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

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 17:38:17

To be brutally frank, probably the second.

WhentheRed Thu 30-May-13 17:46:11

TheFallenNinja, in my view sexual harassment is not something to which a person can agree to be subjected. I don't think it can be made a condition of employment to put up with unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. There can be a debate over whether a person views certain behaviour to be unwanted. But if it is unwanted, then it is what it is.

radioeggs, in my view in a large supermarket setting, it should be easy enough to resolve any complaints that the magazines constitute sexual harassment of staff - keep them covered, away from the till and anyone who objects to them need not stack the shelves. There is no need to fire or not hire anyone.

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 17:50:41

Not talking about sexual harassment, I'm talking about handling lads mags which is the subject of the OP. If you go for the job and you are informed that this is one of the legal duties you will be required to do and you object it seems quite simple, don't take the job. I don't want to kill animals so I don't go for jobs in an abattoir.

theboutiquemummy Thu 30-May-13 17:53:53

To be honest I wish UK feminista had just brought the case to court then it would be a clear legal definition that everyone could write into company policy problem solved instead we'll do the trial by media

Tell me are they also asking for magazines with pop stars like beyonce or riri nearly naked flashing their bits n pieces about to also be covered I find these more offending then nuts

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 17:59:57

I suspect they didn't have the financial backing to support it. The people selling this imagery are making zillions of pounds and the consumers are there to buy it.

I would welcome legal clarity but its not the courts place to make law only to examine if its been broken and by who.

WhentheRed Thu 30-May-13 18:02:55

The OP is about whether the presence of lads mags can constitute sexual harassment and what should be done about it. The point is that requiring an employee to handle lads mags (or placing the magazines where the images are fully exposed to staff and customers) may not in fact be legal. That may constitute sexual harassment.

An employer may not be entitled to tell an employee that he or she must put up with sexual harassment. All employers are required to provide work places that are free from sexual harassment.

What the rights and remedies of employers, employees and customers may vary according to the context. In a large supermarket context, it is relatively easy to prevent the sexual harassment caused the presence or handling of lads mags. Indeed in any store where there are more than two people working it should be easy enough to address.

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 18:06:59

What's the current legal definition of sexual harassment. This is a good topic and for my money I'm neither supporting or opposing, it's interesting to see whether that legal definition could fit this situation.

I know it was used to get the topless calendars removed from canteens years back (but this was rapidly replaced with daily sports on the tables)

WhentheRed Thu 30-May-13 18:15:38

From the OP:

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.

The OP position is that the current placement of lads mags and their handling meets the definition of sexual harassment.

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 18:46:23

WhentheRed "In a large supermarket context, it is relatively easy to prevent the sexual harassment caused the presence or handling of lads mags"

In theory - but it is possible that a culture will occur as a result of any measures - eg- the only ones stacking the magazine shelves are the ones who aren't bothered or actually want to stack Lads Mags. Laddish banter begins at magazine shelf-stacking time, comments and in jokes begin, women who feel uncomfortable in the environment are mocked.... Hey presto - an "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" has been created for women in the workplace- ergo harassment.

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 18:55:49

TheFallenNinja "If you go for the job and you are informed that this is one of the legal duties you will be required to do and you object it seems quite simple, don't take the job. I don't want to kill animals so I don't go for jobs in an abattoir."

This is a bit of a poor analogy. It might make sense to say - 'if you don't want to look at/handle objectified women for wanking, don't work in a sex shop' but to say 'if you don't want to look at/handle objectified women for wanking don't work in a supermarket, petrol station, newsagent, post office, or anywhere else that sells it, then you are seriously limiting people choices. There is no reason for objectified women as wank material to be so ubiquitous and normalised. Or I should say no good reason. The actual reason is women's inferior status.

Sausageeggbacon Thu 30-May-13 18:59:33

UK feminista and Object haven't got the money for this and as I said earlier this is just a desire to get themselves back in the press. Make a loud noise and do nothing so it is just a case on making a noise for the sake of making a noise. Unless those who started this get matrix chambers to actually take cases it is just an exercise in reminding people they are out there. So Kat Banyard you going to spend your own money or is this just grandstanding?

WhentheRed Thu 30-May-13 19:02:06

radioeggs, I agree with that. I made a bit of a leap towards the conclusion that the employer would handle the delegation of the handling of the magazines in a sensitive manner which would complete the amelioration, rather than exacerbate the sexual harassment.

FloraFox Thu 30-May-13 19:03:07

So Kat Banyard you going to spend your own money or is this just grandstanding?

hmm or maybe campaigning?

DaffodilAdams Thu 30-May-13 19:05:32

Tee just to clarify, my comment about being 'nice' was directed at libertinej who was definitely implying we all need to play more nicely.

I don't see what is wrong with using the law to assert rights. That's what it is there for.

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 19:07:16

Thanks for taking the time to point out how poor an analogy it is, it's useful to know.

However, the reality, is that employment comes with conditions. You either accept them or you don't, the grounds for this are irrelevant. Your insistence on equating lads mags with masturbation and all the other ills in the world are, whilst I'm sure some part of the problem, aren't really the point.

Justfornowitwilldo Thu 30-May-13 19:17:52

I was sitting in a train station having a coffee a couple of weeks ago. Directly facing the chair was the magazine stand, about three feet away. The cover picture was a young woman wearing knickers and no top who had very large breasts. Each breast was covered (the nipple only) by the hands of the young women standing either side of her wearing underwear.

Why is that on display when I'm sitting having my coffee? It's a busy station (quieter when I was there) where hundreds of people commute to and from London for work. Also, hundreds of school children use it daily. It's a cafe/newsagent, not a teenage boy's bedroom. I don't expect there to be sexualised posters of young women there. That's what those covers are.

Justfornowitwilldo Thu 30-May-13 19:21:44

If you removed the cover page from those magazines and pinned them up in the employee break room, no one (excepting a few special cases on here) would argue that it creates an unpleasant working environment for women. That's been done to death by courts and tribunals. Why is it any different when they're being displayed on shelves rathe than a wall?

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 19:52:00

TheFallenNinja "the reality, is that employment comes with conditions."
Indeed - but having employees also come with conditions, such as not subjecting them to harassment, bullying, etc.

"You either accept them or you don't, the grounds for this are irrelevant."
This is not true. If your employer says to you a condition is 'we only take on people who like to have a laugh' then you find out that they are bullies, the joke is on you and get the sack for not fitting in by participating in your own degradation, then the grounds are completely relevant. Conditions of employment must be reasonable and within employment law.

"Your insistence on equating lads mags with masturbation and all the other ills in the world are, whilst I'm sure some part of the problem, aren't really the point." confused What do you mean? - I don't get this..

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 19:52:57

Which is what I asked earlier, surely a plain cover would satisfy the problem of visibility.

FairPhyllis Thu 30-May-13 20:06:29

Presumably it can be brought to court only when an employee is prepared to stick their neck out for a test case. For someone in a MW job that is not a small thing. But there have been cases on workplace harassment before, so it is only a matter of time and finding the right test case.

I bloody hate these mags - I hate running a gauntlet of pervy men browsing them when I am looking for my magazine - which for some reason is always in the 'male hobbies' section - and I wouldn't be thrilled about having to sell them.

I am baffled by people's refusal to accept that women's feelings on this issue are real or worthy of consideration. I mean, it's almost like in their eyes we're not real people capable of having valid thoughts and feelings!

TheFallenNinja Thu 30-May-13 20:33:13

The problem is made worse by, in my local supermarket anyway, people treating the magazine area as a library.

louisianablue2000 Thu 30-May-13 21:25:55

Can't believe this has just come up, I wrote an email to complain about my local Shell petrol station having a Daily Sport on display at child height outside the service station at the weekend. Awaiting a reply...

libertarianj Thu 30-May-13 21:47:18

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.

Yeah and it's a bit like how the word 'objectify' is used on here a lot. Where as prude is used to insult people who object to page 3, lads mags, porn etc. Objectify is used as an insult to people who support these things. They are both terms that make assumptions on how people should think and disregard individuality.

so for example a typical prude mud sling would be:
' If you don't like porn then you must be a prude who hates sex'

and a typical objectify mud sling would be:
' If you enjoy looking at lads mags then you objectify women and are unable to see them as real people or as equals'

Both are assumptions, both are pretty meaningless...

radioeggs Thu 30-May-13 22:31:18

libertarianj This comparison is silly and doesn't work:
'If you don't like porn then you must be a prude who hates sex'

Porn and sex are two different things. Porn is voyeuristic enjoyment of varying degrees of sexual abuse and exploitation of people you don't know, and often depicts degradation, violence and the eroticisation of inequality, and there are many reasons why a person might be critical of that. Sex is something that can be (and usually is) a private experience and expression of feeling/sensation between people. Calling people anti-sex prudes because they don't like porn is a deliberate ploy to deflect any critique that might expose its dysfunctional nature.

' If you enjoy looking at lads mags then you objectify women and are unable to see them as real people or as equals'

As for this "If you enjoy looking at lads mags then you objectify women" - this is an entirely true statement. Lads mags objectify women and those who enjoy the magazines enjoy objectifying those women. It is a fair point that any man who feels comfortable about objectifying women without consideration of the actual power dynamics at play and the structural inequality that leads them to be in the position to have women's bodies served up on a plate to be appraised and disregarded, probably has difficulty viewing women (in particularly those served up) as real people and equals..... Just look at the way the defenders of lads mags here on this thread so easily disregard the feelings of the women on the matter - that hardly shows them proper respect as full equal people.

FloraFox Thu 30-May-13 23:26:27

Exactly radioeggs

libertarianj the flaw in your comparison is evident in the language:

"if you don't like porn *then you must be a prude who hates sex*"

ie if you don't like A you must hate B

whereas

"if you enjoy looking at lads mags then you objectify women..."

the act of looking at lads mags objectifies women.

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