Indecent Dolls: Ban this Filth


We live in a strange old world. Some of us blame pictures of women in bikinis for violence against women, some blame mannequins. Yes… mannequins.The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has approved a proposal to ban the use of bikini-clad mannequins in lingerie shop displays, in a crackdown aimed at reducing sex crimes.

I will use this opportunity to tell you I used to be friends with an Evangelical Christian who believed the Next catalogue was pornographic, (the underwear models) and that it was dangerous for children. Really. It’s about context. Me flashing an ankle, you flashing a nipple.

The ‘Lose The Lads’ Mags’ campaign has truly puzzled me. It is also a wonderful tool for me to begin to examine the concepts of sexualisation, objectification and pornification. I have written on this topic before, so please check out the posts on my blog where I list some great links on the topics raised. The latest is the wonderful Guardian post by Sarah Wooley

Today it has taken a more perplexing turn. I went into a high street branch of WH Smith and couldn’t find any lads’ mags. I had to ask where they where. I then went into Sainsburys, and had similar difficulty. I wondered if this was because retailers are wary of facing legal action, but apparently not. Due to a Mumsnet campaign, many retailers are already committed to placing the magazines out of sight. So why not continue along these lines of campaigning? Why not try and make this law? Why have Object and UK Feminista chosen to try and ban the publications? And before supporters say ‘they don’t want to ban them’… no, they want people to take legal action against shops if they continue to sell them. Semantics.

‘UK’s biggest supermarkets will act to hide lads’ mags from children’s view’

I am not convinced this is to protect children. It’s a great shock tactic and tag line though. Someone I follow on twitter was asked by a campaign group @ChildsEyesUK why he doesn’t want to help protect children from child porn and child abuse. This is the common-sense angle that’s taken, people comply because it sounds logical, of course we want to protect children from abuse or harm. The same lines are being thrown at the many people debating the #losetheladsmags campaign on twitter. Issues are conflating and distorted, and it seems the only option for many people to comply.

Most abuse to children is committed by a parent, other family member or family friend. The danger to children lies within the home, not on a magazine shelf. If anyone does win a claim against a retailer, please do give the NSPCC the proceeds.

I wonder how many people are scared to say ‘no’ when asked to sigh petitions for No More Page 3 or Ban The Lad’s Mags? To say you disagree is to face being aligned with the danger, with violence against women and children. This is what censorship does, it limits what we can say as well as what we can see.

This campaign, and the attitudes fuelling it, are that enjoying looking at pictures of women’s bodies semi clothed or naked in magazines is inherently degrading and misogynistic. @Moronwatch rightly said. that if you think a sexual picture of a woman is degrading, the problem might be in your head, not the image.

The same ideas fuel campaigns to criminalise sex work or close lap-dancing clubs. I personally think Object’s next step will be to roll out this legal warfare against lap dancing clubs, that their existence is contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Or to further criminalise sex workers and their means of advertising etc.

Those supporting the campaign say:
“It degrades all women”
“It makes me feel like sh*t”
“It’s hard explaining these magazines to a child”
“I deserve to feel safe”
“It’s about time shops stop exhibiting these degrading and sexist images”
“Most women do not want them”
“Page 3, lads mags – we don’t want to see them”
“It objectifies women”
“Do dad wants their kids seeing this?”
“Women are not objects”
“These magazines are damaging to men and women”
“Please sign this important petition even if its only for your kids sake”
“Men reading these mags believe they have a right over women’s bodies”
“I am sick of seeing boobs everywhere”
“It grosses me out”
“We need equality not objectification”
“It’s disgusting and degrading”

Those objecting to this campaign:
“I lived in a country without these mags, it doesn’t stop sexual harassment”
“Persuasion not prohibition is the vehicle of progress”
“Happy that most posters on the #, of all genders, are deriding #losetheladsmags for the nonsense that it is”
“Campaign to ban airbrushing & I might listen to you”
“Women’s magazines are more damaging”
“Will this mean employees can object to selling Attitude or other gay magazines?”
“Very odd combination of moral panic and self-righteousness”
“Fragile argument”
“Its a taste and offence issue dressed up as equality”
“Campaign is stopping what they don’t like”
“Censorship never helps feminism”
“People have a right to view the images”
“It will put models out of work”
“Do they realise the internet has been invented”

Surely this is a matter of taste? What is pornography? Are the women’s magazines pornographic? Should all magazines featuring semi-clothed bodies be banned? What about bodybuilding and fitness magazines? Fashion magazines? Art magazines? Mother and baby magazines? What is indecent? What is dangerous? There were plenty of calls for Fifty Shades of Grey to be banned from the shelves lest it harm fragile women. (I understand the debates surrounding this poorly-written book and domestic violence, but women were in the majority buying and consuming the trilogy).

Surely a more progressive way forward would be to work with the lads’ mags at changing language and attitudes? To look at sex education in schools and the home? For magazines, of all genres, to contain a range of body types, ethnicities, ages? I do not believe that admiring pictures of bodies, males or females, is inherently bad. I also do not agree that consuming images is objectifying the entire gender. I also don’t believe that ‘objectifying’ an image equates to dehumanisation. We live in a ever-increasingly visual culture. We have to work with it, not against it.

I also find the concept of the ‘male gaze’ problematic and extremely limiting. A homogenous male gaze? Should we not think of  capitalist or consumerist gaze/s? Commodification gaze/s? In a culture saturated in visuals, are we not all simultaneous objects and subjects? Very interested in your thoughts.

What do you think? Should ‘Lads’ Mags’ be banned?
Comments and feedback always welcome. Thank you for reading:

Some great blogs on the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign: