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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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era