The BBC have published an article today stating that retailers could potentially face legal action in the UK, if they continue to sell magazines showing naked and semi-naked images of women. Pressure groups and lawyers are claiming that displaying the magazines, or requiring staff to handle them, could amount to sexual harassment or discrimination.
There are two defined forms of sexual harassment. The first is any treatment that is conducted with the purpose of, or have the effect of, violating your dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you. This conduct does not have to be sexual in nature and the treatment has to be proven to be because the individual is a woman or man, therefore being treated that way because they are from a particular sex or gender. The second definition is treatment that is sexual in nature involving comments or physical touching or threats. Again the conduct must be done with the purpose of, or have the effect of, violating your dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual. The definition of discrimination that I have been taught consists of “unfavorable treatment based on a person’s sex, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, language, class, sexual preference, age, physical disability or any other improper ground. It limits the economic, social and political opportunities of the individual or group discriminated against” (Bowling, 2006: 135).
The argument behind this campaign is that lads mags dehumanise and objectify women, and promote harmful attitudes that underpin discrimination and violence against women and girls. It is further argued that such magazines reduce women to sexual objects and sends out the message that women are constantly sexually available. DI splaying such magazines in everyday spaces such as supermarkets and corner shops is thought to normalise the sexism bound within the magazines. While I can see where this argument has some foundation, I also question why similar campaigns are not created around the objectification of men in magazines and, more prevalent, in adverts. There are many women’s magazines that display half naked men on the front cover with the accompanying text of ‘torso of the week’. Similar objectification of men can be seen in the current diet coke advert, or even in barry m’s ‘giant of a hippo nail advert’. This objectification of men seems to be perfectly acceptable, yet objectification of women does not.
What seems to be ironic is the claim that selling these magazines is in breach of the Equality Act 2010. In my mind, if we are to remove all so called lads mags because they are offensive then we must also remove all women’s magazines that display pictures of half naked men on the cover if we are to maintain this equality. If we supposedly empower women by removing these ‘offensive’ lads mags an then oppress men by leaving the magazines and adverts aimed at women by objectifying men as sexual objects then how are we maintaining equality?
To me this seems to be a wild step in the wrong direction, in order for women to gain true equality, they should be working to raise up to the men’s level rather than attempting to drag them down to, or even below, the level of women. Oppression is the exact thing that feminist groups and campaigners are working to combat, yet by removing lads mags and keeping womens mags that objectify men they are merely being hypocritical and perpetuating the exact thing that they want to stop.
While it is not pleasant to be faced with half naked images of women (a feeling that I presume is the same for men viewing half naked males on the front of women’s magazines), I do not think that threatening shopkeepers with legal action is the answer. The media have suggested that previous incidents of employees suing their employers for exposure to pornographic images. If these cases are similar to the current campaigns surrounding lads mags, I think that these cases are again a wild step in the wrong direction. At the end of the day, if seeing these magazines in a shop that someone works in is such a major issue – don’t work there! While I do not enjoy seeing these magazines I do not feel that they oppress me nor do they prevent me from leading nor succeeding in my life. I fear that the issue of equality is in the initial stages of being taken a step too far.
Bowling, B. (2006) ‘Discrimination’ in E. McLaughlin and J. Muncie (eds.) The Sage Dictionary of Criminology (2nd Edition), London: Sage Publications, 135-137.