The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign demonstrates the power of modern feminism

Having made so many progressive achievements in the past, women are now able to wield the power of legal and capitalist systems which we were previously excluded from to enact social equality.

This week marks the launch of the campaign Lose the Lads’ Mags, spearheaded by feminist organisations UK Feminista and Object. Depending on who you believe, this is either an attempt to free employees and customers from "an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" that could arise from exposure to sexist pornographic content - or, in the words of Loaded and FHM journalist Piers Hernu in a report by the BBC - "a deeply sinister and disturbing attempt by a group of fundamentalist, fanatical bully supermarkets into removing lads’ mags from the shelves".

As far as deeply sinister and disturbing acts by fundamentalist groups go, this one seems fairly civilised. The lawyers and campaigners behind Lose the Lads’ Mags are unlikely to turn up, Spring Breakers-style, in pink balaclavas, toting pistols at the local Tesco Extra. Any facet of the Equality Act that may or may not be used against employers is unlikely to be found "disturbing" (unless you’re a person regularly given to using that well-worn phrase, "IT’S POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!") And as for fundamentalism: while we’re taking the dictionary definition of feminism as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men, charges of ‘fundamentalist’ egalitarianism don’t seem very threatening at all. Unless, of course, you’re a sexist.

The idea that customers or employees could sue retailers for lads’ mags isn’t necessarily new. In theory, it’s been possible at the very least since the Equality Act came into being - so the announcement that those in the workplace can do so is presumably intended as more of a statement than an incitement to get running down to the courthouse. Getting the word out that the law is on your side is an effective way of empowering those who might have felt disempowered by the regular wallpaper of tits and arse that confronts them every day in the workplace or the supermarket. And, of course, it sends an effective message to retailers by threatening to hit them where it hurts: their wallets.

This form of protest has been gaining feminist traction in the last year. A campaign to make Facebook recognise gender-based violence, led by such feminist powerhouses as Laura Bates at Everyday Sexism, has seen huge companies like FinnAir respond angrily that placing their adverts next to content such as "Next time, don’t get pregnant" (with accompanying image of an injured woman at the bottom of a staircase) is "totally against our values and policies". In the past, photographs of breastfeeding had been removed by Facebook filters, while pages like "Domestic Violence: Don’t make me tell you twice", adorned with pictures of visibly beaten women for humorous purposes, apparently didn’t contravene their guidelines. Facebook might have turned a blind eye, but the advertisers themselves felt differently. Inevitably, money will talk.

In all likelihood, a woman in her twenties today will have pulled such innocent, pony-based fodder as Girl Talk magazine in her childhood off the same rack that displayed at least ten polished and Photoshopped FF-cup boobs with the nipples starred out. If the owners of the breasts had faces, they were probably suggestively licking their fingers, lips, or a phallic object. The idea that children would quickly internalise this imagery led a Birmingham-based women’s group to campaign earlier this year to force retailers to shelve pornographic content at least five feet nine inches off the ground. But UK Feminista and Object aren’t going to settle for a height restriction on sexism: Shelve the Lads’ Mags is intended to tackle an entire culture of misogyny targeted towards women and girls of any age. It’s a vastly more difficult pursuit - especially at the beginning of a week where Roman Polanski just claimed in Cannes that the fight for female equality is "a great pity".

Opposing the Sun’s page three or the ubiquity of lads’ mags isn’t necessarily an "anti-sex" position - or, indeed, an anti-porn position. Just like the claim that "you can’t even hold a door open for a woman anymore" is an infuriatingly reductive view on the pursuit for equality between the sexes (basic rules of politeness: hold doors open for people behind you, no matter what they look like), "feminist prudes hate sex" is an unfair charge typically levied against people who speak out against the gender discrepancies in raunch culture. If both sexes were equally objectified in society, this might be an argument about sex alone. But, because they’re not, it has to be an argument about feminism.

Meanwhile, there will always be a loose canon around like Polanski to claim that the birth control pill is "masculinising" women, turning them into feminists, and "chasing away romance". He may as well have come straight out with the old adage that feminists are "ugly butch lesbians" and continued on his way. But modern day feminism is more nuanced than anything such out-of-date commentators could imagine. Having made so many progressive achievements in the past, women are now able to wield the power of legal and capitalist systems which we were previously excluded from to enact social equality. Threatening to generate bad PR for an advertiser or a retailer is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, such is the world that we live in.

Will shelving the lads’ mags go some way to combating the widespread objectification of women? Most likely, yes. There are certainly other battles to be fought in places where unmitigated access to much more violent material is commonplace, such as the internet. Policing imagery can only go so far, and it’s a blunt tool; social attitudes are what really need to change. But by reminding those who feel degraded by their experience of lads’ mags on the racks that they have legal recourse, UK Feminista and Object are easing the pressure on women who are bombarded with such imagery every day. And as media coverage surrounding the campaign heats up, it’s a positive reminder to many that, as a woman who may well not be clad in a swimming costume composed entirely of whipped cream on the cover of Nuts, you are still visible.

Lads' mags like Nuts and Zoo are the target of this new campaign.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.