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Karen Lumley MP: Banning Lads' Mags is no step forward for women

Karen Lumley is the Member of Parliament for Redditch and sits on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image.

Screen shot 2013-08-16 at 07.20.46I must make clear to begin with that I believe that the way in which ‘lads mags’ market their product is at times crass, crude and unhelpful in portraying the role of women in twenty-first century Britain. UK Feminsta and Object have led the campaign to ban the sale of lads mags, teaming up with lawyers who are arguing that selling them could amount to sexual harassment or sex discrimination.

Banning these magazines, however, is not the solution. Censorship in any form is often a self-defeating route to go down, and rarely does much to tackle the actual root cause of the problem itself.  It also leads us down a dangerous road – if we ban lads mags, then why should we not also consider banning those magazines aimed at women which promote an equally harmful obsession with body image? Why should we not also ban all fatty, harmful food which is damaging the health of our nation? Censorship of one item termed dangerous by some leads to the real possibility of censorship of other products. In our society, freedom of speech will always mean that some disagree. This applies not just to books, but to all aspects of our daily life. It is vital though that in a free society people are given a free choice.

The Ban the Lads Mags campaign rests mainly upon assumptions that almost all workers who are employed within stores are opposed to these magazines.  I would never advocate that a shop worker who may often face long hours and low pay place a magazine on a shelf if he or she feels uncomfortable in doing so, but no-one has ever come to me complaining that this is the case. The campaign also patronisingly assumes that any man who would buy such a product must be a potential rapist, and any women who appears in these magazines must be prostituting themselves for mens’ pleasure.

Placing the magazine on the top shelf away from childrens’ sweets and covering it up, however, is something very different, and a solution which I keenly support. This will ensure young children are not subjected to the increasingly pornographic images of young women.

Whilst I do not doubt the sincerity and good intentions of those who are leading this campaign, it seems to me, none the less,  that it is running very much on its own prejudices and biases in the way that these groups view this issue. I have absolutely no doubt that we must do much more to break down the obsession with body image and improve the way women are viewed in society. As a woman who has fought hard over the years to promote the role of women in senior positions, I have no doubt that there are huge obstacles. There are other ways to do this - ways which tackle the root of the problem itself and do not place at risk the freedom of an individual to make their own choice. 


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