As a woman who has appeared on the cover of Maxim, been in FHM, Loaded, Stuff, and Gear, I am not ashamed of my body. But British “lad mags” have made me think twice about the consequences of gracing their pages with my image.
Last week, Jezebel reported on a study that asked a group of men and women to compare quotes from the UK lad mags FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo with excerpts from interviews with actual convicted rapists originally published in the book The Rapist Files. The results show that it was often impossible to tell the difference between plucky journalism and the words of sociopathic deviants. Yes, this is disheartening. Teeth grinding. Gag-reflex inducing.
In the comments section of the Jezebel piece, there was a particularly insightful reflection: “’Women’ do things, ‘girls’ have things done to them.” The writers of lad mags look at women in a certain way. They are part of an idiomatic genre that denigrates women, reducing women to mere objects with male sexual gratification as their primary focus. Are they in turn conditioning their readers? Is one naturally predisposed to this or does one come to it via social and visual cues? (The same argument has been made for violent video games; does fantasy violence beget actual violence?)
Reading this study I can’t help but think of Nabokov writing Lolita in the same time frame as The Kinsey Reports were revealed. Was Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert born the way he was, or were his sexual proclivities a result of his environment? To me Kinsey seems to be hunting for this same information. Chicken or the egg? Perhaps the answer is both.
What is very clear is these magazines need to take responsibility for the nature of their content. Is this the kind of society we want to support, one where the line is so fine that it is hard to tell the difference between a staff writer and a convicted rapist?
Dear Lad Mags: Do you want to create a public discourse in which men must demean women in order to appreciate them.? The female figure is beautiful and natural. We are neither beings that need to be hidden, put in a corner, or seen merely through the veil as temptress or “hot body.” This image as temptress has been one of the hardest for women to shake. Eve and the apple…we all remember that old chestnut.
Last spring, I was contacted by a very powerful women’s rights group in DC about being the face of their healthcare campaign. The year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act was coming up, which to this day has provided 2.5 million Americans with the ability to get heath insurance. I had written an essay about my battle with liver illness and getting pre-existing insurance coverage via “Obamacare” after I was accidentally dropped from my previous insurance coverage. It seemed my story spoke to them. I spoke a few times on the phone with a woman named Maria and soon we met face to face. It was very exciting to have the trauma I had gone through turned into the ultimate writing in the clouds: Healthcare is desperately needed for all! Maria and I sat at a bar, ate cheese and sipped wine. It wasn’t until over an hour had gone by that she casually asked what “kinds” of movies I had done. It took me about two seconds to understand what she was really asking: had I done porn? The answer is no. I can only guess that this group of female lawyers had done their research, and when my cover of Maxim came up and they saw the quote that was highlighted under my face, “I always play a stripper or a slut,” they put the big scarlet double S on my head. This flippant and demeaning quote, said as a joke to the interviewer, put on the cover under my image, nearly changed the minds of a group of smart, strong, liberal women.
This comment I made, was taken out of context and caused others to judge me. While this was a personal experience, it is not a singular experience. Not just for me, or others who have been in or on the cover of these so called lad mags. Images have power. Words have power. And images with misused words can influence and shift opinion. Publications need to take into account what they are feeding into the universal mind. For we do not know what intention that mind may hold.
Dear Lad Mags: You know not what you do! Or do you? Do you want us to continue to be thought of as lesser than? These quotes, your writers’ thoughts, that are hard to differentiate with criminally sick minds, has nothing to do with the women on your pages. Please do not hurt us. Or make us scared. Or make us feel bad about being women. We want to love our bodies and celebrate the image of Mother, Wife, Sister, Daughter, Aphrodite.
– Jennifer Sky
—Jennifer Sky is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, a student, and believer in magical things. She is the current Editor-in-Chief of 12th Street. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Interview Magazine, The Outlet:Electric Literature, AOL, Scripps Newspapers Group, The Linnet’s Wings, and is forthcoming in short story anthology Love Magick. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter. Or check out JenniferSky.com