This morning, while many coastal and lake-adjacent Americans were still busy recovering from the summer season’s first hearty dose of sun poisoning, gender equality groups and lawyers in the fog-blanketed British Isles (pip, pip, guv’nah!) launched a vigorous campaign to force retailers to comply with the Equality Act of 2010 and stop selling smutty magazines showing images of naked and semi-naked women.
UK Feminista and Object joined forces with 11 lawyers to launch the “Lose the Lads’ Mags” campaign, which they inaugurated with a brief letter in the Guardian explaining that, by continuing to carry magazines with images of naked women, “high-street retailers” may in fact be violating the Equality Act of 2010:
The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign by UK Feminista and Object is calling on high-street retailers to immediately withdraw lads' mags and papers featuring pornographic front covers from their stores. Each one of these stores is a workplace. Displaying these publications in workplaces, and/or requiring staff to handle them in the course of their jobs, may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Similarly, exposing customers to these publications in the process of displaying them is capable of giving rise to breaches of the Equality Act.
High-street retailers are exposing staff and, in some cases, customers to publications whose handling and display may breach equality legislation. Displaying lads' mags and pornographic papers in "mainstream" shops results in the involuntary exposure of staff and, in some cases, customers to pornographic images.
The letter goes on to state that every retailer that carries such magazines is “vulnerable to legal action by staff and, where those publications are visibly on display, by customers,” and that there’s a legal precedent of employees successfully suing retailers for exposing them to objectionable material.
According to the BBC, UK Feminista is particularly concerned with the “sexist attitudes and behavior” stoked by so-called “lads’ magazines,” attitudes that director Kat Banyard said “underpin violence against women.” The push to get magazines objectifying women out of retailers seems to parallel a similar effort in Iceland to restrict access to internet porn, and it’s been met with similar freedom of expression arguments from industry insiders obviously interested in making sure that the public has as much access to their content as possible.
Among the voices of opposition in the “lads’ mags” debate is that of former Loaded and FHM writer Piers Hernu, who offered the following assessment of the “Lose the Lads’ Mags” campaign:
What we have here is a very deeply sinister and disturbing attempt by a group of fundamentalist, fanatical feminists trying to rope in some lawyers in order to bully the supermarkets into removing lads mags' from the shelves by alerting both staff and customers that they may be able to win a court case.
A movement aiming to curtail the rampant objectification of women in the media doesn’t quite qualify as “deeply sinister and disturbing,” but there may be, amid the veiled insults of radicalism hurled at feminist groups, a valid argument that efforts to push body magazines out of retailers is an infringement of freedom of expression. However, magazine publishers who specialize in objectifying the female body (along with internet pornographers in Iceland’s case) aren’t really concerned about anyone’s freedom of expression rights so long as they can keep profiting off of a culture of sexism and physical objectification.
Image via AP, Rafiq Maqbood