When the Sun was banned from being distributed in University of Sheffield Students' Union in early February 2013, it appeared as if my university's stance in ousting the UK's most cherished sex relic from campus could contribute, however minor, to consigning it to the history books. And initially, it appeared to do just that. Less than a month later, students at University of Dundee voted to ban sales of Britain's most widely read newspaper from campus. But my premature optimism has now turned to disappointment as lads' mags, a further form of sexual objectification which has been lying dormant since before I arrived at university, has been permitted to sell in my Students' Union Shop seemingly innocently alongside less offensive items such as food.
It is undeniable that female students are not sheltered from the objectification and commodification of their bodies, not just in society as a whole but even in higher education institutions, which on the surface appears to be a flourishing environment of gender equality. While my very own Students' Union Shop continues to stock so-called 'lads' magazines' albeit with 'modesty covers' revealing merely the title of the publication, female students and staff at universities across the country do not enjoy the identical 'privilege'. They are overwhelmingly bombarded with images of women's heaving cleavages and buttocks in the same manner traditionally reserved for bare breasted Page Three regulars, a needless accompaniment to an otherwise innocent trip to one of the many university stores dotted around campus.
While I respect that posing for such 'magazines' is a matter of personal freedom and rational individual choice made by women and that they are not forced into this, it is undeniable that these magazines which sexualise women produce harmful effects for female students and society as a whole. However minor, these magazines are arguably undeniably complicit in reducing and harming the aspirations of female students. By not being able to view images of women in powerful positions traditionally occupied by men, but merely bombarded with images of women donning a bikini, pouting provocatively at the camera and as if being 'had' is the only thought in their minds, we are unable to be what we can't see.
Lucy Pedrick, University of Sheffield's Students' Union women's councillor concurs that such magazines are harmful to female students: "I support this campaign which provides a platform for female students to verbalise to their male peers quite how damaging the visual rhetoric of such magazines can be on a day to day basis." And Pedrick maintains that Universities and Students' Unions nationally must take responsibility for what products they endorse to students and staff: "Universities and Students' Unions have both the capacity and the responsibility to take decisions as to what they stock and sell."
More worryingly, these 'magazines' are merely indicative of the mainstreaming of the seemingly never-ending raunch culture so deeply entrenched on university campuses nationally which encourages female students to participate in their own sexual objectification. From female students expected to dress provocatively for sexist student-themed nights out such as 'Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes' bar crawls to participating in outdated beauty pageants, these magazines are undeniably complicit in creating a culture where female students' worth is reduced to their sexiness and their ability to titillate and sexually arouse male students, not so vastly different from the near-naked cover girls.
I whole-heartedly support Object! and UK Feminista's 'Lose the Lads' Mags Campaign' which I firmly believe has no place in my Union and which its distribution continues to contravene my university's policy 'Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment'. I, for one, hope that one day, copies of Zoo or FHM which reduce women merely to a pair of breasts, something to be bought, sold and finally discarded, not so different from a bottle of Coke on sale, will no longer be distributed and join the ranks of the Page Three as Union stock history.
Follow Salma Haidrani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/its_me_salma