There’s been a bit of brouhaha in the press today about The Co-Op issuing an ultimatum to so-called “lad’s mags” to cover up their front pages with sealed modesty bags or to be taken off sale in its 4000 stores. They have six weeks to comply.
It’s about bloody time. I remember, as a child commuting to school, being faced with what were benignly known as girlie magazines at several points in my journey. The sweetshop next to the bus stop. The news stands in the station. The petrol station forecourt I used to cut through. Then of course sitting on the train in my convent school uniform while men sat ogling page 3 of The Sun, or reading a porn mag hidden inside their newspapers. I’m serious. Nobody gave a toss about how it made women or children – particularly female children – feel, being exposed to the overt message that as a female, you were good for one thing and one thing only.
It made me feel frightened, and vulnerable, and worried about my future. It made me feel like a potential victim without knowing why. It made me look at the ground and walk past quickly when I was barely 11 years old.
I have two brothers, both older than me, who went to all-boys schools, and boasted about the availability of porn and brought it home in their sports bags regularly and sat in their bedrooms with their friends and pored over it.
All this was back in the 1970s of course, and if I found it threatening then, god only knows how girls feel about it now that it has turned into a tidal wave of truly shocking material. As a mother of daughters, both in their twenties now, I have done my level best to raise them with a strong sense of self-worth. I hope they see pornography for what it is – a cheap, instantly-available thrill for men to get off on because they lack the skills or imagination to create a fulfilling relationship.
If a person wants to enjoy porn in private then good luck to them. None of my business. None of anybody’s business I guess, provided it’s legal and nobody has been harmed in its making, which is another subject entirely. (Is there really such a thing as victimless porn? Discuss.) But I completely object to its presence in places where innocent children and people who do NOT want to be confronted by overtly sexualised images, (usually of women of course), are unable to avoid it. I don’t want children to be faced with lip-glossed models, tongues hanging out, groping their plastic breasts, while they queue up with their mothers to pay for loaf of bread and a pint of milk. I think it’s wrong.
I’ve noticed a lot of objections popping up to this news story, and to others in a similar vein. The objections are more often than not posted by men, declaring things like censorship and nanny state. I saw an absolute corker this morning that said if magazines like Loaded and Nuts have to cover up, then women should have to cover up too. In other words – if we expect a modesty sleeve on a magazine, then we should expect all women to wear burkas. And I quote: “The next logical step is that if women should be covered up in photographs, that they should be covered in real life (hard to argue with that).” Really?
The defenders of porn, and by that I mean the ones who see nothing wrong with it being displayed and sold alongside sandwiches and Coca-cola, the ones who say it’s fine for it to be piped into our homes 24 hours a day through any electronic device, the ones who claim that it is empowering for the women whose images they feature… you know what I say to those people? I say you should look at those pictures again and imagine it’s your mother, or your sister, or your daughter, or a girl who went missing, or another who is being abused right now, this very moment, by someone in a position of trust. I say you should hold those pictures up and stand on a street corner with a placard around your neck saying “Porn Is Great!” while I stand behind you with a photograph of that bastard Mark Bridger who murdered five-year-old April Jones after subjecting her to god only knows what – a sustained sexual attack – before burning her body in his own house.
You’re a consenting adult wanting to masturbate to photographs of unavailable, unattainable women? Go right ahead. But don’t go thinking that it’s all good old harmless adult fun. It’s not. You want your sons to shut themselves in their bedrooms and do the same thing while downloading mind-bendingly sick images on their phones? You want them to think that this is what sex and relationships is about? You want your daughters to think that that is how they have to behave to attract a boyfriend? That this is an essential part of their value as a human being? Porn has leaked into western everyday culture in the most damaging of ways.
Cover it up. Block it from our homes unless it has been specifically requested. See it for exactly what it is, and for those who don’t want to see it, make it a criminal offence to force it upon them.
In the few minutes since writing the above, my attention has been drawn to an article on jezebel.com, entitled “Can You Tell The Difference Between A Men’s Magazine and a Rapist?”
According to a new study, people can’t tell the difference between quotes from British “lad mags” and interviews with convicted rapists. And given the choice, men are actually more likely to agree with the rapists.
A few hours later, another writer friend pointed me towards this insightful article by Archie Bland, writing for The Independent on Sunday.