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Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Yano — Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Should lads’ mags be banned?

Posted on 1st August, 2013 | filed under Featured, The Big Debate

Various lads mags

The Co-op, one of Britain’s largest magazine retailers, has threatened to ban so-called lads’ mags from its 4,000-plus stores unless publishers put them in sealed modesty bags. Will this protect young children from seeing ‘lewd’, ‘near-pornographic’ images, or is it time to educate boys on the realities of sexual imagery? Piers Townley investigates

The media are always getting a kicking for portraying women in a sexist light, and while magazines and newspapers aren’t solely responsible for objectifying women, they are there, your kids will see them and you will feel a responsibility to educate them on the realities of sexual imagery, as well as sex itself.

The government are quite clear on the matter. Here’s Nick Clegg speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘I’ve got three little sons so I don’t have Page 3 on my kitchen table. But I don’t think it’s for the government to start telling The Sun what they put in. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.’

I’ve had direct experience with lads’ mags, having worked on the most infamous of them all, Loaded. We brought the boob into mainstream magazines in a more immediate sense than ever before. After Loaded I helped start a magazine called Sorted, a kind of mini-Loaded without the sex. We had government praise, teachers were onboard, doctors and health professionals wrote advice columns – but it didn’t sell. Younger readers wanted to be older. Older readers wanted breasts, and knew where to see them.

As dad to a four-year-old boy, I’m acutely aware that my son will one day be exposed to these images and I’ll have to help shape his response. And Martin Daubney edited Loaded for more than seven years but now has a three-year-old son. He admits those heady days are long behind him.

‘There shouldn’t be an age when you discuss it with them, but a time,’ he says. ‘We’d like to think this can be put off until their teens, but a US government report showed boys are entering puberty two years earlier than a decade ago. The unpleasant truth is that we can be talking about boys as young as 10 getting their hands on imagery that to many parents seems distasteful, but is now much more commonplace, especially if your child has older siblings and friends.’

And drawing a line can be difficult. ‘As parents, most of us recognise that banning something, especially something that is not immediately injurious to health, is often a fast track to increasing its appeal,’ says behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings.

There’s another problem. ‘In this day and age, it’s far more likely that young boys will be looking at much harder imagery on the internet,’ says Daubney. ‘All my 15 years’ experience in men’s media tells me that young boys just aren’t paying for sexually explicit content. Why do they need to when they can get it for free, and with no stigma, on the internet?’

‘I was shocked to find pornographic images on my eldest’s phone,’ says Cher Bradshaw, a special needs teacher from Weymouth who has three boys, the eldest of whom is 13. ‘When I confronted him, we talked about how these images are not of everyday girls and that to rely on these images would give him a distorted view of sex and women.’

This experience highlights how easy it is to access these kind of images compared with a generation ago. We had rudey magazines, passed grubbily around the playground and hidden from teachers. And lads’ mags are still an entry point for kids who can’t get their hands on the internet.

Neither Nuts nor Zoo wanted to speak to us, but why should they? They target their magazines at older teens – although everyone can see them on supermarket shelves, for now – and their websites are ‘age restricted’. In the same way I wouldn’t put an adult film on in front of my son, we don’t have lads’ mags lying around. Truth be told, I’ve outgrown them anyway.

‘I did explain that being inquisitive is normal,’ says Bradshaw, who also attended a Speakeasy course for parents (many are being set up nationwide). ‘These conversations were embarrassing for both of us, but as a parent in this climate they are essential.’

Sexual or just sexy images have been around much longer than lads’ mags. The only way to deal with this issue is to be aware of when a child starts to experience it in everyday life and talk about it – and answer any questions they have in a way they will understand, whatever their age. Daubney has his own advice about the nature of this discussion. ‘A far better route is one of respect,’ he says. ‘Men don’t look up to women who take their clothes off for a living as positive role models, and neither should women. Have level-headed answers that demystify it and free the topic of taboos.’

‘It depends on the emotional maturity of your children,’ says Hemmings. ‘Some become more aware than others at a much earlier age. I think it’s generally in puberty or early adolescence, which can be as young as nine in some children, but it’s especially important not to leave it any later than 11, when they transfer to “big” school, and their peer groups and socialisation are likely to change pretty radically and quickly.’

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Should lads’ mags be banned? was posted on 1st August, 2013 by Piers Townley under Featured, The Big Debate

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Piers Townley

About the author: Piers Townley

When Piers was 10, his dad asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He thought about it for three seconds and then stated categorically that I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Thirty one years later and he's been blessed with making journalism a career that has included writing about flying a fighter jet. He's travelled the world writing about ridiculous adventures and interviewing his heroes of cinema, music and popular culture for Loaded, Sorted magazine, teen lifestyle mag Flipside and a host of national publications and international websites. Children never crossed his mind. Then, with a few ‘worthier’ commissions under his belt, including childbirth fatalities in Africa and infant poverty and reportage stories from Nepal and Peru, he found himself in a long-term relationship. Fatherhood came with sheer joy, fear and daily trial by error when Jake was born. Now his younger sister Willow is approaching her second birthday, Jake’s just started school and suddenly his life is complete and full of daily learning. 'Fatherhood is the best experience,' says Piers, 'above and beyond flying the fighter jet.'
  • Patrick

    Banning is the answer to nothing. There will always be a fascination with the opposite sex, whether portrayed in lads’ mags or online. At least with lads’ mags the objectification is one dimensional, just take a look at the Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame to show how the mainstream media objectifies women and you’ll see all sorts of nasty innuendo. Schools need to tackle the problem of Internet pornography through education, and they are woefully behind.

    Interesting article, cheers.

    • http://www.pierstownley.com/ Piers Townley

      The Daily Mail point is a very valid one. So is the campaign to ban Page 3. And so on…
      There is a large amount of hypocrisy when it comes to banning, censorship and the ‘interests of children’.

      • Stephanie Davies-Arai

        There is no campaign to ‘ban’ Page 3, there is a campaign requesting that the editor of the Sun reconsider the feature. It is backed by the Girl Guides, the British Youth Council and the teaching unions NUT, NAHT and ATL, whose members see the real impact of these images in a non age-restricted ‘family’ newspaper, and how they are used to sexually harrass and intimidate girls. Any child can buy the Sun on the way to school, and boys understand instinctively that it demeans and degrades women, and that is how they use it.
        ‘A fascination with sex’ is not the point. Of course boys and girls are both fascinated by sex. The question is, why do we as a society think it’s ok to display women in public, stripped, passive and pouting, as sexual entertainment for men? Men are not represented like this except in adult publications, but there is no outcry about ‘censorship’ when it comes to them.
        When these images of women can be seen in any public space where someone opens a newspaper, and displayed on the covers of lads’ mags in every supermarket and newsagent on the High St, young people get the message that this is the most valued role for women in our society.
        Teenagers may not listen to parents when it comes to matters of sex, and in any case kids learn from experience more than being told something. So parents may say to a teenage girl ‘you are valuable for who you are’ but what she experiences in day to day life is that her society views women as basically sex dolls, with no voice and no sexual needs or desires of her own, but only there to serve men.
        Yes, there is worse on the internet, but the initial understanding that women are objects is established first through the drip-drip of conditioning through these displays of women in public that we no longer even notice. Porn just takes that a step further.