Do lads’ mags belong in student unions?

Women: not objects

Lads’ mags- what’s the big deal? Well, quite a lot actually. After successfully removing the magazines from the union shop’s shelves, Professor Mark Blagrove, The head of the University of Swansea’s Psychology Department, told the union’s student paper: ‘The University should have higher standards than the outside world. The University should be like BBC 4 and that’s it, and then you suddenly get the worst bits of cable television.’

Whilst I wouldn’t quite describe the issue in those words, Professor Blagrove is correct.

In these sex saturated times, many people don’t find lads’ mags offensive, but that’s because the blatant objectification of women has filtered into our social consciousness. However, just because they’ve existed for as long as you can remember doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question them.

After conducting my own somewhat amateur study into lads’ mags -I spent my hard earned money on a copy of both Nuts and Zoo- I came to the conclusion that they’re soft porn.  All that’s missing are vaginas on show.

A university is an educational institute. Our student union promises to ‘make life better for students’, whilst our university promises to ‘to promote gender equality’. The sale of lads’ mags in the student union directly undermines both of those statements. Whilst these magazines are obviously harmful to women, they’re also seriously detrimental to men, as they advocate tired, restrictive stereotypes. Both women and men are so much more than this.

Putting the images aside, there’s the issue of the content in these magazines. In May this year, perennial laddish  icon Danny Dyer caused an widespread furore when he advised a Zoo reader in his column to “cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her…” –  simultaneously endorsing domestic violence as well as the notion of women as possessions. Dyer cried misquotation, and in a statement, Zoo blamed it on a “regrettable production error” – but there’s no denying that his quote stank of misogyny. Anyone with a social conscience can see that allowing this kind of crass, vulgar attitude towards women in a university’s student union is objectionable in the extreme.

In February, growing calls to move lads’ mags to the top shelf were fuelled by a report commissioned by the Home Office, with the argument that they add to the pornification of the mainstream media. And more recently, human rights group Object have targeted Tesco after the supermarket chain banned customers shopping in their pyjamas on the basis that the sight may ‘cause offense’. Object retaliated by donning pyjamas, creating a conga line through the aisles, chanting anti-sexist slogans and covering up lads’ mags with paper bags that read ‘lads’ mags lie about women’.  I can’t help but agree. These magazines promote the idea of women as nothing more than sexually available objects- always on standby; waxed, primped and preened – legs parted and lips pouting, all for your pleasure. That is a lie.

So yes, lads’ mags should be removed from our university’s shelves. I’ve no place to judge if you’re intent on getting your rocks off, but there’s no place for porn in our student union. Students primarily come to university to be educated. These magazines reinforce and encourage the objectification of women. If student consumers are that desperate for a soft porn fix, they can always leave university premises to find some.

Originally written for Pluto’s debate section.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Chris says:

    I’m a guy and I completely agree with you Reni.

    My issue with Lads Mags is not because I don’t like sexually attractive women. I very much like girls.

    Its that Lad Mags consistently present women and sex in a way that devalues both, where women are treated as objects to be used rather than people to be celebrated. (for me ‘making love’ is about celebrating the other)

    I’ve been examining and reflecting upon ‘lad culture’ for many years now and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is degrading and harmful to both sexes.

    Magazines like Nuts consistantly tell men that they are sex-obsessed brutes incapable of dignified and civilised behaviour. I find this sexist and insulting.

    All of Joseph Stashkos points in the Pluto article would have been perfectly valid if the debate was about whether the government should ban them or whether students should be discplined by UCLan for reading FHM.

    But this wasnt the debate. It was whether a university body, with a commitment to gender equality, should allow such magazines to be sold in their shops.

    All a decision to impliment a ban would do is mean that people who wanted to buy them would have to go to the shop around the corner to do so.

    The benefits of removing them from campus shops would mean the SU would not be condoning sexism, female students would be able to shop without feeling uncomfortable and people with particular religious or moral beliefs can live out those beliefs without being confronted all the time with such images.

    I do not judge those who buy such magazines (As a teenager I had a pile of FHM magazines) or challenge their right to do so. I am simply saying an educational establishment like UCLan should’t be selling them. What would happen if GP’s surgeries started having FHM in their waiting rooms?

  2. Lawrence B. says:

    I’d argue that a sizeable proportion of university students are in their teens — many of those male and reaching a climax (no pun intended) of intrigue and curiosity about sexuality. I think these magazines have a moral responsibility to educate if they’re going to titillate.

    Ironically, magazines like Playboy probably adopt a more responsible approach to the sort of product they’re selling than their softer contemporaries, as there is at least an attempt to portray the women as personalities rather than sex objects (a lesser evil, but an evil all the same you might argue — personally I’d rather a fifteen year old get his kicks from a magazine like Playboy than find them on a decidedly iffy porn site.)

  3. I’d have to dispute that- the youngest you’ll find in a university environment is 18 or 19, and that’ll be first years- it’s not like these young men are 11 or 12 and are just beginning to learn about sex. By that age, a school leaver/first year will have had their fill of sex education from whatever high school they went to.
    These magazines don’t educate, and that’s the point. The education the supply about sex is incredibly questionable.
    Regarding Playboy, the magazine presents its models’ personalities as an offshoot of their appearance. e.g ‘here’s so and so’s massive breasts! She also enjoys bowling and long walks in the park’.

  4. Lawrence B. says:

    I agree completely that these magazines don’t educate, or at least don’t sufficiently educate. But without oversimplifying things, as long as young men have hormones then there will always be a market for those sort of publications. Young men need an outlet for these impulses — unfortunately sexual liberation comes at the cost of a degree of objectification, and while attitudes towards sex are become increasingly progressive, gender equality is moving at a slower rate.

    Looking at the smaller picture for a brief moment, at least magazines like Playboy attempt to appeal to their readership’s desires beyond their basic sexual urges. I agree that it is not perfect, and it may even be disingenuous, but it is at least an attempt — there are far worse alternatives readily available to a new generation of technology-savvy teenagers at the click of a button.

  5. MaxS says:

    Hi Ren. & other readers.

    Lets first remove the sexist element. IM GAY. I read gay lads mags – but with naked men. It’s nothing to do with oppressing a gender.

    I do agree that the models (male and female) are objectified. However, I don’t think this is a particular problem. You have to be a bit of a numbskull to think that because this is how these lads magazines present women – then this is how these men will actually think and treat them (i presume you also believe violent films like SAW promote sadism and torture).

    Chris – this idea of when a male and female come together they “make love” is outdated christian BS. These mags fulfill a void when we can’t get a quick shag. YES a shag is a commodity but i think as students you need to accept this, because you’ve all done it. Commodities (the people) are objectifiable, just like the shopkeeper. a la Sartre.

  6. Chris says:

    “You have to be a bit of a numbskull to think that because this is how these lads magazines present women – then this is how these men will actually think and treat them ”

    Obviously, many (the majority) of men who read FHM won’t mistreat women to the extent of commiting sexual violence but these the magazines do condone and promote sexism. (and sometimes homophobia)

    Logically promoting sexism is likely to increase sexist attitudes, even if only to a small degree. By your logic we shouldnt be concerned about a magazine that glamorises gay bashing, because after all it isnt going to influence anyone to bash gay people.

    “this idea of when a male and female come together they “make love” is outdated christian BS.”

    Firstly I never mentioned male and female. Many LGBT people believe in ‘making love’ too.

    Secondly if you call romantic sex BS then thats very sad. People are free to pursue ‘quick shags’ etc… but I can’t see how sex that doesnt celebrate the others humanity (whether gay or straight) is anything but selfish.

    I personally want to meet my life partner, fall in love and get married. I’m only interested in sex in that context. Not because of some religious guilt complex (although I am Christian) but because love making is sexy and quickies are a turn off.

  7. MaxS says:

    false analogy. a mag that promotes gay bashing is wrong. the articles in it have an immoral direction. a lad mag that has topless women in it is ammoral – it offers no direction. its up to the reader to make his own decision, even if the reader does decide to act sexist then thats his fault and not the magazine.

    and about this ‘humanity sex’ – when you’re beating off at home. do you not think of anything? porn is an absolutely no go? or should I assume you think about a whole scenario starting of with dinner and a deep conversation that celebrates a girls humanity, just so you don’t objectify her.

    yes. sex is selfish. but so is eating.
    naturally you can get a higher sex from this romantic notion. but so can you get haute cuisine 🙂

  8. I’m not too keen on bringing morality into this debate as the word is a philosophical minefield- but lads mags do offer direction- sexist direction. They promote sexist attitudes. If the hypothetical reader closes the magazine and goes off to treat women as objects, the magazine is implicit in this- either through promoting the sexist ideals to a reader who was formerly impartial, or encouraging sexist behaviour in a reader who is already sexist.

  9. Tay says:

    As a gay woman, I’m in unique position- do I enjoy topless girls? Yes; do I like objectified women? No. I know a few girls in the ‘pin up’ and burlesque industry and they love it. They have degrees or other qualifications and are quite smart. However the issue is not whether women enjoy working in this form of sex industry, but the manner a lot them are viewed by others. Readers don’t think “she seems like a nice good looking girl I want to know/date/have sex with” they think- “nice tits/ass”.

    Many young men form their opinions and social out looking Uni, as we all do and the sexist opinions expressed in these magazines help promote the idea that women are here mostly for male sexual pleasure as opposed to their intellectual equals.

    The decision was the right one, if they want a lads mag there’s plenty of places to get one off campus surely? No one is infringing on any rights or attempting to censor them.

  10. MaxS says:


    yes these mags can be seen to show women AND MEN as objects if the reader takes life as face value (in which case all the arts can be shown to be a negative influence!).

    even if you’re going to maintain this position then understand objectifying isn’t immoral! you need to untangle the two.. other people are continually used as a means to an end for a multitude of reasons, sexual gratification is only one of them!

  11. Female objectification isn’t immoral- but it is incredibly limiting.

  12. Tay says:

    I don’t think anyone is making this a moral issue

  13. MaxS says:

    it became a moral issue when people began to use words such as discrimination, sexism, better lives, equality, stereotypes, misogyny — which was pretty much at the start of the article, let alone the proceeding discussion.

    for a definition:

  14. Tay says:

    I’d be a hypocrite to say it’s immoral, I don’t believe in censorship ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it’. They can get those magazines anywhere- a university is not appropriate.
    Don’t condescend to me as if I do not know what ethics and morals are, and just because men are objectified in magazines as well doesn’t make it ok. It’s easy to be an apologist when one as a man still enjoys patriarchal male privilege.

  15. MaxS says:

    so TAY when you see pictures of topless women do you feel like a sexist? do you feel like your objectification of this women is corrupting?

  16. Tay says:

    No because I don’t buy or read those magazines. I get my erotica from sources that do not present women in an objectified manner. It’s not that hard to get erotic images from a place that doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.


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