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

libertarianj Thu 30-May-13 02:04:37

The case regarding harassment from a magazine picture comes across as a bunch of loony left, feminist claptrap. it certainly does, i'd also add the word authoritarian too.

and fair play to the supermarkets for replying back in the way they did.

I don't really care for the magazines in question and think they will probably fade out over time anyway. What i do have an issue with is a small minority of extremists trying to force their morals/ insecurities on everyone else. Also unlike the 'no more page 3' campaign which was to ask the editor nicely, this campaign is far more aggressive and is blackmail.

Sausageeggbacon Thu 30-May-13 06:58:50

Found it interesting that the poll in the Guardian Online saw 37% against the lad mags and 63% for. This in the online paper most likely to get readers that are against the mags. I think we can guess what we would see if polls were run by the Sun.

Personally I agree with the view this is just a stunt by a couple of Rad Fem organisations that have not had column inches in the news for a while.

Tee2072 Thu 30-May-13 07:36:49

I am really struggling with this.

On the one hand, those magazines are awful and I do think we need to protect our children from gratuitous sexual and violent images.

On the other hand, I do agree that it seems stunt like from the RadFem movement, even though MN started this ages ago, MN certainly didn't bring up the legal definition of harassment in their campaign and start threatening law suits.

On the third hand (I'm an octopus grin), I hate censorship of any kind. And this could lead to censorship.

I am not sure why it's a big deal for the shops to move the mag above eye level for children and/or put them behind covers.

DaisyheadMayzie Thu 30-May-13 07:51:56

This reminds me of doing school organised work experience at a WHS warehouse when I was 15. For one day I was working with an older guy, sorting out magazines that had been returned unsold, which included the soft porn. The man asked me if they offended me - perhaps he was being genuine but, as a rather naive teenager, I thought he was being creepy and, not wanting to appear prudish, said no they didn't bother me at all. As I can remember this clearly, I think I was far more bothered than I admitted.

DaffodilAdams Thu 30-May-13 07:53:30

UK Feminista and Object are not "Rad Fem organisations" and the Guardian is not the epitome of sexual equality - CiF anyone? But carry on living in your fantasy world Sausage.

This is about men thinking they have the right to treat women as sexual objects. I was surprised at the 37% you quoted Sausage, higher than I thought it would be given the commonplace culture of female sexual objectification we live in <shrugs>

But of course women, you must remember to ask "nicely" for equality. That way men will see how reasonable you are, realise the error of their ways and just give up their privilege. Oh wait...

God forbid you use the law to be treated equally.

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 08:29:10

"Guardian is not the epitome of sexual equality - CiF anyone?"

I wonder if this is the reason for the right-wingers colonising CIF? They definitely work in an obsessive, organised way - perhaps they deliberately want to misrepresent the thinking on the left for situations like this?

Tee2072 Thu 30-May-13 09:09:52

No one is saying we have to ask nicely for equality.
There has been nothing nice about the campaign against FB and we, so far, have won that one.

But there is also no reason to start threatening lawsuits until and unless all other options have been exhausted.

A few anecdotes about bad responses on the local level is not exhausting all other options.

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 09:26:22

Tee2072 "But there is also no reason to start threatening lawsuits until and unless all other options have been exhausted."

1) Why do you need to exhaust all other avenues first? If you are experiencing harassment, surely it is up to the individual to decide the means by which they want to challenge that harassment?

2) I haven't seen anyone threaten lawsuits so far- but I have seen people told that the law is on their side should they choose that course of action.

3) At what point do you declare all other options have been exhausted? What would you suggest as an alternative that needs exploring that hasn't been?

4) Where is your evidence this avenue hasn't already been taken and failed? What do you think would be the 'last straw' before legal action is appropriate?

Tee2072 Thu 30-May-13 09:51:22

1) Because that's how to be taken seriously and not be looked at like a sue happy loon.

2) Did you read the blog? That's a threat.

3) I have no idea. Didn't say I did. I just hate the automatic cry of 'harassment'. It's as bad as the automatic cry of 'racist' and 'sexist' and 'non-PC'. Fuck that shit.

4) Hard to prove a negative.

As I said in my original post, I'm not even sure this is an issue or just an excuse for certain members of the human race to look for a reason to cry 'harassment.'

Completely agree that porn mags should be binned, but at least they are honest about what they are and generally have the sleeves over the cover to hide images.

I find the grey area that mags like FHM dance around in more offensive? To an extent the covers of mags like FHM are not the problem as such, it's the content. It's been a while since I saw a copy of my brother's FHM, but iirc it's all birds are gagging for it, shag around/ cheat if you can get away from it, objectification from cover to cover. It's that messaging that I have a problem with.

*Away with it

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 11:07:34

"Because that's how to be taken seriously and not be looked at like a sue happy loon."... That isn't a thought-out response. You'll look like 'a ---- happy loon' (fill blank with whatever action) to those who want to silence/bully victims of harassment into keeping quiet.

"Did you read the blog? That's a threat." I suppose it could be seen in that way, but no one is claiming they'll personally take action, its just saying that if people know their rights, it is possible they will take action. The same goes for any employer who has harassing material in the workplace or anyone who provides a service who exposes their customers to harassing materials at the point of access.

"Didn't say I did. I just hate the automatic cry of 'harassment'. It's as bad as the automatic cry of 'racist' and 'sexist' and 'non-PC'. Fuck that shit." cry harassment this can now go in the misogynist bullies lexicon of myths to silence victims of oppression. Along with cry rape... oh yes, and cry racism.... All these meaningless 'cries' eh? And 'non-PC'.... UKIP voter alert shock

Any way, I want to return your point "But there is also no reason to start threatening lawsuits until and unless all other options have been exhausted" which implies you are aware of some alternative or are aware of the fact that little else has been tried and yet to my question At what point do you declare all other options have been exhausted? What would you suggest as an alternative that needs exploring that hasn't been? you replied "I have no idea."

So basically you are sounding off about something you don't know much about right? And saying it is "Hard to prove a negative." is a cop-out - in the blog itself it says "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'" so surely you could follow those links at say what has been missed instead of asserting things without any basis?

"As I said in my original post, I'm not even sure this is an issue or just an excuse for certain members of the human race to look for a reason to cry 'harassment."

What does this even mean?

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 11:42:13

Re reading the original post it cites the handling of the magazine and its cover content as the issue.

Would plain covers solve that aspect?

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 11:54:01

"Re reading the original post it cites the handling of the magazine and its cover content as the issue. Would plain covers solve that aspect?"

I suppose in most cases it would, but then again, what about staff who feel creeped out having to sell wank mags in an ordinary shop? People who work in sex shops know what they are getting into. They are presumably happy handling other people sex aids and interacting with the dirty mac brigade, but working in a general store, I think it could still feel degrading and creepy - so I imagine there might still be grounds for claims of harassment - but probably a lot less likely.

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 12:24:55

I see what you mean but in my local sainsbury I can buy various Durex "accessories" greeting cards with images not too far away from lads mags covers, DVD and CD with racy covers etc etc.

I guess it's how far does it need to extend to satisfy the majority.

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 12:35:01

I guess the other approach would be to establish what is sold in the stores and employ accordingly. So if you object to working with them you don't get the job.

The spirit of the OP could extend so far it's possible to see all kinds of items that could present moral issues. Condoms, meat, baby formula, horror films, racy novels etc etc. the list could be extensive.

libertarianj Thu 30-May-13 12:59:37

radioeggs do you really believe that these magazines are used for that purpose? Surely one would just go for something like Razzle or Mayfair if that was the sole purpose for buying it? It's a just a bit of topless nudity interspersed with reviews and articles and sport etc. I think it's a bit far fetched to brand them as 'jazz mags'

and who's to dictate what a supermarket can or can't sell (as long as it's a legal product which lads mags are?) It's a free market at the end of the day. No one is forcing anyone to work in one and no one is forcing you to shop there.

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 13:34:27

TheFallenNinja I see what you mean but in my local sainsbury I can buy various Durex "accessories" greeting cards with images not too far away from lads mags covers, DVD and CD with racy covers etc etc.

Yes I've noticed that boots have starting selling dildos - I think this is a bit of a trend towards breaking the boundary between 'adult' and 'family-friendly' and I don't think its positive. As far as durex, etc, go - they are a kind of chemist/medical thing aren't they? They protect against diseases and unwanted pregnancy - they aren't for the purpose of getting off.

"I guess the other approach would be to establish what is sold in the stores and employ accordingly. So if you object to working with them you don't get the job"

I agree - but you have to factor in that working in supermarkets/newsagents/petrol stations etc, is not aspirational, so people don't tend to 'choose' to work there, they get the job because that's the job available/convenient (can work around child care/etc). If these mags were just sold in sex shops, then you could more meaningfully 'choose' to work there.

"The spirit of the OP could extend so far it's possible to see all kinds of items that could present moral issues. Condoms, meat, baby formula, horror films, racy novels etc etc. the list could be extensive."
I think the OP is about harassment, not moral issues. But yes, there's a lot to think about when individual dignity and conscience meets with capitalist utilitisation of the workforce. I suppose that's the point of employment rights.

libertarianj "radioeggs do you really believe that these magazines are used for that purpose Surely one would just go for something like Razzle or Mayfair if that was the sole purpose for buying it? It's a just a bit of topless nudity interspersed with reviews and articles and sport etc. I think it's a bit far fetched to brand them as 'jazz mags'" Isn't that the way Playboy was marketed? That's a legitimate 'jazz mag'. If the objectified women presented in such away to allow the viewer total freedom to use the image however he will, was not present - I don't think people would by them. I would say the primary function for the objectified women is for wanking, and the secondary function is for male-bonding/validating masculinity at the expense of the dignity of women. And both of these functions fall into the area of sexual harassment.

"and who's to dictate what a supermarket can or can't sell (as long as it's a legal product which lads mags are?)"
I think there are a lot of forces that do this, for example, you can't buy a slave at the supermarket, or a gun, you can't buy S&M paraphernalia, you can't buy pets... Individuals do not dictate, but if supermarkets listen to their customers, they should be thinking about maximising happiness for the greatest number, and you don't do that by pissing most people off so a tiny minority of young men can get their jazz mags conveniently.

"It's a free market at the end of the day. No one is forcing anyone to work in one and no one is forcing you to shop there."

This is a spurious point. There is not infinite choice going on here. Proximity, accessibility, personal responsibilities, etc have a bearing on what is actually within our viable options.

rosabud Thu 30-May-13 15:13:18

One thing that's interesting is how we often feel, when complaining, that we ought to justify it by mentioning our children, "it's at my 4 year old's height," "it was by the children's comics" etc etc. So frustrating that we don't feel we can simply say, "it offends ME!" Yet another example of how women's opinions are not considered really valid, or how women are only thought of as important in their roles as mothers/wives/daughters etc.

WhentheRed Thu 30-May-13 16:18:45

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

The calling people who don't agree with you a prude thing is a very easy bit of mud to sling and is actually pretty meaningless.

www.thefreedictionary.com/prude

"Word History: Being called a prude is rarely considered a compliment, but if we dig into the history of the word prude, we find that it has a noble past. The change for the worse took place in French. French prude first had a good sense, "wise woman," but apparently a woman could be too wise or, in the eyes of some, too observant of decorum and propriety. Thus prude took on the sense in French that was brought into English along with the word, first recorded in 1704. The French word prude was a shortened form of prude femme (earlier in Old French prode femme), a word modeled on earlier preudomme, "a man of experience and integrity." The second part of this word is, of course, homme, "man." Old French prod, meaning "wise, prudent," is from Vulgar Latin prdis with the same sense. Prdis in turn comes from Late Latin prde, "advantageous," derived from the verb prdesse, "to be good." Despite this history filled with usefulness, profit, wisdom, and integrity, prude has become a term of reproach."

I have not yet tried to bore anyone to death with the dictionary definition of prude! Yet!

When people first suggested that second hand smoke could be harmful I expect they were called the medical/health version of a prude! Now we accept that we don't want to breath in other people's foul smelling smoke in public places. When these magazine are on display for all (young and old) to see, we are effectively allowing people to smoke in public, and even if we do not see them all directly they pollute what people's attitude is towards girls and women. Both the attitude of boys and men and of girls and women themselves.

We do as a society accept censorship in all kinds of areas and in all kinds of ways, so to say that this is a censorship issue is also, I think, not really valid. We censor all kinds of stuff all the time, we have rules in society about what is acceptable in all kinds of situations. Why should it be different in a shop! People may not agree with the actual issue, but to say it is 'censorship' is (I think) not relevant. Is it good or bad, does it help or hinder? Those are the real issues (IMHO).

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 16:53:57

That's very interesting about the origins of 'prude' - basically a good word when associated with men, but when it became associated with women it went through the transmutation by misogyny into an insult!

A bit off topic, but a similar thing happens in other areas too -eg- when more women became doctors the profession lost status and pay.

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 17:21:49

I agree that nobody should be forced to carry out objectionable tasks as a condition of employment but, equally, if that task is a clear condition the employer should be clear about it giving the potential employee the choice whether to accept or not.

FloraFox Thu 30-May-13 17:22:11

Tee didn't you say on another thread that you were 100% against censorship, no exceptions?

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 17:34:38

"I agree that nobody should be forced to carry out objectionable tasks as a condition of employment but, equally, if that task is a clear condition the employer should be clear about it giving the potential employee the choice whether to accept or not."

I'm a little bit confused by this. Are you saying the employer should say "We sell degrading lads mags - if you are offended, we will find ways that you don't have to view or handle them" or are you saying "We sell degrading lads mags - you'll have to view and handle them here as part of your job and if you don't like it, find a job elsewhere"?

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