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

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.