Why Losing the Lads' Mags is a Step Towards Ending Violence Against Women

16/07/2013 13:29 | Updated 15 September 2013

Since its creation, I have found the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign both liberating and hopeful, pointing to a future that is not only more equal for the sexes but also safer for women and girls.

So why does this campaign seem like common sense to me and to others, like the dread 'political correctness gone mad'?

Well, for the last 18 months, I have been embedded within Aurora New Dawn, an organisation working to address and prevent sexual and domestic violence, and in this time, my understanding of the objectification of women as 'harmless fun' has massively changed.

Aurora New Dawn is proud to support the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign because we understand that the attitudes promoted in these magazines are at the heart of the violence we work against every day. Indeed, it can be no coincidence that the majority of organisations supporting this campaign - Rape Crisis, Women's Aid, Eaves, the White Ribbon campaign, Imkaan, and Equality Now - also directly represent victims and survivors.

The violence that our services see every day - the same violence that causes 2 women every week to die at the hands of a former or current partner - is the sort of violence that only occurs when a perpetrator completely dehumanises, or makes an object of, the woman who becomes his victim.

For organisations like ours, there is no avoiding that the ubiquity of this violence closely mirrors the widespread representation of women primarily as sexual objects. We are joined by academics, professionals and policy makers all over the world whose cumulative experience and expertise points to the same fact, over and over again: there is a relationship between the ubiquity of representations of women as sexual objects and the dangerous attitudes and behaviours that underpin and perpetuate violence against women.

The American Psychological Association report a range of studies showing that people who view media portraying women as sex objects - and unless you're living in space, that's all of us -become significantly more accepting of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, intimate partner or domestic violence and myths about rape.

Now for most of us, this acceptance won't result in us perpetrating violence against women as a result. But it will help all of us to shape our attitudes towards violence against women - particularly in consistently drawing our attention to the behaviour of victims before perpetrators.

What sounds more familiar to you in popular culture representing violence against women - 'Why doesn't she just leave?' or 'Why doesn't he stop?'.

Try this one: 'Well look what she was wearing, and she was drunk...' or 'Why did he rape her?'

It is important to remember that these widely-held attitudes actively support perpetrators of violence by placing the focus on victims, and by presenting male violence as inevitable.

"I think of it this way," said Shonagh Dillon, Chief Executive of Aurora New Dawn, "If we're not combating these attitudes and stereotypes, then we're not fighting for an end to violence against women and girls, we're just fire-fighting the damage it causes."

Recently, Dr Linda Papadopoulos' Review on the Sexualisation of Young People found that lads' mags "promote an idea of male sexuality as based on power and aggression."

This is entirely consistent with the accounts that we hear from victims and survivors about their experiences of violence and abuse, where perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence feel entitled not only to view their victims as objects that are less than human, but to exert terrifying levels of power and control over them.

The UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) clearly identifies the portrayal of women as sexual objects as fundamentally linked to the attitudes that underpin violence and discrimination against women and girls.

This link is also identified in Government policy, including in our ratification of CEDAW, which commits the UK to taking measures to address the objectification of women as part of its work to prevent violence against women and girls. The UK government's Strategy to end violence against women and girls also commits to "prevent such violence from happening by challenging the attitudes and behaviours which foster it".

It is this knowledge base - and not Victorian attitudes towards nudity, or the rise of the feminazi - that forms the basis for the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign, by working to prevent and address the attitudes that support such dehumanising violence.

This is fundamentally an issue of equality, but it goes even further than that - because unless as a society we all begin to question the ubiquity of women's objectification, we have a very, very long way to go in making the violence stop.