As I squint at the raunchy front covers for Vogue and FHM, I realise that, despite the latter's promise to explain 'Why Gary Barlow Is Just Like You,' I am struggling to tell them apart. Hence my confusion that UK Feminista and Object only target men's magazines in their new campaign to protect high-street employees from 'pornographic front covers' by warning retailers of potential legal action.
The PR for 'Lose The Lads Mags' claims that such material in the workplace "may amount to sex-discrimination and sexual harassment" of staff and customers, contrary to the Equality Act of 2010. Object and Feminista are concerned that staff experience a "humiliating or offensive environment" when "Page 3-style" magazine covers are stocked, but most major supermarkets have been using modesty covers when necessary. Likewise, this notion of poor working conditions sets the stage for a bigoted employee to claim that they find unpacking Attitude to be degrading. And that's before we've got to the mess where one man's chaste Tatler cover is another's man's horror at women taking liberties with ¾ length sleeves. As a consumer, I am disappointed by the homogenisation of beauty, but editorial stagnation hardly justifies a legal battle. If this is indeed about worker welfare, should insurance against 'offended' staff take precedence over the jobs set to be lost when magazines cease to run?
The Campaigns Officer for Object, Sophie Bennett, says that lads' mags "underpin discrimination and violence against women" but no hard data is provided to expand on this. Object's track record for statistics has not been glowing, with its use of debunked research to support its causes such as the miscalculation that lap-dancing clubs triggered an increase in rape. Nor did Object deliver on the "explosion of prostitution" that it claimed would be ushered in by the Olympics. The numbers we can rely on are the dwindling sales in lad mags and the millions of us who, despite being a mouse click away from hard-core porn, fail to see woman as "sex objects."
I would prefer a campaign that scrutinised this achievement and lobbied for action that better equips people to think critically, so that we are mindful of what we consume, regardless of how it looks. Going beyond the front cover is imperative because long after Loaded has sat in the corner to think about what it has done, we will still be left with the Daily Mail's next creepy take on 'all grown up' underage celebrities.
Someone who sees a naked woman as degraded and subhuman is perhaps in need of more professional help, but I think the young men, confused by these magazines in more superficial terms, may benefit from more responsible content. This doesn't mean a cleavage ration, but an analysis of specific problems that are glossed over when we lump the titles together as porny lad mags.
Dr Petra has pressured magazines to address one such problem, that of fronting an advice column with an unqualified 'sexpert' citing disasters like ZOO's 'Ask Danny' column that ran advice like, "cut your ex's face, and then no one will want her." Incidentally, Dr Petra's own advice on sexual matters has, in the past, been deemed "far too rude" by men's magazine editors.
Magazines may never change. So, if you share my distaste for censorship, I recommend championing Brook, the UK's leading sexual health charity for young people, who have visited schools for over twenty years to discuss sexual health and rights. Then there's Bish Training which markets the effective, forward thinking resources it creates for modern Sex Ed. Both groups stress a need to engage with young men in the discussion, lest we only ever speak of their sexuality as a punchline or a menace.
I have a hunch, that Bish Training's 'Guide To Porn' leaflet will eventually reach more of the young men that Object worry for, whilst a rising pile of outraged signatures will simply lean on open doors.
Sarah's last take on Lad Culture when it's covered in jelly
Sarah Woolley is rumoured to be @SexPositiveLad