Here are some questions we’ve been asked about the Lose the Lads Mags campaign. If you have any more questions drop us an email at losetheladsmags.org.uk and we’ll be glad to answer them.

What are lads’ mags?
The best selling lads’ mags in the UK include Zoo, Nuts and FHM. They are pornographic magazines that portray women as dehumanised sex objects for the purpose of sexually gratifying men. The front covers of lads’ mags feature sexually objectifying images of women.

What’s the problem with lads’ mags – and where’s the evidence they cause harm?
Lads’ mags – including their front cover images – portray women as dehumanised sex objects. There is extensive evidence to show that portraying women as sex objects fuels sexist attitudes and behaviours. Sexual objectification also creates a conducive context for violence against women.

  • The American Psychological Association (APA) report that viewing media which portrays women as sex objects leads people to become significantly more accepting of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence, and rape myths.
  • The APA also reveal that men are more likely to treat women as sex objects and their behaviour towards women is more sexualised after exposure to sexualised media.
  • The Government-commissioned Sexualisation of Young People Review found: “<lads’ mags> promote an idea of male sexuality as based on power and aggression, depicting women as sex objects and including articles that feature strategies for manipulating women.”…“The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm.”
  • The Sexualisation of Young People Review also found: “Exposure to the sexualised female ideal is linked with lower self-esteem, negative moods and depression in young women and girls.”
  • The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has repeatedly identified the links between the portrayal of women as sexual objects with attitudes that underpin violence and discrimination against women and girls. At this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, member states agreed: “to develop and strengthen self-regulatory mechanisms [of the media] to promote balanced and non-stereotypical portrayals of women with a view to eliminating discrimination against and the exploitation of women and girls and refraining from presenting them as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects and commodities and instead present women and girls as creative human beings, key actors and contributors to and beneficiaries of the process of development.”

Further reading: Object (2009), Joining up the Dots

Are you calling for lads’ mags to be banned?
No. We are not calling for any new laws or regulations. This is about applying the law as it exists to protect people from discrimination and harassment. We are calling on high-street supermarkets and newsagents to stop stocking and displaying lads’ mags. Exposing customers and employees to these sexist publications can breach equality legislation because it can constitute sex discrimination or sexual harassment under the Equality Act. This campaign is calling for shops to fulfil their legal and ethical responsibilities to ensure employees and customers do not experience discrimination. Speaking out against the sexist portrayal of women in lads mags and the very real harm it causes is a political stand for gender equality, it is not censorship.

How does displaying and selling lads’ mags potentially breach equality legislation?
18 lawyers, including leading specialists in the field of equality and discrimination law, have written an open letter to retailers explaining how displaying and selling lads’ mags can constitute sex discrimination or sexual harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

The objectification of women isn’t confined to lads’ mags. Why have you just focussed on these magazines?
The objectification of women throughout popular culture is a huge and widespread problem. For a decade Object have conducted research and run campaigns into the many different ways that women are sexually objectified. UK Feminista and Object are currently spearheading the Lose the lads’ mags campaign because:

  • Lads’ mags are sold and displayed in thousands of supermarkets and newsagents across the UK. This means that people who do not actively choose to look at or buy lads’ mags have to see them and, in the case of employees, handle them.
  • By stocking sexist and degrading lads’ mags mainstream supermarkets and newsagents like Tesco and WH Smith are sending out the message that it is normal and acceptable to treat women like dehumanised sex objects. This has a hugely harmful ‘normalising’ effect.
  • We have obtained new legal advice stating that retailers are potentially breaching equality legislation by displaying and selling lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images. For many years the sale and display of sexist lads’ mags has been subject to criticism from customers and employees. Yet the ‘big four’ supermarkets continue to stock them, and many people have been left feeling that they have little power to do anything about it. Lose the lads’ mags aims to empower staff and customers to know their rights. If customers or employees feel that being exposed to lads’ mags creates a hostile or degrading environment for them, they can potentially take legal action.

But what about the impact that women’s magazines have?
This campaign isn’t arguing that lads’ mags are the only publications sending out damaging messages about women’s role in society. For instance, many groups and individuals have criticised the harmful effect that some women’s magazines have on women’s body image and self esteem. However, lads mags’ are a distinct group of publications that have a very specific consequence. By portraying women as sexual objects for their mainly male readership, lads’ mags fuel attitudes that underpin violence against women. That is why the UK’s leading anti-violence organisations – including Women’s Aid and the End Violence Against Women coalition – support Lose the Lads’ Mags.

Would taking legal action against lads’ mags open the door to legal action against any publication people happen to dislike?
No. This is not a matter of ‘taste or decency’. Employees and, in some instances, customers are only able to take legal action against shops for being exposed to lads’ mags because of the very real harm that they cause and the sexist, degrading and humiliating environment that they can create. There are very strict parameters to the legal judgements that would be applied should a claim be made.

There is legal precedence of women successfully suing employers in other industries after being exposed to pornography in the workplace. As a society we recognise that it’s not acceptable to have ‘girly calendars’ on office walls – because they can create a degrading environment for women working there. Most people would accept that if an employer refused to take a ‘girly calendar’ off the wall, women working there could quite rightly take action against their employer. Lads’ mags are the modern-day ‘girly calendars’. Their covers feature sexually objectifying images of women and are displayed in peoples’ workplaces up and down the country.

Would moving the lads’ mags to the top shelf solve the problem?
While moving lads’ mags to the top shelf may mean they are out of reach of children, they are still visible. Furthermore, employees are still required to handle them – by putting them on the shelf or when selling them to purchasing customers.

“If you don’t like lads’ mags, don’t buy them!”
That’s the whole point. Because high-street supermarkets and newsagents sell them, people who don’t want to see them, people who are just going about their work or doing their food shopping, are exposed to them. Lads’ mags have no place in high-street supermarkets or newsagents.

Why are you targeting the shops and not the publishers?
Because it is the responsibility of shops to ensure that staff and customers are not subject to a sexist, hostile and degrading environment. There is no law to say that Tesco or WH Smith have to sell Nuts and Zoo. It is entirely their choice. We are not calling for these publications to be banned. We are calling on shops to fulfil their ethical and legal obligations by not exposing staff and customers to them.

Haven’t some shops already taken action to stop customers being exposed to lads’ mags?
Some retailers have previously committed to displaying lads’ mags out of reach of children. However, this still means lads mags are on display in these shops and employees still have to handle them. Similarly, where shops display lads’ mags with some of the front cover obscured behind other magazines, it is still unavoidable for staff to have to view them while handling the magazines. Since customers move the magazines around, the cover images can readily be left on display to other customers and staff. There are hundreds of stores across the UK, however, where even these inadequate measures have not been taken, despite widespread calls for them to do so.

Does objecting to lad’s mags mean you are anti-sex?
Challenging sex object culture does not make you anti–sex. It means that you are speaking out about the danger of portraying women as sex objects who are always sexually available in a culture in which sexual violence is pervasive. It means you are anti-sexism, not anti-sex.

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