Take a walk around Birmingham city centre streets and you will be greeted by the likes of Spearmint Rhino, Wild Cats, Legs 11… need I go on? Birmingham has more sexual entertainment venues (a.k.a. lap dancing clubs) than anywhere else in Europe. It is the ‘Lap dancing capital of Europe’. I am mortified that the city that is my home, the place where I was born and raised, has been slapped with this title and, fundamentally, the impact that this is having on us as a society.
We only have to walk into our local store for a pint of milk to witness the dehumanisation and sexualisation of girls and women – in full view amongst the ‘men’s health’ and ‘lifestyle’ magazine titles. Only this morning did I need to bring to the attention of the staff of my local supermarket that their so called top shelf magazines were in the line of vision of my 10-year-old daughter. There would be outrage if we allowed our children to view an adult movie or if the adverts between children’s television programmes featured Big Boobed Brunettes or scantily clad women provocatively playing to the camera lens.
The photoshopped, enhanced, plucked, botoxed, tweezed, altered images in lads’ mags are selling superficial warped ideals of women and girls, invading and shaping how we view ourselves. They are acting as a yardstick to measure the worth of other women and girls. They are hijacking everything in their wake, from fashion to literature, force feeding us with a fantasy that does not mirror the realities or is representative of western women in the 21st Century.
Whether it’s lads’ mags, lap dancing clubs, fashion or the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, this sexualisation of women is nothing short of abuse; they all have one overreaching common theme – the mainstreaming of porn.
It begs the question, why are WE allowing this to continue within the public sphere?
We need to take action.
The supermarket I visited with my daughter is the same supermarket chain that banned all customers nationally from wearing pyjamas in their stores, as they thought it was offensive. Yet it is allowing pornographic material to be openly viewed and accessed by children. Is this not offensive? It is complete nonsense. I will continue to frequent this supermarket and point the openly available pornography out to them, and I hasten to add in my P.J.s too! But we all need to do more.
The Women’s Networking Hub, based in Birmingham, is extremely concerned about the sexualisation of girls and young women and the pressure to conform to what amounts to a distorted image of women. We are concerned about the impact this has on girls’ and young women’s self-image and about how conforming to unhealthy and worrying stereotypes results in low self-worth and a lack of confidence. This is a huge issue that needs addressing promptly with direct action, lobbying and campaigning.
Shelve It! is a campaign focusing on one small part of the wider issue – the shelf position of lads’ mags. Anecdotal evidence from Women’s Networking Hub members shows that lads’ mags are very often positioned at the eye level of children. We believe that this contributes to the gendered expectations around the sexual availability of girls and women.
Our campaign idea is not completely new. Mumsnet has a similar campaign nationally and the London-based campaigning group OBJECT has worked tirelessly since 2003 on this issue. However, efforts to campaign for social changes that benefit women are rarely ground-breaking. We believe that it’s only by revisiting specific, unresolved arrangements that denigrate women, and sticking with them until change happens, that we can build a society where women are able to live more comfortably in their own skins.
Shelve It! calls for lads’ mags to be positioned at least 1.75m above the floor (this the considered to be the height of the average man) and/or (but ideally both) screened with modesty covers.
But we need your help. For more information on how to get involved, visit our Get Involved pages.
Shahida Choudhry, founder of Women’s Networking Hub and leader of the Shelve It! campaign.