They're just harmless fun, right? Saturated with sultry images, seductive headlines, and tongue-in-cheek lifestyle guidance, lads' mags have been hailed as every guy's monthly James Bond-esque fix. But new research out of Middlesex University and the University of Surrey suggests that these magazines could be justifying hostile, sexist attitudes, ultimately influencing young men to mirror the attitudes of convicted rapists.
When psychologists presented study participants with descriptions of women that were quoted straight from the men's mags, like FHM and Loaded, as well as comments convicted rapists have made about women in the book The Rapist Files, most could not differentiate the source of the quotes. Here's a taste of what subjects were exposed to:
o "There's a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex... The way they dress, they flaunt themselves."
o "A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy."
o "Filthy talk can be such a turn on for a girl... no one wants to be shagged by a mouse... A few compliments won't do any harm either... 'I bet you want it from behind you dirty whore'..."
Equally disturbing was the fact that male study participants, ages 18 to 46, identified themselves with the language stated by convicted rapists more than that of the magazines. As explained in an upcoming issue of the British Journal of Psychology, researchers actually led the men to believe that the rapists' quotes, like those suggesting that women lead men on or want sex even when they say "no," were drawn from the male magazines.
Investigators further presented men and women, ages 19 to 30, with a list of quotes, asking them to rank them according to how derogatory they were deemed, plus identify the source of the quotes. Both genders rated the men's magazine quotes as somewhat more derogatory, proving themselves a bit savvier in categorizing the quotes by source than by chance. Investigators concluded that lad magazines may normalize hostile sexism, in part, because what's said in a popular press magazine is regarded as more acceptable.
So what now? What is a society to do with magazines that legitimize sexist attitudes and behaviors? Should they be banned altogether or become a "controlled substance"?
Earlier this year, citing concerns about their content, many major gas stations and supermarket chains in the United Kingdom moved lads' mags to the top shelf, some installing modesty boards to hide the front cover. Yet such moves do nothing to stop the impact of such reads on readers. And unless more is done in responsibly depicting women in the media, these mags will continue to indicate that sexism and the portrayal of females as sex object are both okay and totally normal.
Until the lad mag industry does more to regulate its content so that it doesn't support violence against women and gender discrimination, readers need to start boycotting such reads. The public needs to get active in putting pressure on these publications to stop sounding like rapists. Politicians and schools need to be bombarded with calls to support comprehensive sexuality education programs.
Lad magazines should not be a male's primary source of education. But the way sex education currently stands in most countries, they have become a default resource. With young people receiving little formal schooling on human sexuality, let alone navigating its many issues, chances to challenge views that normalize the language of sex offenders are being missed.
Quality sex education, advocacy and awareness are the only surefire ways to enlighten consumers as to the messages they're receiving, and to inspire them to oppose publications that cast women as sex objects.
Follow Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright on Twitter: www.twitter.com/YvonneFulbright