The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign demonstrates the power of modern feminism

Having made so many progressive achievements in the past, women are now able to wield the power of legal and capitalist systems which we were previously excluded from to enact social equality.

This week marks the launch of the campaign Lose the Lads’ Mags, spearheaded by feminist organisations UK Feminista and Object. Depending on who you believe, this is either an attempt to free employees and customers from "an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" that could arise from exposure to sexist pornographic content - or, in the words of Loaded and FHM journalist Piers Hernu in a report by the BBC - "a deeply sinister and disturbing attempt by a group of fundamentalist, fanatical bully supermarkets into removing lads’ mags from the shelves".

As far as deeply sinister and disturbing acts by fundamentalist groups go, this one seems fairly civilised. The lawyers and campaigners behind Lose the Lads’ Mags are unlikely to turn up, Spring Breakers-style, in pink balaclavas, toting pistols at the local Tesco Extra. Any facet of the Equality Act that may or may not be used against employers is unlikely to be found "disturbing" (unless you’re a person regularly given to using that well-worn phrase, "IT’S POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!") And as for fundamentalism: while we’re taking the dictionary definition of feminism as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men, charges of ‘fundamentalist’ egalitarianism don’t seem very threatening at all. Unless, of course, you’re a sexist.

The idea that customers or employees could sue retailers for lads’ mags isn’t necessarily new. In theory, it’s been possible at the very least since the Equality Act came into being - so the announcement that those in the workplace can do so is presumably intended as more of a statement than an incitement to get running down to the courthouse. Getting the word out that the law is on your side is an effective way of empowering those who might have felt disempowered by the regular wallpaper of tits and arse that confronts them every day in the workplace or the supermarket. And, of course, it sends an effective message to retailers by threatening to hit them where it hurts: their wallets.

This form of protest has been gaining feminist traction in the last year. A campaign to make Facebook recognise gender-based violence, led by such feminist powerhouses as Laura Bates at Everyday Sexism, has seen huge companies like FinnAir respond angrily that placing their adverts next to content such as "Next time, don’t get pregnant" (with accompanying image of an injured woman at the bottom of a staircase) is "totally against our values and policies". In the past, photographs of breastfeeding had been removed by Facebook filters, while pages like "Domestic Violence: Don’t make me tell you twice", adorned with pictures of visibly beaten women for humorous purposes, apparently didn’t contravene their guidelines. Facebook might have turned a blind eye, but the advertisers themselves felt differently. Inevitably, money will talk.

In all likelihood, a woman in her twenties today will have pulled such innocent, pony-based fodder as Girl Talk magazine in her childhood off the same rack that displayed at least ten polished and Photoshopped FF-cup boobs with the nipples starred out. If the owners of the breasts had faces, they were probably suggestively licking their fingers, lips, or a phallic object. The idea that children would quickly internalise this imagery led a Birmingham-based women’s group to campaign earlier this year to force retailers to shelve pornographic content at least five feet nine inches off the ground. But UK Feminista and Object aren’t going to settle for a height restriction on sexism: Shelve the Lads’ Mags is intended to tackle an entire culture of misogyny targeted towards women and girls of any age. It’s a vastly more difficult pursuit - especially at the beginning of a week where Roman Polanski just claimed in Cannes that the fight for female equality is "a great pity".

Opposing the Sun’s page three or the ubiquity of lads’ mags isn’t necessarily an "anti-sex" position - or, indeed, an anti-porn position. Just like the claim that "you can’t even hold a door open for a woman anymore" is an infuriatingly reductive view on the pursuit for equality between the sexes (basic rules of politeness: hold doors open for people behind you, no matter what they look like), "feminist prudes hate sex" is an unfair charge typically levied against people who speak out against the gender discrepancies in raunch culture. If both sexes were equally objectified in society, this might be an argument about sex alone. But, because they’re not, it has to be an argument about feminism.

Meanwhile, there will always be a loose canon around like Polanski to claim that the birth control pill is "masculinising" women, turning them into feminists, and "chasing away romance". He may as well have come straight out with the old adage that feminists are "ugly butch lesbians" and continued on his way. But modern day feminism is more nuanced than anything such out-of-date commentators could imagine. Having made so many progressive achievements in the past, women are now able to wield the power of legal and capitalist systems which we were previously excluded from to enact social equality. Threatening to generate bad PR for an advertiser or a retailer is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, such is the world that we live in.

Will shelving the lads’ mags go some way to combating the widespread objectification of women? Most likely, yes. There are certainly other battles to be fought in places where unmitigated access to much more violent material is commonplace, such as the internet. Policing imagery can only go so far, and it’s a blunt tool; social attitudes are what really need to change. But by reminding those who feel degraded by their experience of lads’ mags on the racks that they have legal recourse, UK Feminista and Object are easing the pressure on women who are bombarded with such imagery every day. And as media coverage surrounding the campaign heats up, it’s a positive reminder to many that, as a woman who may well not be clad in a swimming costume composed entirely of whipped cream on the cover of Nuts, you are still visible.

Lads' mags like Nuts and Zoo are the target of this new campaign.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Photo: Getty
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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.