Yes, lads’ mags perpetuate sexism, but so what? We never hold women’s magazines to the same standards

I’ve given up reading the glossies lest I see yet another article teaching me how to give the perfect blowjob – but I don’t see social psychologists examining how that might impact on the feminine psyche

Charlotte Gill
Thursday 13 October 2016 13:43 BST
Researchers found that men couldn't tell the difference between comments made by rapists and those included in so-called 'lads' mags'
Researchers found that men couldn't tell the difference between comments made by rapists and those included in so-called 'lads' mags'

Shock, horror! Lads’ magazines are sexist. That’s been the rather underwhelming conclusion of three recent studies published in the Psychology of Men and Masculinities.

Newspapers are horrified by the results, which show that lads’ magazines change the way that their male readers interpret sexist remarks. When misogynist comments are hidden in pages adorned with boobs, readers don’t care – say it on the street, however, and they suddenly do.

In the most alarming of the three experiments carried out, the social psychologists behind the study discovered that 274 American college students couldn’t tell the difference between quotes from lads’ magazines and things rapists have said.

I’m not sure why anyone bothered to spend the time to do this research – every woman knows that lads’ magazines treat the female of the species like a full-fat fry up, to be devoured with your morning coffee. The revelation that such publications “normalise” sexism is great revelation at all.

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In fact, it’s a chicken and egg scenario. Some claim that lads’ magazines encourage sexism; that by removing them from the shelves they can remedy men’s prejudices. In the last decade, campaigns run by the likes of actor Romola Garai have fought to see them banished from our supermarkets and newsagents. But the truth is that lads’ magazines exploit pre-existing sexism, and then perpetuate it. Take them away and those attitudes towards women still exist.

The biggest silliness of all is that women’s magazines can also be horrendously sexist, and play into the same stereotypes exploited by lads’ mags. I’ve given up reading many of them, lest I see yet another article teaching me how to give the perfect blowjob. Still, I don’t see psychologists examining such literature (call it that) or how it might impact on the feminine psyche. It’s inadvertently sexist that women’s publications are seen as so much less damaging than men’s and not held to the same morally scrupulous standards.

The mounting pressure on lads’ magazines is causing their extinction. FHM, Zoo and Loaded have all ceased their print publications. Campaigners believe this is due to greater awareness of their sexist content. In the psychologists’ study, they found that once men realised their inability to differentiate between comments made by rapists and those printed in a lads’ magazines, they were less likely to pick up one up.

But what no one really knows is if men are putting down lads’ magazines because of a sudden realisation at the consequences of their choices (“OMG, photographs of boobs aren’t feminist!”) or down to social pressure. After all, what sensible individual wants to be seen with one after its content has been compared to the sentiments of convicted rapists? It’s social suicide.

This latest study only serves to contribute to a gradual censorship of lads’ magazines, which is daft and problematic in itself. Publishers have to cater to a broad range of readers, with different needs and desires from a magazine. I suspect many lad mag readers just want tits and a toastie, and so what? Puritanical protestors will not change “sexist” readers making it socially unacceptable to read lads’ magazines only encourage resentment.

I don’t agree with the idea that these publications are ‘dangerous’. I have enough faith in humanity to believe that readers can decide what to take at literal value.

Progressive societies allow people to make choices for themselves, using the information they have available – whether that choice is good, bad, or stupid. They do not smear and kill off daft magazines.

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