Deborah Orr: Flashing the flesh in men's top-shelf magazines does neither sex any credit

They deliver an image of women that women themselves are happy enough to collude in
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The Independent Online

Some may consider it a sign of escalating misogyny that men's magazines are on the move to the top shelf because of their explicit sexual content. Others could be forgiven for seeing it merely as an indication that what goes around comes around. In the early 1980s, it was considered one of life's great mysteries that, despite the proliferation of women's magazines, there were no general interest titles in this country aimed at men, except for such examples as Playboy, Penthouse and so on (which men quite often said they bought only for the articles).

Some may consider it a sign of escalating misogyny that men's magazines are on the move to the top shelf because of their explicit sexual content. Others could be forgiven for seeing it merely as an indication that what goes around comes around. In the early 1980s, it was considered one of life's great mysteries that, despite the proliferation of women's magazines, there were no general interest titles in this country aimed at men, except for such examples as Playboy, Penthouse and so on (which men quite often said they bought only for the articles).

Then, with the successful import of US titles such as GQ, a modest market was born, with several titles offering men an alternative to the aforementioned sex publications. These magazines courted advertisers who didn't want to be seen in "todd books" and used to put pictures of celebrity men on their covers, and run features on such things as "the Filofax" and other necessary info for the burgeoning yuppie generation. Then Loaded magazine launched, with a, shall we say, more "irreverent" attitude to women, and the whole men's magazine market started its gradual ascent back to the same top shelf it had so recently tried to escape from.

Now, it is depressing for a woman to look at these magazines, full as they are of images of women as despicable, cumbersome but bafflingly unimprovable receptacles for the collection of semen, because they really do suggest that men's hatred of, and contempt for, women is boundless and unquenchable. But it is also important to remember two other things.

First, you can learn just as much about men from riffling through their endless fishing magazines, or computer magazines or music magazines. Second, sadly, you can learn quite a lot about women, too, from looking through these same men's magazines. Who are the women who decide that they wish to be objectified by confused men - often young - whose consumption of this material may or may not have a bearing on how eventually they will be able to relate to actual women? The answer is, surely, confused women - almost always young - who are in the same position.

We hear a lot these days about how women from Abi Titmuss to Heidi Klum are merely supplying a demand, and making enough cash to last them a lifetime. Even women who don't need the money - from Catherine Zeta Jones to Cameron Diaz - sometimes find themselves promoting something or other by flashing some tasteful flesh in a men's magazine. Which, in another neatly completed circle, is where "second wave" feminism came in, exhorting women to burn their bras and refrain from assisting in their own objectification.

The awful truth is that these magazines deliver to men a hateful image of women that women themselves seem happy enough to collude in. Women from The Sun's editor Rebekah Wade to Katie Price should think about whether they really do want to be part of this horrible edifice that causes suffering to women less empowered by "glamour" than they are.

¿ The hoodie debate rages on, with Tony Blair - keen at the moment to be seen entering all debates - intervening to sanctify the Bluewater shopping centre's decision to ban the hoodie - except from its shops. No doubt it'll keep selling them, but only to take home in a bag for wearing to muggings later in the evening to finance the aforementioned transaction.

Blair says that it's all part of the lack of respect culture (look at how respect for him has plummeted lately, for example) and that he blames the parents.

I don't blame the parents, though, and for good reason. One of my three-year-old's most beloved possessions is something he came home with one day, proclaiming it to be his "combat hoodie". Charmingly, it has a little red gunsight stamped on the breast. Where did it come from? It was a gift from his doting childminder. See? Hah! I rest my case.

When it comes to child custody, family law is in a mess

All those families looking hopefully towards David Blunkett - the custody-battle dad who now finds himself neatly in charge of the Child Support Agency - can forget it. The mess that is family law looks set to continue, with Families Need Fathers pointing out that in another logical absurdity, the redirecting of legal aid to civil cases means now that the public purse will be funding one parent in a pointless battle against the other.

Meanwhile, the anomaly that makes the Children's Act 1979 unworkable remains in place. Almost all British law works on the principle of legal precedent. But the Children's Act demands that in custody battles every case must be judged on its own merits, so the principle of precedent can't apply. Since nearly all custody battles are about apportioning time between parents, this is nearly all the family courts are really called upon to rule on.

Yet because of the former limitation, all that case law has established is that there should not be no contact at all in the absence of a good reason. For any increase in contact, a parent has to "prove benefit" which is as easy as proving that moonlight bathed the front lawn last Tuesday.

Which means, in effect, that as long as you're seeing your child for an hour a month - or something similar - then the Children's Act is being upheld and anything the court does to increase that is a one-off that establishes no legal norm whatsoever. Since the act was passed, this sort of judgment has been made something like a million times, each time in a vacuum.

You'd think it would be easy for the Department of Constitution Affairs to draw up some guidelines correcting this idiotic matter, by offering some more concrete guidelines for the benefit of children with non-resident parents.(Contrary to popular rhetoric there is no judicial distinction between mothers and fathers.)

But the department farmed this job out long ago to Education, which in turn put the matter in the hands of a civil servant who has managed so far to come up with nothing at all except a hilarious "parenting plan" which ran for 32 pages and asked warring parents to write down all the things they were in agreement about. Even proportional representation is not going to correct this travesty of democracy. It almost - only almost - makes you feel that Fathers4Justice have a point.

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