Friday, September 14, 2007

Feminist whines about sexist 'lads mags'

This article is worth taking apart. My comments are in red.

Women blame lads' mags for sexual exploitation - yet are they are just as guilty?
By Rosie Boycott

When I became the editor of Esquire magazine in the 1990s, I found the question of how to celebrate women's sexuality in a non-sexist way tricky. (why on earth would a man want to 'celebrate' women's 'sexuality'? This is a weird, and non-male way of thinking about things. Men want to enjoy looking at attractive women in magazines. They don't want some kind of bland 'celebration'. Celebrations are for when you have won or achieved something.)

Could you print photos of women showing their breasts or their bottoms in ways that were not sexist, exploitative and demeaning to women?

For a time, I think we succeeded.

For one thing, the magazine always featured women in many others ways - as writers, interview subjects, as people to take seriously.

I never published a photograph that I thought made the woman look subjugated: they always looked as though they were having as much fun as anyone and they were always wearing bikinis.

But as the years went by and the pressure to push up circulation figures increased as other magazines entered the market, so, too, did the pressure to show much more naked flesh of such girls. (i.e. when there was not much competition, you didn't have to be that great, or show men what they wanted to see? However, was it just the extra competition which changed the tone and style of the magazines? This occurred at the same time as women themselves became more overtly sexual in the way they acted and dressed. Not to mention more aggressive and obnoxious in the way they related to men. Both of which were as a result of feminism. But you're not willing to admit that, are you Rosie?)

The "girly" photographs changed; from women who seemed to say "I'm your equal and I'm beautiful" to something much more sinister. (Sinister? Talk about over-reaction)

The models were younger, more vulnerable; and while Esquire never, I believe, stooped towards any form of exploitation, the same could not be said for the rest of the lads' magazine stable.

Every month, magazines such as FHM, and now Zoo and Nuts, serve up page after page of breasts, bottoms and sexual titillation. (And, of course, women's magazines never feature sex, oh no. They are all about philosophy and Quantum mechanics.)

No women write for these magazines, unless you count the strange agony aunts who answer readers' sexual queries.

These tend to be stern-looking women with horn-rimmed glasses and a lot of cleavage, and they dispense their smutty advice in a clinically pornographic tone.

Leafing through one recently, the only 'real' woman I found was the recordbreaking yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur, who was dragged through the mud and described in highly offensive terms (which I don't want to repeat here). (Damn, I wish she had. I wanted to read that!)

The other women on their pages are known only by their first names and they are always quoted as being "hot and ready".

The message these mags transmit is clear: women are there to be used sexually for men's pleasure and all women - secretly or not - are longing for rough sex and plenty of it. (Unless a man is highly delusional, I think the readers of these magazines realise that not all women are, in reality, gagging for sex with them. I think their own experience in everyday life will teach them that. What the magazines are providing is a form of stimulation. Just like a big movie provides excitement and glamour, or a glass of beer provides a pleasant taste sensation.)

Lesbianism is frequently featured, served up for the delectation of the readers. (Of course, from feminist Rosie's perspective, lesbianism should be about hating men. The concept of men using photos of lesbians for their own enjoyment must therefore be particularly upsetting for Rosie.)

There are horrible jokes about "poo", as well as women posing on all fours, bottoms towards the camera, women wearing handcuffs and dog collars, wielding whips and chains. (If she is so deeply shocked by images of bondage, then I suggest she doesn't walk down any high street or shopping mall in the UK as she will see those very things in the store windows of shops like 'Ann Summers.)

Here, the sex is ice-cold, passionless and cruel: it depicts a world where relationships in any meaningful sense don't exist (hysterical exageration), their place taken by bondage, exploitation and a certain cruelty. But now this already grim content has plumbed new depths.

I'm pleased that Loaded, which once sold half a million copies a week has recorded a 35 per cent drop in circulation and that FHM fell 16 per cent in the same period, but with the loss of sales has come even more demeaning editorial.

This week, I, along with every other woman I know, was shocked to hear that FHM had published a photograph of a topless 14-year-old girl without her consent. The photo had been sent in by her boyfriend. (Yes, because magazines for young women would never show images of topless young men would they? Oh actually they do. Constantly. But thats ok, because they are male. Better not go on holiday to the med Rosie, you might accidentally see some bare breasts on public beaches there too. No doubt you think that any male eye which - even accidentally - catches sight of a young breast, should be poked out, and the man given a life prison sentence).

But what does this say about their relationship? Clearly, unless he was planning to dump her, he thought his actions would meet her approval and that she would be happy to have her body exposed for hordes of randy teenage boys to salivate over.

Equally clearly, his action tells us that he regards sending a snap of his semi-naked girlfriend to a magazine where her body will be ogled by a group of strangers as an entirely acceptable and - no doubt - cool act, one that his peer group will applaud.

That's bad enough, but what was truly shocking was to learn that FHM receives more than 1,000 topless submissions from women every week (and many of them are probably from underage girls (pure speculation)).

The Nuts website has a page called Assess My Breasts, in which readers are invited to rate the breasts and bottoms on display. (Note: must take a look some time)

Nuts shows pictures of readers' girlfriends - not the whole girl, just the breasts with the heads cut off. Every one of these has been sent in by a young woman.

And this forces us to ask the truly difficult question: just how much are women themselves complicit in this exploitative and degrading business?

Many of the magazines have female publishers, one of whom appeared on the Today programme this week with feminist Natasha Walter to discuss the launch of Nuts' new cable TV channel.

The Nuts' executive argued that the women who appeared on the channel (and, by extension, in the magazine) "celebrated" and "respected" women.

Sadly, this woman cannot be described as either young or innocent and this collusion and complicity in the newstyle exploitation of women is both sad and, to me, scary.

Thirty-five years ago this summer, when I co-founded Spare Rib magazine, our goals were so different. We wanted to empower women to become the equal of men in the workplace, the home and the bedroom.

Equal meant just that: a world where neither gender exploited the other. But in order to be taken seriously by men, women needed first to learn to take themselves seriously.

And to a large extent, we did, forging ahead in our careers, excelling in the classroom and carving out our place in the professions. We tried to be the best mums and workers we could be. We tried, above all, to be decent women who respected ourselves (but bashed men incessantly)

Yet, over the years, several things have happened that worry me. One is our increasing fixation on looks and our apparent belief that what we look like determines who we are.

The influence of programmes such as Sex And The City seem to have spread the idea that promiscuous sex is a cool and cultish goal for young women to pursue.

Maybe it was only to be expected that there would be small backlash against some of the more blue-stocking aspects of the women's movement, but the new vogue to re-embrace 'girliness' seems to me to have happened at the expense of equality and credibility.

On social networking websites such as Facebook, teenage girls post pictures of themselves showing their breasts.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out what every young man looking will think: she's available for sex and she wants it. How can that be combined with an attitude of respect and equality? (interesting that you should use Facebook as an example. For one thing, Facebook profiles are not totally open to public viewing. Secondly there are settings on Facebook where you can say what you are looking for. If you are not looking for casual sex, then you can make that clear. But then, why should you be getting your knickers in a twist about girls putting sexually provocative photos of themselves up and then boys thinking that the girl wants sex? Girls don't have a God-given right to confuse men. It isn't key to the survival of our species and civilisation that women be granted the protected right to rub their sexuality in men's faces yet for the men not to get aroused by it, and only see such women as empowered intellectuals)

We've moved so far from the straitlaced days of my youth to today's culture where, sexually, apparently anything goes.

No one - at the risk of looking oldfashioned and stuffy - is willing to stand up and question current behaviour.

I went through a wildly promiscuous phase in my youth - and it left me with nothing but sadness and a sense of waste.

I did it because I thought it made me look cool (and, in truth, I always hoped it might lead to something special). But that sort of sex is merely debasing and dehumanising.

It never leads to anything meaningful.

This current generation of young women who believe they will find any sort of satisfaction, emotional or sexual, through allowing themselves to become the sex objects of young men's fantasies are fueling a sorry state of affairs. (This whole thing about 'sex objects' is highly misleading. Go to any kind of social situation, such as bars and clubs, and you'll find that its the females themselves who are very much in control over which men they grant their attention to. Its not as though they unwillingly yield to sex with any man).

They want to be taken seriously, but, by behaving like this, no one can blame the young men who treat them like sex objects and little else. (If women become completely unpleasant and impossible to deal with, thanks to having a snotty feminist attitude, then don't be surprised if the only time the average man shows an interest in them is for sex).

Finally, I'd like to make 3 more points:

1. A great number of young men start out with a very sweet, romantic view of women. But through bitter experience of how cruel, erratic and calculating many women can be these days when it comes to sexual relationships, such men soon develop a hardened attitude towards women. And it is clearly women themselves who have created this attitude in these men.

2. There is clearly a double standard when it comes to sexually explicit material: stuff for men is seen as bad, stuff for women is seen as good. For example, female strip shows are viewed as somewhat sordid and seedy, male strip shows are viewed as 'fun' and 'empowering women'. Despite the fact that the male audience at female shows is typically quiet and respectful, and the female audiences can be very lewd and disrespectful. Equally, in the UK, (and, I think, the US) there have been a number of mainstream TV shows which have used sexual humiliation of men (often with quite a cruel/nasty tone to it) as a form of entertainment and/or comedy. Yet this kind of thing is always swept under the carpet when it comes to discussions of how the media treats women as 'sex objects'.

3. Lastly, whilst it may appear that there has been a rise in the sexual content of men's magazines in the UK, it must be borne in mind that most newsagent chains (i.e. WH Smiths) now no longer sell explicit porn magazines for men. When these were taken off the shelves, it no doubt created a vacuum which was filled by this new generation of sexy lads magazines. But remember that for all their sexual content, they are not even as explicit as the old porn magazines.


Davout said...

"the new vogue to re-embrace 'girliness' seems to me to have happened at the expense of equality and credibility."

Rosie Boycott seems to have very belatedly discovered that nature layeth the smacketh down on nurture.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the old "women are being exploited" myth so beloved of feminists.

Of course it's no use telling these blinkered morons that there has always been a certain percentage of the female population that has thoroughly enjoyed flaunting their bodies to men, and they have done so down through the ages. Now with the advent of mass communication, the opportunities have grown exponentially, and we are seeing just how big a percentage of the female population is willing to indulge their fantasies and exploit men by posing naked for financial gain and their ten seconds of fame.

That's what concrete heads like Boycott just can't accept. There are plenty of women younger than them, better looking than them, and more willing to indulge in what comes naturally to them: which is not trying to outdo men in the boardroom and science labs, but just getting their kit off and collecting a handful of dosh for doing so.

THE MASTER said...

I agree that men are becoming hardened. What continues to astonish me is the incredible blindness of women. After abusing their feminine power during their youth, they are emotionally devastated when good men won't marry them when their looks are gone.

I have a great question that always leaves them with a "deer in the headlights" look - utterly speechless. I ask, "Well, if you gave everything you have as a woman; your body, your love, your companionship to men who didn't love you, what do you have for a man who really does love you and wants to take care of you?"

At that point, a confused look takes over - and sometimes the realization that they have been monumentally stupid in the way they've run their lives.