Lads’ mags and the (clothed) women involved

// 23 April 2012

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Men's Interest and Women's Interest mags.jpg

It’s hard to find a satisfactory way to deal with the pressures that a sexist capitalist society puts us under. Last month’s guest post from Rosie about her feelings on her husband’s visit to a strip club seemed to me to be a good example of an area where our reactions are presumed, lampooned and potentially used against us by patriarchal culture. We’re expected to either object entirely to women being paid to strip or endorse it on dude-approved terms. Whatever we do, we’re likely to be told we’re wrong and far more strongly than we (indeed, anyone) might on other matters of opinion.

These criticisms and assumptions about how we react and feel, as women, seem to come from all angles. Patriarchy tells us we should hate strip clubs because we’re good, modest women and, perhaps, jealous and threatened. Some forms of feminism tell us we should accept them because we reject such conservative crap and respect strippers. Patriarchy tells us sexy modern women are cool about strip clubs because this pleases men. Some forms of feminism tell us the objectification of women is never okay and we aren’t real feminists if we accept that some of us are paid to take our clothes off. Patriarchy tries to co-opt these principles to pull us towards the conservatism that oppressed us in the first place. And so on.

Another example would be how we are expected to view lads’ mags and, subsequently, the women involved (whether as naked features or in positions of control over content, but particularly the latter for obvious reasons). There is an interesting article in Sunday’s Guardian perhaps hinting at this theme, along with wider questions about changing content in men’s magazines over the years. It gives accounts from four women who have been editorially involved in such publications, with the first and main feature coming from Terri White, the woman who edited Nuts magazine between December 2003 and July 2006.

There are certainly some alarm-bell moments in the article, such as White talking about putting the models on a pedestal and suggesting to readers that “if [they] were lucky and not completely hapless, they might one day get to be with a woman like that” but, interestingly, she also claims she wouldn’t do it all again. She also talks about being interviewed by Natasha Walter for Living Dolls, admitting to feeling very defensive and not entirely believing her own words about free choice.

White puts her personal choice argument to Anna van Heeswijk, who responds with a comment on how a culture that persistently objectifies women affects how we feel about ourselves and therefore those choices. White herself continues:

“While lads’ mags alone didn’t create this sexualised culture, they responded to it and reinforced it, helping it grow into a mass-market monster wearing a glossy mask of normality… We told a generation of young women that it wasn’t necessary to get an education or build a career to improve your life. Just be willing to bare your breasts and look what you could win! A pot of gold! And a footballer! And I was a part of that for entirely selfish reasons. I tossed any concerns out of the window in favour of the feel of the monthly payslip and the warm glow of success.

But I still feel awkward at the thought of telling women that they should not and could not participate in this culture. The dominant voices in this debate are still those from the middle class, who can only imagine what it’s like to walk in these women’s 5in heels. I remember what it’s like to feel that opportunities just don’t exist for your kind and that when they come along you need to cling on for dear life. And maybe, just maybe, some of the women who claim to do it and enjoy it really do mean it.”

It would be easy to dismiss such retrospective musings as a cover-all-bases attempt from White to placate critics now she’s got where she needs to be (or, as one CiF commenter puts it, making a buck and then philosophising away the contradictions). However, isn’t the point about opportunities for working class women significant in itself? Is it any wonder that yet another dehumanising big business (in this case lads’ mags and the selling of commodified “sexiness”) can end up seeming like a feasible route to success for women? And what about the point that some of the women who claim to enjoy it really do mean it? It’s an old question but isn’t it wrong (not to mention arguably unfeminist) to dismiss that woman as a dupe or a traitor?

Still, it’s clear that something very limiting has happened to men’s magazines over the years. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Loaded putting comedians like Kathy Burke and Vic Reeves on the cover these days, (as ex-fashion writer, Sali Hughes, and one commenter mention). According to Lili Harges, who was Picture Editor for Arena, the magazine used to major on arty, homoerotic fashion images but Loaded and FHM pushed that tendency out: “If we photographed a chef, he had to be surrounded by underdressed models.”

I’ll leave you with a quote from Indira Das-Gupta, who was News Editor at Zoo from its launch in 2003 but eventually forced out because management felt they needed a man to do the job:

“Working at Zoo was surreal, amusing and occasionally bordered on stomach churning. I was often the only woman in editorial meetings. My colleagues certainly didn’t temper their comments for my benefit. It sometimes felt like they were deliberately trying to see if they could provoke a reaction. On one occasion someone told a joke comparing biting into a rotten apple to being raped – oh how my sides ached.”

Picture by V’ron, shared under a creative commons licence.

Comments From You

Rose // Posted 24 April 2012 at 2:18 pm

I used to be homeless. I was repeatedly told by ‘friends’ and local officials that it wasn’t a problem – I was 18, female, thin, and pretty. How hard could it be to find a guy that would take me in? I was running away from abuse, and they were telling me to become a live-in prostitute. People seemed to genuinely believe that it was okay for me to live a hand to mouth existance, trading sex for survival. I consider this attitude to be tied up with the acceptance of porn/lads mags.

There was no consideration of my safety, how it would affect me, my freedom (I know people living that, and they don’t get to see friends, or have their own interests, chosen by themselves), or indeed, what would happen to me when I was no longer ‘desirable’.

Their advice made me suicidal. I would have killed myself before taking their advice. Death seemed a mercy compared to that. Luckily, and it was just down to chance, I found another way out.

If some women enjoy posing like that for photos, that fine, their past time. But when it affects the safety, and quility of life of others, it’s a serious issue. They do serious harm to the lives of others. I have no problem with erotica being passed between consenting individuals – but a vast business empire based on demeaning women that is shoved in your face everytime you pop into the post office?

If flashing people in the street is illegal, why isn’t that?

It’s abusive, and it disgusts me.

Regardless of the gender of the people responsible – they caused harm. If an assassin pleads not guilty to murder, ‘cos they were just doing if for the money – their sentence is longer for their lack of remorse. It’s not an excuse, it’s a statement of disregard.

Shadow // Posted 24 April 2012 at 2:22 pm

Once again the ‘bigger picture’ is being ignored because the issue is not whether or not women can or even should enter the pornographic world of so-called Lads’ Mags and remove all their clothes, rather it is the continued limited ‘roles’ women are allowed to enact by Male Supremacist System. Ask yourselves why are not men routinely displayed in magazines totally naked and photographed in sexually submissive poses? Is it because men know they are not disposable sexual service stations but autonomous human beings?

Patriarchy/Male Supremacy continues to maintain all women are either ‘virgins or whores’ and women are supposed to denounce and vilify any woman who enters the pornographic industry (and I include the Lads’ Mags industry). On the other hand Male Supremacist System profits by having innumerable fresh supplies of women willing to become men’s disposable sexual service stations because in the short term these women are accorded prestige and ‘male praise.’ But these women’s ‘shelf life’ is very, very short because men constantly need a fresh supply of disposable nubile female bodies to masturbate to. What happens to these women when they discover their ‘physical attributes are no longer wanted by Male Supremacist System? Are these women able to obtain well paid work wherein their past history will not be used by Male Supremacist System to denounce them as ‘whores?’ I think not because Male Supremacist System has always been hypocritical in that it needs an endless supply of disposable women (sic) and at same time other women who undertake low paid work for men’s benefit and comfort.

It’s a no win situation for women because either we are ‘men’s disposable sexualised service stations’ or else we are men’s domestic servants.

As regards fact Male Supremacist System uses and I mean uses women to promote Male Supremacist claims that is not new. Women have always been exploited by men in order to do men’s dirty work for them. Notice the real power continues to be tightly held by men and the publishing industry is no exception – men are the ones with the real power.

By the way Male Supremacist System always uses the claim ‘but women enjoy removing all their clothes and being men’s disposable sexual service stations because it is so empowering for these women.’ Really? If that is the case I repeat why are not men routinely being photographed totally naked in sexually submissive poses for female entertainment if it is so empowering?

Reducing oneself to men’s disposable sexual service station is not ’empowering’ as evidenced by Terri White who states ‘I wouldn’t do it again.’ Why not? If for women power means becoming men’s disposable sexual service stations why would White not want to repeat her experience? Is it because she cannot bring herself to recognise that Male Supremacist System dehumanises women when their only role is to be ‘mens’ disposable sexual service stations and yes this does have a huge negative impact on women’s self-esteem; sense of their autonomy and many do internalise the misogynistic notion that women are not human but just ‘sex.’

Feminists are not condemning women who enter the porn industry (and I include Lads’ mags which are men’s stable pornographic material) rather we see the bigger picture – how men profit financially, socially and economically because if women’s only aspiration is to become men’s disposable sexual service station then Male Supremacist System will continue unchallenged. Men will be the ones retaining socio-economic power and we women must content ourselves with low paid; low valued work and never hope to attain our ambitions because unlike men we are ‘just sex’ and nothing else.

So don’t be fooled by Male Supremacist Claims – women must either accept we are men’s disposable sexual service stations or else we are prudes/bigots because we supposedly condemn those women who are tricked/coerced/convinced porn industry is empowering to women. Instead we must recognise the bigger picture as to how the Male Supremacist System operates to maintain male domination and male control over all women’s lives. Ask yourselves who remains invisible when malestream media pits one woman against other – why men of course. Ask yourselves why are not unemployed men rushing to be photographed totally naked and showing their genitals if it is sooo ’empowering!’ Answer is because men know reducing oneself to men’s disposable sexual service station is not empowering and will accord men their supposedly innate right of accessing socio-economic power.

Lynne Miles // Posted 24 April 2012 at 3:40 pm

Just a point of clarification – White was the editor of the magazine, not a model

Laurel // Posted 24 April 2012 at 6:27 pm

a lot of people seem to get mixed up between causes of misogynistic society and results of misogynistic society when there is a chance to blame other women…

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