 2008 at 3:46 pm

FA, do The List not still have an LGBT section?

Nine // Posted 1 July 2008 at 12:31 pm

Hi Jess; sorry I didn’t respond to this post earlier, but thanks for letting me know about it.

I’m not going to say a whole lot about the name change right now, because we are still in discussions about it at the magazine and I don’t know yet what the outcome will be. I do think that many of the concerns raised here are legitimate. Re the shrinking of the section, it’s never been four pages, either as LGBT or as Deviance, and generally it can be expected to be two – last month it was smaller, but that was a one-off.

I make no apologies, however, for the article on the Swedish model. Sex workers are rarely consulted in articles about the Swedish model or about sex work in general, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard a radical, or even mainstream, feminist complaining that that’s one-sided. In fact, Meena Seshu started out with a radical feminist perspective; I believe her changes in attitude were much like those experienced by Liv Jessen in Norway: http://www.bayswan.org/swed/livjessen.html Furthermore, I’ve never heard a supporter of the Swedish model addressing the rise in violence and risky practices experienced by sex workers, as discussed in the article. This is why I titled it Safety Before Ideology, and I’m anxious to find out why these concerns are so frequently ignored – by feminists in particular.

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