The five worst arguments in defence of lads' mags

"This is a matter of freedom!" No. No, it's not.

So it seems the Co-op and the lads’ mags can’t be friends, after all. Zoo and Nuts have refused to give in to calls for "modesty bags" and will be off to sell their – or more accurately, women’s – breasts elsewhere.

To be fair, the term "modesty bag" is a bit misleading. Makes the whole "might be nice to be able to walk in Tesco’s and not see a woman stripped" appear to sit between Victorian prudishness and a cry for someone to protect the children.

I wouldn’t want my (hypothetical) daughter or son to see a lads’ mag when they walked into a shop – not because breasts are somehow something children shouldn’t see, but because I wouldn’t want them thinking they are something to see in a shop. There’s the lottery tickets, there’s the Curly Wurlies… Oh and there’s rows of pictures of naked women’s massive tits.

I wouldn’t be keen on any adult thinking that’s not a bit strange. Women’s objectification is to such a degree normalised that it seems to many perfectly natural for it be plastered around the place you buy food. Meanwhile, in something close to a diabetic’s relationship with insulin, men are portrayed as such simple, rampant creatures a picture of a pair of breasts needs to be made (easily) available to them every minute of the day.

The belief that pictures of women – sometimes headless, often nameless, always naked – have to be everywhere can lead to some strange arguments. And indeed it has done – both from casual supporters on social media and editors of the magazines themselves. As the lads’ mags continue their fight for freedom, I’ve taken the liberty (sorry, pun) of explaining the most common.

Women wearing bikinis on the beach is a double standard 

Women can want to wear a bikini on the beach whilst not wanting to see pictures of women with their clothes off in their local shop. These two thoughts are not contradictory. I can hold the two simultaneously quite easily, whilst rubbing my head and thinking what I’m going to have for my tea.

Wearing a bikini on a beach is a really sensible place to do it. You do it because you’d be hot otherwise and because no one likes to swim in their jeans. On the other hand, photos of naked models that some men like to use for sexual pleasure aren’t necessarily something you’d expect to be in full view in the supermarket. Or they are, and maybe that’s part of the problem.

This is a matter of freedom 

I get it. Putting modesty bags on Nuts and co would step on your right to buy a magazine with naked women on and for everyone around you to have to see it. This is clearly a basic human right, next to freedom of speech and being able to watch soft porn on the bus. That’s why when I find a picture of a naked man I want to get off to, I cut/print it out and wander around the street showing it to people. 

There are some prudes – the elderly or men’s rights activists, usually – who get uppity about it. “Why can’t you just enjoy it yourself without all of us having to see it?” they ask. I pity their understanding of freedom and I just move on and find some children to show a picture of a pert arse cheek to.  

Lads’ mags “celebrate women

Okay. At a push, you’re celebrating women’s breasts. (In the very restrictive sense of celebrating the way women’s breasts arouse you. Breastfeeding and a woman’s enjoyment of her own body, to the side.) You are not celebrating women, unless you believe women are just their breasts. And I don’t think you’re saying that…are you? 

Actually celebrating women – as fully rounded, human type creatures – would mean celebrating the bits of them that aren’t turning you on. Can we expect to see a few pages dedicated to a campaign for equal pay for women as you celebrate their place in the workforce? No, that would be stupid. That is not the point of a lads’ mag. 

You like looking at and making money off of naked women. That’s okay (well, sort of). You are not doing a national service. You are not the new face of female empowerment. The MBE for services to women is not in the post. 

Anyone wanting lads’ mags covered hates women 

You’re right. The people wanting women to be treated with the same respect as men are actually the misogynists here. We hate women. And by extension, quite inconveniently, we hate ourselves. I particularly hate breasts. I look in the mirror most days and shake my head, consumed with the shame and self-loathing of having two awesome fun bags stuck to my torso. Thank you for getting me to face this, at last. Thank you.  

The Diet Coke man is proof of (more) double standards 

Sure, it says a lot about the strength of "the men are objectified too" argument that the reference used is generally one from the 1990s – but it’s said so often, I felt I couldn’t end without covering it. 

Did the Diet Coke man exist in a society in which men are routinely objectified through every facet of the media, advertising, and day-to-day life, where sexual violence is prevalent, in language, imagery, and attacks – and where men are paid less, represented less, and their non-sexual contribution to society therefore marginalised and dismissed through most aspects of life? No? Then it isn’t the same. Stop it.

Some capybaras in a zoo. Zoo is also the name of a lads' mag. We prefer this zoo. Photograph: Getty Images

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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