Delegates at an education conference were recently told that the front cover of Zoo magazine sums up all that is wrong with Western society. Dr Helen Wright of St Mary’s Calne school in Wiltshire told the The Institute of Development Professionals in Education that the magazine was complicit in prematurely sexualising young people and objectifying women.
“Is this what we want our young people to aim for? Is this what success should mean to them?” she asked.
Dr Wright is not the only person to have shared her unease. Men’s magazines have been making the news over the past few weeks; not because of their insightful journalism or witty editorials but because of the effect they have had on our culture.
Terri White was part of the team that launched Nuts magazine and she recently wrote about her experience for The Guardian. She concluded that, whilst these magazines didn't create our sexualised culture, they responded to it, reinforced it and normalised it.
“We did too much damage” she wrote. “We told a generation of young men that a woman's value lay in the pertness of her breasts and willingness to flash in a public place… we told a generation of young women that it wasn't necessary to get an education or build a career to improve your life. Just be willing to bare your breasts.”
Ms White is not the only former lads’ mag journalist to express her concerns. Loaded is the most notorious of the ‘lads’ mags’ which came to define the ‘lad culture’ of the 90s and noughties. The magazine’s former editor, Martin Daubney, wrote of his concerns over what he had created.
He said that initially endless pictures of topless women seemed like ‘harmless fun, dictated by market forces’ but he ‘never stopped to consider issues like the crass sexualisation of women.’ Looking back he now wonders whether Loaded was, in fact, a gateway to harder pornographic magazines.
“We were normalising soft porn, and in so doing we must have made it more acceptable for young men to dive into the murky waters of harder stuff on the internet. And, for that, I have a haunting sense of regret… maybe Loaded was part of the problem. Was it an ‘enabler’ to young teenage boys who’d consume harder porn later, in the same way dabbling with cannabis might lead to stronger addictions to cocaine or heroin?”
As things stand magazines such as Zoo and Loaded have no age rating and can be bought quite legally by children. Despite their sexually explicit covers there are only voluntary codes governing the way in which they are displayed.
Much progress has already been made to protect children from publications like this – not least last year’s announcement that the UK’s major supermarkets will now be covering up or banishing magazines with sexually explicit covers. However, there is still a long way to go and we look forward to making an impact in the future.