Get your tits out for the lads!

Decca Aitkenhead has an opinion piece in The Guardian today about female complicity in lads’ mag culture.

The Nuts website, for example, features a page called Assess My Breasts, inviting men to study photos of naked breasts and rank them – which doesn’t seem particularly respectful. But the thousands of images have been uploaded by ordinary women – “entirely voluntarily”, for free, as the spokeswoman took pleasure pointing out. Without these willing armies of female volunteers, there would be no breasts for any readers of Nuts to assess – or any of the “Real Girls!” beloved of porn shoots, and no “High Street Honeys” for FHM porn scouts to find.

“A lot of young women feel very angry” about lad mag culture, Walter still insisted – but the evidence is, regrettably, against her. Circulation figures for lad mags have actually been plummeting; fewer and fewer men are buying them, and the genre’s bubble is widely believed to have burst. More and more women, however, are giving every impression that they would consider it a compliment – indeed a triumph – to be objectified in the manner of a cover girl.

Here’s a theory: lad’s mag models, like virtually all female representations in the media, conform to a high and largely unattainable standard of female beauty. Therefore, natural competitive instinct ensures that many women will find it flattering to be considered attractive in this way. If those pouting, vacant, silicone-enhanced models are lauded as the sexiest women on the planet, it’s natural that some women will aspire to be like them, even if it means doing things with which they may be uncomfortable. These women who send topless photos of themselves to lads’ mags are seeking reassurance that they are fuckable.

It is no wonder a lot of men now genuinely believe that women want to be treated as sex objects. Who could blame them when so many of us have internalised an exhibitionistic ideal of our own objectification? You could argue, I suppose, that women who put headless photos of their naked torsos on to the internet are still suffering the legacy of millennia of male sexual oppression. But there must come a point where it is simply implausible to keep blaming men.

It’s easier to go along with lad culture and get your tits out than it is to say, “Actually, I think this is a pile of misogynistic claptrap and I want no part in it.” A woman who rejects lad culture is derided as a frigid cow with no sense of fun. If male approval is important to women, and if the most effective way of gaining approval is to get one’s tits out, then a lot of women are going to get their tits out.

Although this is a well-written, interesting and courageous article, it’s a pity that as in a lot of feminist critique of pornography, there is an underlying assumption that representations of female sexuality = evil sexist objectification. It’s worth keeping in mind that sex is not inherently degrading, and that if the vast majority of pornography wasn’t so vile and objectionable in its content we wouldn’t have to get our knickers in such a twist about it.

It’s not all bad though. As Aitkinhead points out, circulation of lads’ mags has been nosediving recently (although she does not mention how much that has to do with the availability of porn on the internet). Women might be complicit in lads’ mag culture, but it’s men who have the power to stop it by voting with their wallets and refusing to consume such trash.

Photo by jonnybaker shared under a Creative Commons license