Lads’ mags have been a prominent issue for the last few months; over 45 per cent of the public believe they should be banned and as a result, some action has been taken, by the Co-Op for example, to cover up the explicit images on the covers, which are believed to be the most harmful aspect of the magazines.
Whilst I don’t disagree with the argument that these exaggerated, sexed-up images of womanhood are detrimental to image of the modern woman and the attitudes of the younger generation, I do not believe that the pictures are the main problem. I also do not feel that censorship is the answer.
A recent survey showed that people couldn’t tell the difference between quotes from lads’ mags and excerpts from interviews with convicted rapists. This is where the issue lies: yes, the pictures of naked women are not entirely pleasant to some but they do not incite actions that are just short of rape. It is ironic how, in a society which is so horrified by sexual violence, the language of these magazines is accepted by so many people. Slogans including, ‘if you warm a girl up, you can do anything with them’ and ‘smash her on a park bench’ are just some examples of the warmly encouraging philosophy of the lads’ mag. This smutty vernacular is the root of the problem; even if the accompanying pictures were of a ‘decently dressed’ woman would it make these captions any less disgusting? Of course not.
At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I do agree that the content of these magazines is damaging to the ongoing campaign for equality; however, I do not feel that banning the sale of lads’ mags will help in the slightest. In fact, I feel it may harm it further. The feminist movement risks aligning itself with ludicrous and reactionary examples of censorship; for example, the distribution of contraceptive material by women in the 19th century was a criminal offence and gay and lesbian material is still illegal in many parts of the world, which was the case in this country until recently. Do feminists really want to associate themselves with the attitude, ‘if we don’t like it, ban it’? There is an element of hypocrisy in the feminist attitude toward censorship of sexual materials: we defend individual sexual expression, yet want these images banned.
We cannot assume the women who pose for these pictures are simply brainless victims of patriarchy; the decision to take off their clothes for a magazine was a conscious one, and while it may offend many people, it is within their rights to do this. People need to consider these models feel empowered by this display of their sexuality, and though it may outrage many that women want to flaunt their bodies, my response is, why can’t they? Women should be able to wear as little as they want and not be afraid of being labelled a slut and sexually harassed. Feminism is about the empowerment of women and this will take different forms for everyone. It is the attitude in the lads’ mags that combines these pictures with degrading captions that needs to be tackled, but this cannot be resolved by censorship; only by a campaign for change.