The Top Shelf and beyond April 5, 2006Posted by Winter in censorship, media.
“Thanks to MP Diane Abbott there will be a new voluntary code for newsagents published next week. The code is about the display of goods for sale that contain pornographic images.
The “new code of practice relates also to so-called ‘lads mags’ as well as tabloids and other news publications. It stipulates that these types of publications should be displayed out of sight and reach of children and be separate from children’s titles.”
I have respect for Diane Abbot and I’m pleased to see an MP actually putting some weight behind this issue.
However, I always get jumpy when I see feminists using “protect the children” rhetoric because they often seem to forget how this particular rhetoric is used strategically to oppress and silence people who are identified by conservative political discourse as dangerous sexual dissidents. The Daily Mail, for instance, wages its war against lesbians and gay men by insisting upon the terrible damage that will be done to “the children” if they are educated about homosexuality.
So I would really prefer to leave out protecting children in favour of arguing that the “lads mags” way of representing women and sexuality should be objectionable to adults because it views the bodies of women as little more than tools for male masturbatory practices. I have no problem with masturbation by the way, I take issue with the discourse that constructs male masturbation as a practice which always necessitates the objectification of women.
Moreover, I really think the objection here is as much about adult sensibilities as it is about protecting children; it’s about the fact that many people really do not want to be confronted with this kind of sexual material while shopping for the Radio Times on a Saturday morning. Whatever your view on pornography, I hope we can agree that people should have the right to choose not to have to look at pornographic imagery if they don’t want to do so. The covers of lads mags deprive people of this choice because they can be placed pretty much anywhere and the imagery on the covers is often drawn straight from mainstream hetero male pornography. When we held our pornography discussion we noted that the lads mag cover we looked at was actually more explicit than the cover of the Playboy which at least aimed for an element of discretion – probably in an attempt to differentiate itself from the lads mags because Playboy likes to present itself as “classy.”
That said, I have to admit that I wouldn’t want my children to be on eye level with such material. This is not because I wouldn’t be open with my children about sex, or would deny then access to sexual imagery per see, but because I object to the kind of attitudes to women and sex promulgated in and on the covers of such magazines.
I don’t know whether this code will make much difference if it’s only voluntary, but Diane Abbott wants to push for compulsion. Such compulsion will risk making “lads mags” appear even cooler (insofar as they have come to signify resistance to adult moral authority) to young people, than they already do. Perhaps that’s a risk worth taking.
But I think the really important thing to keep in mind is that feminist action in this area must not be confined to pushing for more censorship, which ultimately only sweeps the problem under the carpet or onto the top shelf.
Perhaps what we have to say is while our society continues to demonstrate such miserable, narrow and damaging attitudes to women, sex and sexuality we do need push for controls to try and protect people from this kind of imagery. In the long run, we need to be fighting to change such attitudes on a much more fundamental level.