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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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