Stuff magazine is dropping the scantily-clad cover stars. Photo: Joe Loong on Flickr, via CC
Show Hide image

Lads’ mags are starting to drop the scantily-clad cover stars – sexism is over now, right?

Loaded magazine has relaunched without topless cover stars, while gadget mag Stuff has dropped the scantily-clad girls, too. Is the “buy a magazine, get some misogyny for free” idea finally dead?

Sexism is dead. I don’t want anyone to get ahead of themselves but the UK has definitely sorted gender equality out and it’ll soon spread to the rest of the world. Probably by around lunch time tomorrow.

The country’s biggest-selling gadget magazine, Stuff, has officially dropped cover girls from its front pages. Loaded, meanwhile, has relaunched without its traditional topless women. That’s right. A magazine about technology has managed to feature technology without draping naked women around it and the picture editor of Loaded has discovered there are images other than boobs. It’s a really big day for everyone involved and I’m just glad we can all be a part of it.

“We’re going to be far more discerning and sophisticated from now on,” confirmed a spokesman at Simian Publishing, which took over Loaded last year.

The new issue will feature actress Olympia Valance who, apparently, will in fact not be naked.

“She’s beautiful but she’s fully clothed and it’s a Q&A,” said the spokesman, establishing both that women can simultaneously be attractive to men and keep their clothes on, and that you can ask them questions and their brains will sometimes give you answers.

Like all progress, there’ll be some people who are upset about it, strangely attached to a bygone era where everything’s a bit more gross. Like before inside toilets. But the thing many miss when we talk about getting rid of the idea men can’t buy a lifestyle magazine without a naked woman on it is that it benefits men as well as women. (Even sexist men – aka the only type of men who would object to half the population being able to walk into a shop and buy a Twix without also seeing their sex stripped and commodified, like a human blow-up doll.)

We’ve unknowingly convinced ourselves we’ve entered a bizarre barter system where men can’t complete an economic transaction without some part of a human woman attached to it.  

“Okay Sir, here’s your new washing machine.”

“What sort of breasts does that come with?”

“Sorry?”

“It comes with some breasts, right?”

“Um. Well no, it’s just a washing machine.”

“What?”

“It’s a washing machine.”

“How about a nipple? I’ll take a nipple.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying to me.”

“Boob.”

In “lad culture”, women get to be degraded pieces of flesh who are only useful for creating hard ons, sure. But men get to be complete morons.  

Sexuality is a positive, bloody brilliant thing. Sexualisation – where women are the arousing illustration to men’s interaction with every part of the world – isn’t.  

This isn’t just symbolism (and in a society where women are still deemed not important enough to get paid the same as men or be in a relationship without the risk of dying, symbolism alone is pretty powerful). It’s the literal spread of ideas – in image and words – that say women exist to be always up for it (it being whatever you want to do to them). Words that research says people can’t differentiate from the ones uttered by convicted rapists.

The relatively innocent days of a few scantily-clad women devolved into a hundred decapitated, naked bits of meat. The market was once the excuse for lads’ mags to enter a race to the bottom (or, as the case may be, breasts) but it’s now the impetus to stop it. The sales of lads’ mags have been plummeting for years. Editors at Stuff magazine had aimed to attract readers by getting the magazine positioned alongside them but focus groups and cover trials showed sales actually increase when there isn’t a naked woman involved. The “buy a magazine, get some misogyny for free” idea isn’t working anymore. No one’s buying it. Funnily enough, some of us never were.

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.

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
Show Hide image

I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war