When the news of Nuts’ imminent closure first hit the nationals I welcomed it, seeing it as a positive step forward for feminist activism. I can still find little cause to mourn the passing of the publication, which to me has always appeared to objectify women rather than provide an empowering platform for models to exercise independent choice.
I always supported the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign, because of the belief that these magazines do more harm than good to feminism. By objectifying women and propagating sexist attitudes, these magazines certainly risk lowering female status and pave the way for a culture of disrespect and violence towards women. One need only consider the Plush assault on Teddy Hall student Jeanne Ryan at the end of Hilary Term to see that violent misogyny is very much alive and well – even at our university. It could only be the normalised view of women as sex objects that would prompt a man to grope a female stranger in a club and respond so angrily when she didn’t welcome his advances with open arms.
I also never found the argument that lads’ mags celebrate the female body, thereby awarding women status, convincing. There is a clear double standard between topless men on covers and completely naked women poised with a seductive ‘come hither’ glint in her eyes – but what really gets me is that this sexualisation of the female body is overtly heterosexual. Surely if glamour modelling celebrates the beauty of the female form, there would be no need to tailor these magazines solely towards men, excluding lesbian women from the target readership.
The lack of respect these magazines have for women is obvious when one considers how they responded to the requests for ‘modesty bags’ to hide their front covers. Publications like Nuts ignored overarching public opinion, preferring to be pulled from high street retailers than to respect the wishes of ordinary women made uncomfortable by their covers. How can it be argued that these magazines empower women when they ignore the complaints of the people they are supposedly celebrating? Not to mention the argument that exposing staff and customers to explicit covers can legally constitute sexual harassment and discrimination.
Regardless of any feminist outlet that models argue these publications award them, I cannot regret the passing of a publication which so flagrantly ignores concerns that their content objectifies women and is potentially damaging. But while I am relieved that one less publication containing pornographic material will be sold in everyday spaces – an act which normalises this sexualisation of women – I still cannot argue that Nuts closing is a win for feminism, simply because of the reason for its closure.
The BBC reported that the readership of lads’ mags like Nuts, Zoo and Front decreased by more than seventy per cent over the last eight years. By the latter half of 2013, Nuts’ sprint run had fallen to nearly a sixth of its peak circulation. The general consensus is that Nuts is facing closure due to the proliferation of internet pornography, rather than changing ideology prompting a decline in sales. The stats certainly support this line of thinking as according to Websense, the number of porn sites rose from 88,000 to nearly 1.6 million in a four year period.
The appeal of these videos are obvious – where readers of lads’ mags are limited to photographs of posing models, viewers of online videos have a limitless supply of hardcore pornography for absolutely nothing. Videos such as ‘Fill the gagging bitch with cock’ and ‘Pornstar Nicki Hunter rammed in all holes’ are likely to provide sexual pleasure but quite clearly perpetuate the misogynist ideology that concerns critics of lads’ mags.
It is true that the models in lads’ mags may be at risk of exploitation – particularly if they are not as reputed as figures like Jodie Marsh who have the influence to dictate what they are comfortable doing. But the women in videos on Redtube may have been filmed without their knowledge or have been coerced into participating – or the video could have been leaked without their consent. This explicit content not only encourages a sexualised and objectified view of women, but on occasion will even display violent or sadistic actions; eighty-eight per cent of scenes in porn films contain acts of physical aggression, according to Covenant Eyes.
The content of these videos certainly has the potential to do more harm than can be ever claimed of lads’ mags – without necessarily providing the formal employment which will be lost with the closure of magazines like Nuts. Women who happily posed for these publications as an empowered act or to further their careers (as many actresses have done) cannot benefit from the porn industry in the same way. The internet porn industry cannot be contained in the way that lads’ mags can; behind a modesty bag, these publications cannot normalize the over sexualisation of women to anyone other than the paying reader. Internet porn is accessible to men, women and children of all ages and is untraceable – with a few clicks all browsing history is gone forever. Parents may not ever realise what their children are being exposed to until the damage has already been done.
The social and economic costs are significant even if one argues that Nuts closing is for the greater good. While I’d be happy to see the back of lads’ mags, these publications at their worst are certainly the lesser of two evils.