Campaigners hoping to rid Britain's high-street shops of "lads' mags" descended upon the supermarket giant Tesco yesterday, demanding that its stores stop selling magazines such and Nuts and Zoo. The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign staged demonstrations at around 20 Tesco stores from Glasgow to Cornwall yesterday afternoon. Protesters, led by the pressure groups UK Feminista and Object, argue that the chain should not be stocking the "sexist" and "harmful" magazines.
"Tesco is the UK's biggest retailer and it has a crucial leadership role to play," Kat Banyard from the Lose the Lads Mags campaign told The Independent on Sunday. "It sends out a damaging message that a high-street family brand is lining its shelves with sexist, degrading lads' mags … which portray women as dehumanised sex objects."
She said that lads' mags "fuel attitudes underpinning violence towards women", and that Tesco could face legal action if it continued to expose customers and staff to the titles.
The latest action follows a statement from the Co-operative chain in which it said that it will stop selling Nuts magazine from next month after the title rejected its ultimatum to use "modesty bags" or be removed from its shelves. Other lads' mags have until 9 September to choose.
Tesco has agreed to restrict the sale of these magazines to people over 18, and has come to an agreement with the publishers of Zoo, Nuts and Front to ensure that their magazine covers will be more "modest". But it said it would continue to sell them.
Ms Banyard criticised Tesco for its "inadequate half-measures", and campaigners at the Regent Street Tesco store in central London tended to agree. Shelly Cochran, a 63-year-old retiree from south London, said she was "concerned about the escalation of misogyny and the ubiquity of pornography".
Hannah Bowen, a 22-year-old magazine assistant, added that the campaign against lads' mags was a "tangible" one. "We want equality, but that's an abstract term – this is something we see every day in supermarkets and, by focusing on lads' mags, we can start to make a change."
Campaigners have faced criticism that they are trying to censor the magazine industry. But Helen McDonald, a 37-year-old teacher from Chelmsford, Essex, said that it was less about getting "rid of all pornography", and more about asking "where [it] should be displayed". She added: "Tesco isn't the place."
Women's Aid and the End Violence Against Women coalition are among the organisations to have backed the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign, while 18 lawyers specialising in equality and discrimination law have signed an open letter calling on retailers to stop selling the magazines.
A Tesco spokesperson said that it had adopted new measures based on conversations with its customers. "We've listened carefully to the concerns raised by the campaign groups, but our priority is to make sure we meet our customers' needs and expectations."