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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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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