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The Top Shelf and beyond April 5, 2006

Posted by Winter in censorship, media.

Via Yclepta.

“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.



1. Lina - April 6, 2006

Agree with what you’re saying about the ‘protect the children’ rhetoric it’s used with new religious movements too. It’s the one ting that gets everybody concerned; everyone (well, not everyone obviously) feels a great duty to protect the weak and innocent – we see this practically every summer when a child goes missing, and think how many people say they would give the death penalty to paedophiles when they wouldn’t normally to any other criminal.
There are some groups, I’m thinking of The Family (formerly Children of God) who met this kind of accusation in the 80s and 90s: they were considered dangerous because of child abuse (one never really gets to hear about the fact that as a group they were cleared!). It’s the best way of controlling and regulating groups, but particularly I think wider society: drawing a line between the normal ‘us’ and the deviant ‘them’. So yes, never surprises me when the apoplectic Mail starts on about the damage being done to children by lesbian parents!
Anyway, yes, agree with this post, going to stop hijacking your comments!

2. Winter - April 6, 2006

It’s a difficult issue because it is important to allow people abd children protection from material they don’t want to view. But I don’t want to cosy up to the right on any level!! That contains a risk of seriously compromising oneself I think.

3. Louise Whittle - April 6, 2006

What I find offensive is those bloody horrible adverts for Nuts or Zoo (can’t remember which)on the telly.
The voice over supplied by Johnny “lad” Vaughan says …”Women! Don’t expect help on a Thursday…! And you get some “helpless” woman having problems opening the garage or wiring a plug. I find those adverts more offensive than the sodding mags as they are likely to have a mass audience as opposed to men who flick through or buy these mags. The political message behind these ads reinforce sexist stereotypes.

I agree with what you say about censorship as it always seems so simplistic and in may cases, wrong. I just remember many pro-censorship feminists in the 80s lining up with the vile right-wing in States. Nothing good will come of it when you makes alliances with these people as liberation and the empowerment of women are far from their minds. Their agenda is pushing women back in the home. That is their ideology.


4. Naiades - April 6, 2006

I agree that the use of the child rhetoric is problematic, but she may just be using it as an angle to push through a relatively unpopular idea. I mean really, it is the only angle that people can’t just brush off saying, ‘ohh, you feminists have no sense of humour, it’s just a bit of fun, my girlfriend doesn’t find it offensive.’

The ‘For the sake of the children’ argument is a particularly effective, and when used with prejudice, a particularly pernicious one.

5. Winter - April 6, 2006

You’re probably right R., and I guess this opens a much bigger discussion about the strategic use of certain rhetorical moves to make points or get our feminist way. I think there’s always risk involved, but I also see your point about persuasion.

The one that really makes my blood run cold is the “nature” argument and occasionally you see feminists using it. The other day I was in the library and picked up a feminist book about pornography. I can’t remember the exact quote, but inside the front cover it said something like “Pornography: Culture’s revenge against nature.”

I dropped that book so fast it might as well have been red hot. She might make some good arguments in the book, for all I know, but I couldn’t face finding out.

“Nature” – that word is never ever neutral and has been used to oppress so many people, in so many ways, throughout history. i.e the insistence that black people are naturally inferior to white people, women are naturally inferior to men, non-heterosexual people are unnatural bringers of death and disease, gender variant people are unnatural etc etc.

In my view, we cannot afford to be arguing that things are good or bad on the basis of “nature.” After all, “nature” is as much a cultural construct as anything else.

This is turning into a whole new post here, but I suppose it’s coming back to an old “using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house” question.

6. Naiades - April 6, 2006

I think the nature argument is, as you say, pretty much always used with prejudice, unless you are David Attenbourough.

The problem with it is that people often say something is unnatural. Well so is having a heart or kindney transplant, using shampoo, watching TV. If you want to be extreme about it, then we should all still be hunting and gathering, and living in caves. Which we arn’t so I think we should probably drop those kind of arguments!!

lets leave the Nature to David, who does do very good nature programs.

7. Winter - April 6, 2006

Well I do think there are people who use the “protect the children” argument quite straightforwardly – they just honestly do think children should be protected from things such as lads mags covers.

But nature is a no no as far as I’m concerned.

Oh yes, and I also agree with Louise that those Zoo/Nuts (?) adverts are draw droppingly offensive.

8. Anonymous - April 10, 2006

More bossiness from the bossiest government I can remember. I’d have no objection to my children seeing that cover.

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