Friday, 9 December 2011

Boobs and banter, or dangerous drivel?

As a girl, I find it hard to avoid making eye-to-boob contact when I see lads’ mags in the local newsagent’s, so I can only imagine what it must be like for a hormonal male. You might think me prudish, but I don’t think the likes of Nuts, Loaded, Zoo and FHM should be placed within arm’s reach of our kids.

And it seems I’m not the only one. In February, a number of supermarket chains and petrol stations agreed to place lads’ mags on the top shelf and some even introduced modesty covers.

But it seems children aren’t the only people at risk from their content. What impact are these ‘soft-porn’ magazines having on their target audience (teenage boys and men)? And how do they affect men’s attitudes towards women, sexual abuse and domestic violence?

This may sound a little far-fetched, but a new study from psychologists at Middlesex University and the University of Surrey suggest lads’ mags could be legitimising and propagating hostile, sexist attitudes.

Psychologists presented men aged 18-46 with a range of statements, some taken from magazines and some from convicted rapists. The sources were only disclosed in certain cases.

When presented with descriptions of women taken from lads’ mags, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most who took part in the study could not distinguish the source of the quotes.

Most men who took part identified themselves more with the language expressed by the convicted rapists. When told which quotes were from lads’ mag, they identified more with these, despite the fact some were actually taken from rapists. 

In a separate study, the researchers found that both men and women rated the quotes from lads’ mags as more derogatory than those from the rapists.

Dr Miranda Horvath, lead researcher at Middlesex University, said: “We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists’ quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimisation strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated.”

Dr Peter Hegarty, from the University of Surrey’s Psychology Department, added: “We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?”

Experts are calling for magazine editors to moderate the content of their magazines more effectively. Anna van Heeswijk, campaigns manager for human rights campaign group OBJECT, said: "This crucial and chilling piece of research lays bare the hateful messages which seep out of lads' mags and indoctrinate young men's attitudes towards women and girls.

“When the content of magazines aimed at teenage boys mirrors the attitudes of convicted rapists, alarm bells must ring.

“If we are serious about wanting an end to discrimination and violence against women and girls, we must tackle the associated attitudes and behaviours. This means tackling the publications which peddle them.”

What do you think? Are lads’ mags just a bit of cheeky fun? Or could they be doing real harm? Do you or someone close to you buy them?

You’ll have to excuse the shameless plug, but if you’re looking for a wholesome men’s magazine that is packed full of interesting interviews, reviews, sports news and practical lifestyle tips, why not give Sorted a try?

(Lads’ mag quotes were taken from FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo. Rapist quotes were taken from verbatim interview transcripts in The Rapist Files: Interviews With Convicted Rapists (Sussman & Bordwell).)

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