Would you rather people thought you were a dim-witted sex object, or a paedophile and a rapist? Well?
It’s a crass question, of course, but it’s nonetheless one that occurred to me recently as I browsed the more lurid end of Tesco’s magazine racks and compared the titles that were on display with the on-going campaigns against Lads Mags and Page 3.
For every Lads Mag targeted at men with a half-naked woman on the cover, there was a Gutter Glossietm targeted at women with a prurient headline about men who are killers and rapists; yet while the former are seen by many as deeply damaging to society's attitudes towards women, the latter don't seem to be considered a problem for how society sees men.
Here are last week’s lead stories from Love it!, Pick Me Up!, Real People and Take a Break: ‘Cannibal killer who ate his ex’; ‘Playground Paedo… Lured my poor girl’; ‘Love Rat! Faked cancer to wed us both’; ‘My girl, 10, was raped by her friends, but she got the blame’.
Bullies, killers and predators
Go to any newsagent this week and you’ll see the same stories, just with different headlines.
If, as anti-Lads Mags and Page 3 campaigners say, images of semi-naked models are damaging to men’s attitudes to women, what must be the impact on women’s attitudes to men of constant messages -- absorbed unthinkingly on a daily basis over a cup of tea -- that men are bullies, killers and sexual predators?
Over the past year, Ivory Tower Feminist TM groups (I’m having that one too) such as #EverydaySexism, No More Page 3 and the NUS, have waged high-profile campaigns against imagery and language they say demeans women and even normalises sexual assault.
They have succeeded in banning Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines from being played in student unions, in removing the Sun from university news agents and getting lads mags taken down from the shelves of Co-op.
The campaigners say their censoriousness is justified to combat misogyny and to prevent sexual assault. But if you believe these magazines have that effect on young men (which I do not), then cogency demands they should also be worried about the impact that depictions of men as paedophiles and bullies will have on women’s attitudes to, say, male primary school teachers, or the importance they place on a father’s post-separation contact with his children.
But when it comes to this type of sexism, for some reason the anti-sexism campaigners don’t seem to be terribly bothered. Why are they outraged for children to be confronted by the breasts of Sarah, from Coventry, in their dad’s copy of the Sun; but perfectly happy for kids to see men presented as vile monsters in mum’s copy of Chat?
And with more and more children growing up in fatherless families, raised by single mums and taught by female teachers, isn't it reasonable to suggest that children will have fewer real-world experiences of men than of women, to counterbalance toxic gendered portrayals in the media?
I mean, it’s almost as if it’s the gender of who’s being demeaned that’s most important, rather than the sexist nature of what’s on display. But then that seems kind of, well, sexist.
Enough to make an editor weep
And then there are the circulation figures. The sheer number of women reading these magazines quite simply dwarfs the number of young men who read lads mags. In the Second half 2013:
Take a Break: 696,507
Real People: 185,682
Pick me Up!: 183,210
Love It!: 112,695
Nuts closed down due to poor circulation in April of this year.
It’s enough to make the (former) editor of Nuts weep.
Anti-lads mags campaigns consistently cite titles such as FHM and Zoo as evidence of widespread, societally-ingrained sexism and misogyny among young men. But if that’s the case, given the primary way in which magazines such as Love it! and Real People are targeted at their audience and their vastly higher circulation figures, what does their success say about their female readers’ attitudes?
I'd like to think both the readers of lads mags and trashy women's magazines are usually perfectly capable of separating fact from fantasy. But the anti-sexism campaigners aren’t even asking any of these questions, and I have a hunch why.
You see, when it comes to their attitudes towards men, both the Gutter Glossiestm and the Ivory Tower Feministstm seem to be on exactly the same page.
By Dan Bell
Do you think there should be as much concern over the messages about men in women's magazines as there is for depictions of women in Lads Mags and on Page 3? Or do you think the imbalance in concern is justified because Lads Mags and Page 3 are damaging, while women's magazines are not? Do you think these depictions of men and women have a real impact on people's attitudes and behaviour towards the opposite sex? Lets us know in a comment or a tweet.
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