"Lads' mags degrade women and should be covered up"

PUBLISHED: 01 Jan 2014

AUTHOR: Jason Smith

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‘Lads’ Mags’ first appeared in the mid-1990s with titles such as Zoo, Nuts, Loaded and FHM, and are aimed at 18- to 35-year-old men. The content variously includes pictures of semi-naked glamour models as well as interviews with sportsmen and actors and features on technology and gadgets.  In May 2013 the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign was launched by an alliance of two women’s rights groups, UK Feminista and Object. The campaign called on high-street retailers to withdraw lads’ mags and papers featuring pornographic front covers from their stores. The Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign argue that lads’ mags portray women as dehumanised sex objects, that they feature sexually objectifying images of women and that they can help normalise violence against women [Ref: Lose the Lads’ Mags]. The campaign has had some success, resulting in Coop stores no longer stocking the magazines until they come in “modesty bags” which hide the front covers [Ref: Independent], Tesco restricting sales to over-18s only and also agreeing a deal with lads mag publishers to produce more modest covers [Ref: BBC News]. For opponents, the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign has a patronising view on woman and men, and that it reinforces the censorious idea that publications you don’t like should be banned [Ref: Telegraph]. They also raise questions about the connection between lads’ mags and violence against women [Ref: Huffington Post].

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This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.

Dehumanising women?
The core of the anti-lads’ mags campaign is that they portray women as dehumanised sex objects – both within the pages and on the front cover of the magazines. They argue that there is extensive research that shows that the way these magazines portrays women fuels sexist attitudes and behaviours, and that the objectification helps support violence against women [Ref: Guardian]. As such, they argue that continuing to stock and display lads’ mags results in breaches of equality legislation -  because each store that sells these magazines is also a workplace, the display of these magazines and the possible requirement of staff to handle them in the course of their jobs may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010 [Ref: HM Government]. Similarly, exposing customers to the images in these publications may also result in breaches of the Act [Ref: Object]. There is also the question of how these images affect the self-image of women and girls - in a related campaign, a supporter of the current campaign to abolish ‘Page 3’ of the Sun newspaper asks: “I wonder what children think when they see the paper and they see page after page of men in clothes doing things, like running the country and one massive image of a woman standing there in her pants?” [Ref: No More Page 3].

Or patronising women?
Some feminists have criticised these new campaigns, arguing they make patronising assumptions about women who appear on the covers as brainless victims, and of every man who purchases that magazine as a potential rapist. Drawing comparisons between other censorship campaigns, one commentator argues that “either we credit men with the ability to think for themselves and reject sexism, or we consign them to a fate of being so moronic and malleable that glossy magazines must inevitably drive them to sexual violence” [Ref: Telegraph]. Others extend the argument that the campaign patronises women – arguing that it views them as incapable of living in the public sphere without having an external authority to put modesty bags or modesty tape on images that might offend them – even making a comparison with the dress codes of some Islamic states which force women to cover up in public [Ref: Huffington Post]. Others question the specific targeting of lads’ mags and Page 3 and ask why these are: “…singled out and not the torso-glistening covers of gay magazines? Why is it acceptable to have a size zero model with her nipples out in a fashion title” but not lads’ mags? Are different standards applied to the portrayal of women dependent on where they are displayed and for which audience? Why, for example, are we accepting of portrayals of naked women in art galleries, but not on Page 3? [Ref: New Statesman].

An increase in violence?
Supporters of these campaigns argue that although lads’ mags are not the only publications sending out damaging messages about women’s role in society - some criticise the harmful effect that women’s magazines have on women’s body image and self-esteem - but lads’ mags, it is argued, are a distinct group of publications that have a very specific consequence [Ref: Guardian]. By portraying women as sexual objects for their mainly male readership, lads’ mags fuel attitudes that underpin violence against women and perpetuate rape myths. Others counter that if the campaigner’s claims were true then an increase in violence against women would be expected to coincide with increased sales of lads’ mags [Ref: Huffington Post]. According to the British Crime Survey the opposite is the case: when lads’ mags first appeared in the mid-90s the most popular ones, such as Loaded, sold upwards of 450,000 at their peak, yet between 1997 and 2009 incidents of domestic violence fell by 64 per cent, the number of victims of sexual assault decreased between 2004/05 and 2008/09 and “has shown no statistically significant change” [Ref: Office of National Statistics]. So are lads’ mags dangerous and in need of covering up, or is this a patronising campaign in danger of censorship?


It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.

How I became a lads mag feminist

Lulu Le Vay New Statesman 8 October 2013


Porn has changed - for the worse, even men have noticed

Joan Smith Independent 29 September 2013

Is the war of the sexes over

Johanna Sartori Huffington Post 13 September 2013


Ex-glamour model: anti-lads’ mag bid flawed

Stefanie Marsh The Times 19 August 2013


Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.


Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.

Anti-lads’ mags and anti-people

Saleha Ali spiked 27 August 2013

Feminism, it’s over. But I’m keeping the name

Katie Glass Sunday Times 25 August 2013 The Sunday Times 25 August 2013

Lose the Lads’ Mags? Lose the Censorship

Sarah Woolley Huffington Post 31 May 2013

Focus on: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2011/12

Office of National Statistics 7 February 2013

Let’s get it off our chest Camilla Long

Camilla Long The Sunday Times 21 October 2012

Equality Act 2010

HM Government


Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.


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