Feminists – For and Against Lads’ Mags

Two committed feminists battle it out over whether 'lads mags' are liberating... or not

Feature by Stephanie Torrance & Kate Pasola | 09 Jul 2012

For: Stephanie Torrance - We Should Celebrate our Sexuality

I’ve noticed that over the past few weeks the whole ‘young-women-up-in-arms about lads’ mags’ debate has come to the forefront once again (at least once a year, I see an article about a 'refreshing' group of people who are 'finally taking a stand'). There was a big campaign by a young Oxford feminist group in January to ban lads’ mags from local newsagents. This has spawned several other campaigns, most notably in Southampton and Leeds Universities. Closer to home, a local feminist group in Aberdeen are currently boycotting the University newsagents who are choosing to carry FHM et al.

But the question is; what exactly is this ‘stand’ against? Is it really so terrible that a grown woman chooses to pose for magazines that will gladly pay her to do so? Is this oppressive? I’m not convinced that it is. If a woman can make a profit out of the idiocy of other people (I’m being polite when I say ‘people’ here, let’s be honest – it’s usually men) who will choose to pay her ridiculous sums of cash for a mere glimpse of her body… then is it not empowering if the woman chooses to do this? The woman is taking control of her sexuality.

We have this notion that modern day feminism is for white, middle-class schoolgirls on a prudish rampage against anything remotely provocative. This is not what feminism is. There is no ONE feminism. It is outdated to say that a woman is a victim, or immoral, just because she chooses to be confident in her own body and proud of owning her own sexuality. Feminist education is stuck in a loop where the same beliefs are regurgitated as new theory time and time again. It’s about time that we moved beyond this dated idea that to show one’s body is to be weak. In fact, to protest these images of women is to limit them by only seeing them through a patriarchal gaze. We don’t need to do this anymore.

More often than not, the celebrity covers of FHM are rather similar to the celebrity covers of Diva magazine.  Ruta Gedmintas (Frankie from Lip Service) is shown on the front cover in a bra and see-through top in their aptly named 'sex issue.' She is clearly being objectified for the lesbian market in the exact same way as whichever Essex-reality-TV-star-in-her-underwear is on the cover of FHM. Even Sue Perkins’ front cover of Diva was with an unbuttoned white shirt and hint of black bra. We wouldn’t even think about seeing Sue Perkins as a weak victim of her own sexiness now would we?

These latest ‘protests’ have come with the argument that lads’ mags should not be sold at eye level. It seems to have bypassed these so-called ‘feminists' that to taboo the human body in this way is precisely why we have these magazines in the first place. If societally we were more accepting of the human body (the last time I checked, we all have one) they wouldn’t need to be showcased in special magazines. Until then, I personally celebrate the ladies with enough confidence and self-esteem to make a business out of their bodies and enough intellect to reject this idea that for women to be truly feminist, they must reject their own sexuality.

Against: Kate Pasola - A Woman is Worth More Than Her ‘Hotness’

I’m unsure whether it was a break for freedom from sixteen years under the cyclical tyranny of ‘womens’ magazines,’ or just that I thought it might make me look a bit cool, but I guiltily admit that I used to read FHM. I really thought I was onto something. It was refreshing to read something other than how to exfoliate myself into meeting that phantom ‘Mr Right.’ The blitheness reminded me of the lads at school who I wasn’t really cool enough to be friends with. I’d turn a bashfully blind eye to the ‘top-milf-tits-of-2006’ sections. Whenever I read something hideously misogynistic I assumed the twangs of alienation experienced were due to my intrusion into a place I wasn’t welcome. After all, isn’t it just for the ‘banter’? If I didn’t like it, I shouldn’t read it… surely?

Years later, succumbing to curiosity, I thumbed through a ‘lads' mag’ at a newsagents and had an epiphany - which can only be analogised to when I tried Sunny Delight for the first time in eight years – utter disbelief I’d tolerated such an assault on my senses. It’s not just that they insist on calling grown women ‘girls.’ Nor that they relentlessly feature somewhat-acceptable fashion advice alongside pictures of Emily Atack’s arse in a thong (helpfully educating readers that degrading women to flesh and lace is as socially acceptable as choosing what type of chinos to wear with your AllSaints deep-V).

What really vexes me is the ‘100 Hottest Honeys’ list. It comes with a side-order of a permanent sex-symbol rosette, inexorably linking the chosen victor’s credibility to her busty triumph in all future interviews. I’m sure Pippa Middleton is just as sick of this phenomenon. Admittedly women’s magazines aren’t completely innocent of such frivolities either (I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Gerard Butler’s pecs emblazoned with ‘MAN OF THE MONTH’ in lilac italics). However, it seems women are much more haunted by the, seemingly ‘critically-acclaimed,’ lads’ mag polling system. It’s slightly discomfiting that some now encourage readers’ girlfriends to submit snaps – in which they can only be compared to a Primark parody of a Victoria’s Secret campaign – in pursuit of ‘Hometown-Hottie’ status. And don’t naïvely assume a grand prize or some other worthwhile incentive is at stake for the winner – Maxim kindly reminds entrants that they are solely in pursuit of “the Maxim Hometown Hotties crown! (Actual crown not included.)” Not only are the A-list dancing seductively to the tune piped by smug editors, but non-celebrities are stripping to the skin so they don’t get left behind. What’s worse is that this subtly persuades women that the process is emancipating, and that these naughty-boy magazines are really rather liberal arenas for self-expression. Those who object are just spoiling everyone’s fun.

Maybe someday we’ll universally realise that these ‘lifestyle’ magazines manipulate us, issue by issue, into becoming their loyal subjects. They make us put our brains in our boxers and our money down their plughole. Perhaps one day readers who think they have some symbiotic relationship with a pixelated Tulisa will wake up and smell the printing ink. But, currently, sex sells. Until then, we can only hope Rachel Stevens doesn’t win ‘Hottest Female Alive’ again – for her sake.