Guest blog: Lose the lads' mags - or risk legal action

(171 Posts)
JessMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 29-May-13 11:12:44

Brand new legal advice shows that displaying and selling magazines and papers with Page 3-style front cover images can constitute sexual harassment or sex discrimination in the workplace. This means that employees who are exposed to such publications, as well as customers, could take legal action against retailers.

In this guest blog Elizabeth Prochaska, barrister at Matrix Chambers, explains the laws which underpin the latest campaign to rid our shop shelves of lads' mags.

What do you think? Let us have your thoughts on the thread - and if you blog on this issue, don't forget to post your URL. Also, please do share on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

"As you might have seen in the papers this Bank Holiday, campaign groups UK Feminista and Object have launched a new campaign to Lose the Lads' Mags. The campaigners joined forces with a group of lawyers to warn high-street retailers that they risk legal action if they continue to display lads' mags, such as Zoo and Nuts, on their shelves.

As regular Mumsnetters will know, lads' mags have been the target of several high profile campaigns, including Object's Feminist Fridays, Mumsnet's Let Girls be Girls and Shelve It! The Government-commissioned 'Sexualisation of Young People Review' in 2010 found: "a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm. ... Exposure to the sexualised female ideal is linked with lower self-esteem, negative moods and depression in young women and girls."

The evidence shows that lads' mags normalise the objectification of women. As the government review found, they promote attitudes and behaviours that underpin discrimination and violence against women and have a negative impact on the self-esteem and aspirations of women and girls. Extensive research has revealed that viewing media which reduces women to sex objects leads people to become significantly more accepting of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence and rape myths.

Following the Mumsnet campaign, some retailers agreed to put lads' mags on the top shelf so that children are less likely to be exposed to the images. But many retailers continue to display lads' mags prominently and employees of the shops are required to handle the material, regardless of where it is stacked. So what can the law do about it? The law respects the right to publish pornographic magazines and the campaigners are not calling for the magazines to be banned. The campaign is focused on the protection against sexual harassment and discrimination found in the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act consolidated all the UK equality laws, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, in one piece of legislation. It makes sexual harassment by employers unlawful. It also prohibits providers of services, such as newsagents and supermarkets, from harassing their customers. Sexual harassment is defined in section 26(2) of the Equality Act to mean 'unwanted conduct of a sexual nature'. The person's conduct needs to have the effect of violating another person's dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. There is no need for the employer or shopkeeper to intend to degrade or humiliate a person and the subjective perception of the person who feels degraded is taken into account when deciding whether or not the conduct constitutes harassment.

There have been successful legal cases brought by female employees who have felt degraded by their male colleagues viewing pornographic images in the workplace regardless of whether or not the men intended to create an offensive environment. UKFeminista and Object have evidence that customers and shop employees are unhappy being involuntarily exposed to the pornographic images on the front covers of lads' mags. The lawyers supporting the campaign argue that shops that require their employees to handle these magazines and display them on their shelves risk creating a degrading environment that may lead to claims under the Equality Act. If a woman does bring a claim, it will be up to the courts to decide whether she was sexually harassed in the circumstances of her case. In the meantime, retailers will be thinking hard about heeding the call to lose the lads' mags.

You can join the campaign here: www.losetheladsmags.org.uk

Thesebootsweremadeforwalking Wed 29-May-13 19:07:08

Will the unions fund the first claims, do you think? Without some funding I wonder how meaningful this development will be?

Signed the petition. Cover up or remove .

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 19:14:33

This a great way to empower people. Lads mags have been upsetting the many for the benefit of the few for far too long now. smile flowers

MeiMeiMeiMei Wed 29-May-13 19:14:57

I detest having lads mags on display when I'm in our village Co-op (y'know that family friendly store hmm). Do I have any rights under the law to ask them to remove them?

I would suspect many of the mainly female employees don't like these porn mags being there but wouldn't risk losing their minimum wage jobs by complaining to Head Office about it or consulting a lawyer.

TheFallenNinja Wed 29-May-13 19:16:06

I imagine that lads mags are as lawyered up as they need to be, there's lots of advertisers money to play with.

But, I don't believe this can be solved with the simple "threat" of possible legal action. If laws are bring broken lets get it into court and deal with the ruling.

poorbuthappy Wed 29-May-13 19:20:11

Well Morrisons won't give a shiny shit. I complained via their Facebook page and was torn apart by the masses. Morrisons didn't even bother to reply.

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 19:21:19

MeiMeiMeiMei "Do I have any rights under the law to ask them to remove them?"

I think it means you can sue for harassment/sex discrimination.

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 19:23:46

"I imagine that lads mags are as lawyered up as they need to be"
But its not the lads mags being sued - its the shops.

I've asked Tesco metro as mags at my DS head height. They basically told me I was anti press freedom and a prude

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 19:33:31

SauceForTheGander Did you email their complaints or speak to the manager? I'd be interested to know if they have a policy on that sort of thing or if it was the words of one individual.

So why is it that women's magazines use pictures of 'fit' attractive women then? Those magazines are aimed at the female market. Is that not equally 'sexist'?

However I might just find a soapbox and have magazines like 'Mens Health' removed from the shelf. After-all, on the cover is often a topless man showing his rippling washboard stomach.

However. I do think that music in particular is overly 'sexual', especially when the targeted audience is tweenage girls. Though I'm not arguing that case on a 'sexist' ticket, but on a 'decency' and let kids be kids basis.

I'm now going to run for cover! Popcorn ready!! :-)

StephanieDA Wed 29-May-13 19:46:02

This is long overdue. I hate having to run a gauntlet of porn when I'm looking for magazines I want in newsagents or supermarkets.There's enough research now to show that we take in these images at an unconscious level even though we may not consciously notice them, and we know the effects of such conditioning on both girls and boys. It creates a toxic and disempowering environment for young girls, especially the most vulnerable ones.
I wrote a bit about that in this blog: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/stephanie-davies/the-cases-of-lee-rigby-an_b_3342074.html

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 19:55:11

Haplesshacker "So why is it that women's magazines use pictures of 'fit' attractive women then? Those magazines are aimed at the female market. Is that not equally 'sexist'?"

It a case of discrimination/harassment isn't it? If you felt this:

"Sexual harassment is defined in section 26(2) of the Equality Act to mean 'unwanted conduct of a sexual nature'. The person's conduct needs to have the effect of violating another person's dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment."

was caused by women's magazines then I suppose it would apply to them too right?

In my personal experience, although I find women's magazines gratingly patronising and shallow, they've never created a hostile or degrading atmosphere for me in the same oppressive way lads mags have.

* Radio*

I emailed someone in customer services. It was a few years ago and on the bottom of my receipt it said "is there anything we can do to improve" so I thought you know what, I'd rather my son hasn't just asked me why that woman had stars on her (covering up her breasts). So I emailed the address at bottom of receipt saying I didn't think queuing next to the magazines was a nice experience as had to stand next to the Lads Mags with my small DS and could they move the mags / cover them up. I got a reply saying Tesco were not the moral guardians and could not dictate to a free press what they put on their covers. So I replied saying don't ask your customers for their opinions if you're not going to do anything.

I've avoided tescos ever since!

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 20:00:15

That is piss poor sauce

I wasn't that pissed off until I got the reply and then I decided I hated Tesco! I've just searched for the email. I'm
Sure I saved it. ...

TheFallenNinja Wed 29-May-13 20:05:42

Well nobodies being sued are they? Just this threat of possible legal action that may or may not give in very individual cases the required result.

I honestly don't see this going anywhere, most supermarkets are displaying these magazines in specific holders as the law proscribes.

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 20:12:14

"I honestly don't see this going anywhere, most supermarkets are displaying these magazines in specific holders as the law proscribes."

Lidl displays the Star where you queue up at about 8" off of the ground

TheFallenNinja Wed 29-May-13 20:23:37

Just to be clear, I'm not opposing this in any way, I'm not a fan of lads mags but then I'm not a fan of celebrity gossip or lifestyle magazines.

What I am in favour of however is doing things right. Threatening legal action to the supermarkets ultimately threatens the publishers revenues, in this case of course their lawyers will get involved.

This can only be fixed by changing the law.

So to put the sexual harassment, degrading thing into context, for what are essentially women in bikinis on these front covers. Should lingerie shops and there advertising be banned from the high street?

What about the Marks & Spencer Summer adverts that are running on TV at the moment. Girls in see through beach wear and bikinis and swimsuits. Should that be banned as well?

If your hubby or boyfriend, okay lets be PC about this, or your girlfriend, bought some racy underwear for you. Would you feel equally as degraded or objectified. And would you want a court ruling regarding them purchasing this kind of stuff for you ever again. Or would you wear it, feel sexy, and enjoy some rekindled passion? Somehow I doubt it.

I'm all for protecting the children. And on that basis I support your sentiment. However 'lads mags' are often placed high on the shelf where the old 'soft porn' magazines used to be kept. Which have disappeared from all but the 'independent' retailers.

MissStrawberry Wed 29-May-13 20:30:13

Years ago I complained to WHSmith's about their magazine display by the till which was full of topless women, no nipples covered with stars then. Plenty of other places they could have displayed the mags. I don't think I even got a reply.

cocolepew Wed 29-May-13 20:33:33

I think it is a moot point bringing up magazines like Mens Health. Womans health magazines like Top Sante or Zest usually have a fit looking woman in gym kit/shorts on the front but none of these are the same as the lads mags covers.

cocolepew Wed 29-May-13 20:36:14

I complained to Tesco about them being next to comics, nothing was done. In fact the manager looked at me as if I had 2 heads. In Asda after I mentioned they were at eye level to children they were immediately moved to the top shelf. The manager got in touch a few,days later to say they were now behind shields with only the title on show .

radioeggs Wed 29-May-13 20:37:13

Haplesshacker So to put the sexual harassment, degrading thing into context, for what are essentially women in bikinis on these front covers. Should lingerie shops and their advertising be banned from the high street?

confused this isn't about banning is it? Harassment is something that is experienced by individuals.

It is quite possible that lingerie/swimsuit ads could be harassing if they look really porno and demeaning or suggest women are there for the taking.

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