Article: Lad mags and Gender equality

If you think closing FHM and Zoo is a step towards gender equality, you’re wrong

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Zoo and FHM have closed, the era of lad mags has ended, and feminist groups have called it a move towards equality.

But while the female body is being censored across print media and social networks, the sexual appeal of the male torso reaches new heights in blockbusters such as Magic Mike XXL.

So is the ending of these magazines really a cause for celebration, or actually a worrying reflection of the double standards which exist in modern day society?

Let’s not forget the alternative option to these magazines will lead the consumers to search online, where content which is much more degrading and harmful to both viewers and women taking part can be found with a click of the mouse.

There has been a long campaign against lad mags, most prominently from “Lose the Lad Mags” and “No more Page 3”.

The former accuses magazines such as Nuts and Zoo of “portraying women as dehumanised sex objects”, while “No More Page 3” says The Sun’s controversial page must go “because it mocks and disrespects women”.

These opinions would be valid if they didn’t turn a blind eye to the exact same issue relating to the opposite gender.

You can’t say you’re fighting for gender equality, if you ignore (or in many cases actually engage with) the sexualisation of men.

Women’s lifestyle magazines include topless images of men on a weekly basis, with “Hot 100” competitions, “Sexiest Man” awards and a “Weirdest Crush” plaque being handed out as an annual tradition.

Gay lifestyle magazines such as “Attitude” and “Gay Times” are easily accessible in supermarkets, and pretty much always include semi-naked men posing alluringly (and semi-dressed) on their front covers.

These images of men are there for sexual pleasure, the men are dehumanised sex objects, chosen simply for their looks and body. That is a fact.

But where’s the outcry by feminist groups fighting for equality on male sexualisation?

October's edition of FHM. The magazine will close by the end of the year
October’s edition of FHM. The magazine will close by the end of the year

There isn’t one, because a man’s torso is not deemed “offensive content” or degrading to men.

In fact, there is no scientific evidence that a male nipple is different to a female nipple – it’s just that society has chosen to sexualise the latter.

The Sexualisation of Young People review says lad mags are “depicting women as sex objects and including articles that feature strategies for manipulating women”.

But pick up a copy of Cosmopolitan and there will be various articles on how to please your man.

Are there any complaints about these? No, because they don’t feed the image of women as victims.

The “Lose The Lad Mags” campaign even goes as far as to suggest men’s lifestyle magazines “lead people to become significantly more accepting of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence, and rape myths”.

Gender stereotyping is an issue embedded in our society, and if we’re going to blame sexual images of females for this, we can’t ignore the sexualisation of males, and look at the bigger picture of gender stereotyping from a young age, influenced through the media and celebrities.

Responsibility for this lies much deeper than with a topless image of a smiling woman in a newspaper which is voluntarily purchased.

Jessica Davies
Jessica Davies (Image: MODE)

Again, sexual harassment is an issue which is overlooked in modern society and blamed once again on female sexualisation, rather than their male counterparts.

As a young woman on a night out, as well as a model, I am all too familiar with being on the receiving end of sexual harassment on a regular basis.

“Lad culture” has become an excuse to grope women on a night out, shouting abuse is seen as “banter” and judging women on their lifestyle choices, clothing attire or jobs is seen as a valid reason to pass sexual and disrespectful remarks.

Instead of blaming women for being sexual beings – which is in our nature and not something we should ever feel ashamed about – we should be educating individuals on how to treat each other as equals, and show respect to one another as human beings.

Do not let the campaigns fool you – this is not an issue which lies in the pages of FHM magazine.

This is an issue of everyday sexism within our society which has become the norm for my generation.

Whilst the lad fags have closed printing, the male interest of admiring a female in a state of undress is not suddenly and miraculously going to stop.

As humans, we are sexually attracted to each other. Campaigners against the magazines fail to recognise that the demand will always be there.

Young boys will always be curious and men on their lunch break might want to flick through a magazine and see attractive females, just as many women do.

Closing these magazines will only turn these consumers to search online, where at a click of a mouse anyone can find the most hardcore images of women in sexual acts.

These campaigns may think they are helping, but in fact are turning men towards a world of online porn – a male-dominated, sexist industry which depicts women as sex objects at its highest degree. Government legislation bans natural female sex acts from being filmed because they’re “hardcore”, but male equivalents are deemed acceptable.

All of these enhance gender stereotyping, sexual harassment and rape myths. When you think of the millions of pornographic images available to children and adults online, the alternative of a smiling, happy topless woman on page 3 of your newspaper doesn’t seem that bad at all.

Throw in the fact that the lads mag industry is mainly female dominated, with models, photographers, stylists, hair stylists and make-up artists all being out of jobs due to the cut, and it seems it’s women who are most affected by the end of lads mags.

Trying to cut out sexualisation from the 21st century is an impossible task.

But if individuals want to try tackle it in a society which is dominated by image, then they need to look at all matters affecting the issue, instead of disguising personal opinions with the label of fighting for gender equality.

If we’re not clear, gender equality means equality amongst both genders, across all areas.

Male sexualisation must not be overlooked. Women need to stop being shamed for being sexual beings.

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