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.

Lindsey Parnaby / Getty
Show Hide image

The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

0800 7318496