UK Feminista and Object unveiled their latest project earlier this week: telling shops to get rid of lad mags, or it might break equality law, constituting sexual harassment. Now, I’m not particularly convinced by the legal argument, with even the lawyers couching their analysis in “may” rather than “does” constitute sexual harassment or discrimination.
I’m also not particularly convinced by the arguments surrounding objectification of women underpinning it, and have similar reservations to those surrounding the No More Page 3 campaign.
However, I’m late to the party in critiquing Lose the Lad Mags. It looks like others have got there first and made some very good points, so I am going to link to a few things which are worth reading.
All of these cover many of the problems fairly well: that sexism in magazines are not a problem limited to Nuts and Loaded; that objectification arguments are missing the point by focusing solely on image; that lad mags are a symptom of the problem rather than a cause; that banning something isn’t necessarily the best way forward.
I have another quibble to add. The campaigners have made a statement, as have lawyers involved, but there are voices missing: the voices of women who work in shops where lads’ mags are stocked and feel harassed and discriminated against by being forced to handle them. It is their voices which should be front and central in the Lose the Lad Mags campaigns, not those of spokespeople drafting official press releases.
It is their voices, their needs and wants, that matter.
And I suspect my feelings about this campaign would be very different if it weren’t led by lawyers and professional activists. A group of women who work in retail, gathering together to organise against an employment practice that harms them is a different thing entirely to a top-down campaign organised by groups who exist largely to get rid of lad mags. What it feels like here is instrumentalising some possible concerns that workers may have about an employment rights issue, in order to push an agenda. I say “possibly” here because in all the noise, we haven’t heard the voices of workers who may feel harassed here.
There is a world of difference between people who are most troubled by an issue leading on finding a solution, and an edict about how to solve a problem coming from above. Such top-down organisation is inherently paternalistic, smacking of a perception of knowing what is best for those poor little women. Is this really a pressing employment rights issue for women who work in shops? Maybe. We don’t know, because we’re only hearing from activists and lawyers telling us what they think and how they imagine women working in shops should feel.
What this campaign should look like, if it is indeed a major problem affecting workers, is support. These big organisations should not be leading, but quietly providing resources and a microphone, as it is not their battle. This battle belongs to the women workers who feel harassed and discriminated against, who find themselves in already-precarious retail work with little to do. These issues of workers’ rights are all part of the class struggle. Unfortunately, Lose the Lad Mags has not connected these dots, nor has it provided any solutions: I do not see any offers from Lose the Lad Mags to help with legal fees, no guidance in organising in the workplace in different ways which might work better–after all, with the cuts to Legal Aid a lawsuit is something potentially-affected women cannot afford.
And it is sad, because these may be women who need help, yet are being treated as little more than pawns, potential mouthpieces to legitimise the campaign.