Stop blaming lads-mag sexism on the working classes

Now, as someone who rather enjoys the benefits of employment (eating, a roof, non-death), I know that it is not often wise to criticise one’s employer.

Nevertheless, The Times ran an interview this morning with Seren Haf Gibson, a former glamour model who appeared on the front cover of Nuts, as part of a feature on lads’ mags and the growing disapproval thereof, which I enjoyed enormously, but is full of the fruits of bourgeois exceptionalism.

The article is an attack on the self-objectification of my generation, particularly by its female members. Women have, says Gibson, started to objectify themselves on a “on a day to day basis, via Facebook, via Instagram.”

“Social media is full of girls pouting in shots they have taken themselves — perpetuating the male gaze themselves. It’s that ingrained in us now. If you get rid of lads’ mags – what will it do? Objectifying yourself has become synonymous with our generation.”

Not only does Gibson assume that many women even own enough of their own personal identity to themselves objectify it – they don’t, rich men do – she also reckons that the case for female empowerment has been sold off:

“I was 18 in 2006 – the message was, ‘You are girls and you can do what you want.’ We were the power generation: you can be whoever you want to be, whether that’s a politician or a librarian or a sex worker and it doesn’t matter because at least you’re choosing. Everything you did was ‘empowering’. And now people are saying that was all a masquerade, that that wasn’t an empowering thing to do at all and you’re anti-women and, actually, you’re a victim. This is why it’s jarring. Our generation has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders. We’ve made these choices, they might not be the best choices but now people are going to take those choices away from us.”

But the case for empowerment was always a lie, a panel agenda optimised, sanitised and published by white, straight, middle-class men who wanted to see big tits in magazines but also wanted the option to blame it all on the working class man when someone inevitably noticed that it was all a bit exploitative. Empowerment needs power – and the wealthy aren’t giving it up, especially not to women.

Worringly, Stefanie Marsh, the author, is being utterly complicit in a convenient abortion of responsibility by the well-off: “The culture they [lads’ mags] helped to create can still be seen in towns and cities all around the UK — from the Saturday-night porny perspex heels to the casual DIY sex tapes and still-held hopes for fast fame,” she says. No middle-class activity here. Blame the poor, they don’t know any better. The same game, we ought to remember, sees the working classes blamed by politicians and the press for the welfare bill, or immigrants attacked for the temerity to seeks the means to enjoy life.

After all, Marsh writes, Gibson “has a normal job with normal friends who have normal jobs too: in media, in medicine, in law.” In other words: she is proper. Bourgeois is the norm – and sexism is ‘other’, something for the proletariat, something not ours. Not us in our affluence but those Tesco shoppers in their shit. Do only women who are desperately poor agree to model in the nude for money? It’s hopelessly reductive.

Marsh and Gibson are both right that banning lads’ mags would not solve the problem. Gibson is also right to say that lads’ mags are part of the “old media”, that “the elite have taken it upon themselves to ‘look after’ these poor young boys who are reading it and the poor young girls who are posing in them”. But the privileged, like Gibson (she has a “normal job”, remember?) and Marsh, are using a more than justified feeling of discrimination to discriminate against another group.

And while the treatment of women in capitalist societies is heinous and objectionable (as are the comments of Martin Daubney, the former Loaded editor who said in that article that men – poor, poor (lucky) men – “just don’t know what to do… men are being made to feel ashamed that they find women attractive because they are branded misogynists, perverts, morons or sex pests… it’s a campaign against masculinity”), so too is the treatment, often by the media, of the working classes. And we cannot hope to eradicate the sick way in which we, as a society, treat women until we recognise that all discrimination, by sex, race, class, and so on, comes from the same place.

But of course, if you read The Times, or have a “normal job”, you probably won’t know where that is.