Violence and Lads’ Mags: Lads’ Mags aren’t the Problem – It’s Everything Else

The campaign by UK Feminista and Object to ‘lose the Lad’s Mags’ in supermarkets and newsagents is missing the mark when they claim one of the reasons they should be pulled from shelves is that their content ‘create[s] a conducive context for violence against women’.[1] This distracts attention away from serious feminist projects against gender-based violence. They pick  a straw man in the Lads’ Mags and are based on a narrow understanding of why men use violence against women. Hannah Arendt’s On Violence and Jacqui True’s The Political Economy of Violence Against Women demonstrate how considerations of the causes of violence reveal the shallowness of the campaign in this area.

Arendt writes:  ‘[p]ower and violence are opposites where one rules absolutely, the other is absent’,  for Arendt power is group consent and group action, ‘power is never the property of an individual’. Violence exists where power is waning as a means to retain control. Unlike power, violence can be wielded by an individual, it requires only something with which to implement it. Violence cannot create power – only domination or obedience, a violent strategy for control is susceptible to violence itself. As Arendt noted: ‘It has often been said that impotence breeds violence’.[2]  The campaigners forget the Lads’ Mags are subject to market forces. They have a relationship with consumers, in which there content is moulded by what consumers desire, the desire for its content exists already, at most the Lads Mags may extend the life of norms in society. It is difficult to argue they are a major source of violence.

Jacqui True argues that it is the ‘hegemonic western brand of masculinity’ and ‘social and economic inequalities that make women most vulnerable to violence and abuse in whatever context’.[3] It is not necessarily the norm itself that causes violent behaviour towards women, rather  it is the men who fail to achieve this norm most likely to behave violently.  She provides evidence for this; linking unemployment; ‘equalizing down’ (where equality is gained through a reduction of whoever has more, perhaps a man’s wages being brought down to  the same level as a woman’s); economic crises; perceived loss of identity, control and power of men; and poverty and lack of recreational activities to various forms of violence against women.[4] All of which follow Arendt’s argument: lack of power leads to violence – ‘Impotence breeds violence’.

A 2013 UN study on why some men use violence against women finds victims of childhood violence are commonly perpetrators of violence against women and a large portion of men who use violence against women suffer from depression, work-stress and have suicidal tendencies. Inequality and past childhood experiences are also significant driving factors for violence. They find that a sense of sexual entitlement and controlling behaviour – the attitude that women are subordinate to men are significant contributors.[5] Controlling behaviour follows Arendt’s theory, violence is used as a means of control when a person lacks authority.  This clearly points to harmful norms, which do need to be challenged, but are far larger and from far more complex sources than Lads’ Mags. This highlights the complexity of the issue and how trivial the campaign is. The campaign doesn’t explain high instances of rape in Saudi Arabia for example, where sexual imagery is strictly banned, which is better explained by the above theories.[6]

To claim that the magazines’ content is a source of potential violence is missing the bigger picture: As True puts it, ‘[the way] macroeconomic forces reinforce certain gender identities, structures, and ways of knowing and doing as if they were part of the natural order of things’; and also the way identity crises can lead violence; the way that poverty and economic hardship can lead to violence; the way past histories of violence and victims become perpetrators of violence; and the complexities and multiple sources of norm formation.[7] Perhaps the Lads’ Mags are a minor reflection of this, but the Lads’ Mags campaign is attempting to knock down a straw man at the risk of missing the bigger picture and distracting away from the complexity of the causes of violence and emergence of harmful norms, its other concerns may be legitimate in the campaign, but the link made with an issue as serious as violence is off the mark.


[1] ‘FAQS’, Lose the Lads Mags, accessed on November 25, 2013, http://www.losetheladsmags.org.uk/about/faqs//.

[2] Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World Inc., 1970), 44-56 (parenthesis added).

[3] Jacqui True, The political Economy of Violence Against Women (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), accessed on November 25, 2013, http://www.oxfordscholarship.com.chain.kent.ac.uk/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199755929.001.0001/acprof-9780199755929 , chapter 1, page 3.

[4] Ibid, chapter 3, pp 3-14.

[5] Emma Fulu, et al, Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the United Nations Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific (Bangkok: UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV, 2013), accessed on November 25, 2013, http://asia-pacific.undp.org/content/dam/rbap/docs/Research%20&%20Publications/womens_empowerment/RBAP-Gender-2013-P4P-VAW-Report.pdf, pages 2-6.

[6] ‘The High Rape-Scale in Saudi Arabia’, Woman Stats Project, accessed on 25 November, 2013, http://womanstats.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/the-high-rape-scale-in-saudi-arabia/.

[7] True, chapter 3, page 4.

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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