Danny Dyer helps us join the dots between porn culture and male sexual violence

by Rachel Bell on May 5, 2010

With the furore over Danny Dyer and Zoo, here’s a reminder of how lad mags feed gender violence plus how to pull apart the usual lad mag defenses

While the white men have maneuvered themselves into government with much talk of the economy, men continue to stalk, sexually assault or batter, abuse and rape half of the girls and women in England and Wales. Much of this violence takes place in the home, most of it is carried out on the girls and women these men know – family members, dates, girlfriends and wives. If the party leaders prioritised women, they could save an estimated £40 billion a year – that’s the cost of men’s violence. Will the new government start acting on urgent calls from organisations such as the End Violence against Women Coalition, Object, Eaves and the Fawcett Society who’ve all been joining the dots between the mainstreaming of the sex industry and gender violence? Gender inequality leads women into the sex industry, and the sex industry feeds gender inequality. Will the new government start addressing gender violence as systematic, part of a continuum of women’s lesser value in society, instead of allowing it to be blamed on random acts perpetrated by strangers? Women’s lesser value is perpetuated by the wallpaper of sex object culture. Will the new government start joining the dots? Why not start with lad mags, because it’s not just feminists who have noticed their nastiness.

Zoo magazine has been ‘caught’ promoting its usual message that it’s just so hilarious and ironic to be violent towards women and have even upset one of their readers. Danny Dyer’s advice to a Zoo reader to ‘cut your ex’s face and then no-one will want her’ is one of countless examples in lad mag editorial that trivialize male sexual violence. Human rights group Object have been raising alarm bells about magazines read by teenage boys since 2003. Why? Because they make jokes about domestic violence, rape, trafficking, prostitution, pimping and normalize hardcore pornography, which is, of course, full of rape narratives. Zoo’s Porn Dictionary, published in 2006, guided readers through practices from Bukkake: when a group of men take turns ejaculating on a woman to Gapers: Anal sex with a focus on the recipient’s anus stretched apart, usually with a speculum. Any woman who does not want to model for lad mags or is busy doing things other than sexually objectifying herself is prey for persecution. Nuts labelled Ellen MacArthur a “miserable, sobbing, whining bitch in a boat … basically a frigid-dyke-looking, yachting cunt.”

Thanks to Object, Fawcett and Eaves, laws were changed to end the licensing of lap-dancing clubs like cafes and criminlise the men who buy sex from a person who is exploited. Tackling the lad mag question is simple. Regulate them responsibly. This is not censorship. We legislate against incitement to racial hatred, why not protect girl children and women? Those who publish and work on lad mags will of course, roll out their usual arguments to stop regulation. Lad mag staff like to defend their ‘lifestyle’ magazines with the line that it’s the ‘real girls’ queuing up to get their tits out that drive it. That it’s their choice. Throw in the word ‘choice’ and they feel they can wash their hands of responsibility. It’s no secret that many of the women stripping for lad mags don’t get paid. If women had equal pay, if equal value was placed on traditionally feminine jobs, if they didn’t face discrimination and persecution when they entered male dominated fields and levels of power (look at the vitriol directed at Harriet Harman), if men didn’t hold the lion’s share of political and economic power – and there were 20 women and 4 men on the new cabinet – if society was based around men and women sharing work and family rewards and responsibilities, if sexiness was not the most celebrated achievement for women, then, and only then, would these young women have REAL choices. The women who want to get naked for nothing do so because, without any outstanding talent in entertainment, they know there is no other equivalent that promises the same success. Women are stripping for nothing because porn culture’s purpose is to co-opt their sexualities. For women the pressure is on for sex to be about performance, not personal pleasure. Women are stripping for nothing because porn culture has co-opted the language of feminism. Stripping is liberating and empowering. But porn culture doesn’t like us. Just as it doesn’t like men. It likes money. If these women were making truly liberated and empowered choices, they’d be doing it from a very different place. As Natasha Walter found in her book Living Dolls, even men like Dave Read, head of Neon Management who represent many glamour models, recognise that these so-called choices are fuelled by something much closer to desperation, not liberation.

Lad mags denial that they’re part of the problem by placing all responsibility on women conveniently overlooks the fact that like junior pimps, readers are encouraged to send in topless pics of their girlfriends, while the father pimp picks and chooses the best tits and ass. Many girls who send in pics themselves will be underage. Many boys who look at lad mags will be just learning about sex and what it means to be a man. Editorial content that normalises the use of the sex industry reinforces the view of men as johns and women as sex consumables.

Another defense favoured by lad mags is that it’s all just ‘cheeky seaside postcard’ humour, a line also favoured by the ASA.

“Whip her into shape” says Loaded’s May issue. The article advises readers ‘Don’t fuck her until you’ve fully exploited her’ and ‘[…] treat her like shit- swear at her, whatever. She won’t thank you for it at the time, but when she’s on her own, she’ll fantasise about being treated like that. Remember: no pain, no gain’ Oh and not forgetting, ‘most women get off on being restrained and that feeling when you can’t move, or hear, or see’.

Just look beyond the pseudo-lesbian poses and read the things.

In 2006 a campaign led by Object and Labour MP Claire Curtis-Thomas saw a voluntary code to move lad mags onto higher shelves. Those working on lad mags like to argue that there’s no point trying to put them on the top shelf because anyone can look at porn on the internet anytime, anywhere. Lad mags typically like to distance themselves from pornography. What this defense overlooks is not just that lad mags are routinely as contemptuous of women as top shelf pornography, but that they directly link themselves to hardcore pornography and prostitution through adverts in their back pages. What this defense just doesn’t get is that people have the right to freedom from pornography. And it’s not just women who want to enter a supermarket, newsagent or garage and not be bombarded with it. Many men do. Don’t children deserve freedom from pornography? Certainly the 1 in 3 women on the receiving end of male sexual violence would get a better shot at healing. Statistics show that 66% of young people learn about sex and relationships through the media – isn’t the rise in teen relationship abuse worth considering?

And finally, lad mag defenders love to put down anyone who suggests they are harmful as anti-sex. Unsurprisingly, younger girls and boys who are uncomfortable with them put up with them for fear of being labelled frigid or gay. What lad mag defenders don’t get is that their critics would very much like everyone to be having great sex. What we don’t want is the continued dehumanization of women that survey after survey has shown makes male callousness – and violence – towards them, easier. Lad mags are about as anti-sex as you get. They never promote passion, physical or emotional connection, mutual pleasure…or condoms. Instead, like all porn culture, their message to boys and men is that to feel good about themselves, to be a man, you must feel sexual power over women. And if you don’t want to fuck them, then laugh at or hate them. If those working on lad mags cared about or even liked men, they’d show them how to view women as human beings who can make them feel wonderful if they get treated as such. But in lad mag world, even the men aren’t allowed to be human.

On the last Friday of every month, feminists all over the UK go into shops and put lads’ mags in paper bags with feminist slogans written on them, giving store managers a letter outlining why they’d like them to respect women enough to stop selling them. Go to object.org. uk if you want to join Object’s Feminist Fridays.

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