Well, this is upsetting. According to a new study, people can't tell the difference between quotes from British "lad mags" and interviews with convicted rapists. And given the choice, men are actually more likely to agree with the rapists.
The University of Surrey reports on the study (conducted jointly with researchers at Middlesex University), to be published in the British Journal of Psychology. Researchers gave a group of men and women quotes from the British lad mags FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo, as well as excerpts from interviews with actual convicted rapists originally published in the book The Rapist Files. The participants couldn't reliably identify which statements came from magazines and which from rapists — what's more, they rated the magazine quotes as slightly more derogatory than the statements made by men serving time for raping women. The researchers also showed both sets of quotes to a separate group of men — the men were more likely to identify with the rapists' statements than the lad mag excerpts. The only slightly bright spot in the study: when researchers randomly (and sometimes incorrectly) labelled the quotes as coming from either rapists or magazines, the men were more likely to identify with the ones allegedly drawn from mags. At least they didn't want to agree with rapists.
Still, the results as a whole are pretty disturbing. Says lead study author Dr. Miranda Horvath, "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." Her co-author Dr. Peter Hegarty adds,
There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalises the treatment of women as sexual objects. 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?
Many of the rapists quoted in the study talked about coercing women or having sex with them even though they were initially unwilling. However, so did the lad mags. Horvath says, "Rapists try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no, and there is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads' mag could have come from a convicted rapist." A lot of these stereotypes — that women say no when they really mean yes, or are "asking for it" by going out with a man or wearing a short skirt — have indeed been normalized, and it's sad but not surprising that they appear in a lot of lad mags. Defenders of such statements like to frame them as innocent, or even helpful, observations. But perhaps the news that they sound just like rapists will make people — and magazines — rethink their words.
Middlesex University generously provided us with a copy of the quotes the researchers used. See if you can tell the difference between the rapists and the lad mags:
1. There's a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.
2. Some girls walk around in short-shorts . . . showing their body off . . . It just starts a man thinking that if he gets something like that, what can he do with it?
3. A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy.
4. Mascara running down the cheeks means they've just been crying, and it was probably your fault . . . but you can cheer up the miserable beauty with a bit of the old in and out.
5. What burns me up sometimes about girls is dick-teasers. They lead a man on and then shut him off right there.
6. Filthy talk can be such a turn on for a girl . . . no one wants to be shagged by a mouse . . . A few compliments won't do any harm either . . . ‘I bet you want it from behind you dirty whore' . . .
7. You know girls in general are all right. But some of them are bitches . . . The bitches are the type that . . . need to have it stuffed to them hard and heavy.
8. Escorts . . . they know exactly how to turn a man on. I've given up on girlfriends. They don't know how to satisfy me, but escorts do.
9. You'll find most girls will be reluctant about going to bed with somebody or crawling in the back seat of a car . . . But you can usually seduce them, and they'll do it willingly.
10. There's nothing quite like a woman standing in the dock accused of murder in a sex game gone wrong . . . The possibility of murder does bring a certain frisson to the bedroom.
11. Girls ask for it by wearing these mini-skirts and hotpants . . . they're just displaying their body . . . Whether they realise it or not they're saying, ‘Hey, I've got a beautiful body, and it's yours if you want it.'
12. You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.
13. Some women are domineering, but I think it's more or less the man who should put his foot down. The man is supposed to be the man. If he acts the man, the woman won't be domineering.
14. I think if a law is passed, there should be a dress code . . . When girls dress in those short skirts and things like that, they're just asking for it.
15. Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim.
16. I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them.
Are Sex Offenders And Lads' Mags Using The Same Language? [University of Surrey]
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