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are men’s magazines fostering rapist attitudes towards women?

Men’s magazines aren’t generally known for fostering positive attitudes towards women, if at all. However, a recent study conducted by psychologists in the UK has revealed that most participants in the study could not readily distinguish comments made in popular men’s magazines from quotes from interviews with convicted rapists.

Men between the ages of 18 and 46 were presented with quotes from four popular men’s magazines – FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo – and those from the book, The Rapist Files: Interviews With Convicted Rapists by Sussman & Bordwell. The men in the study were given different information about the source of the quotes, and it was found that men more readily identified with opinions made by rapists and only changed their answer once the source was revealed.

Additionally, men and women in a separate group were given quotes from both sources to determine how derogatory they were. The quotes from the men’s magazines were deemed slightly more derogatory and the sources could not quickly be identified. Dr Horvath, lead researcher from Middlesex University, said: ‘We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists’ quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimisation strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated’.

But what does it this all mean? The widespread nature of “lads’ magazines” has raised major concerns about the implications of the study. Dr Horvath and Dr Peter Hegarty argue that the results show that mainstream men’s magazines may perpetuate and normalise hostile sexism by presenting in them in a readily accessible magazine format.

‘There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalises the treatment of women as sexual objects,’ Dr Hegarty, member of the University of Surrey’s Psychology Department said. ‘We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?’

Which leads to the question, are the journalist’s of these magazines perpetuating sexist attitudes towards women, or are they simply responding to demand?

Based on the implications of the study, Dr. Horvath agreed there should be more of an onus on magazine editors to try and regulate their content: ‘A lot of debate around the regulation of lads’ mags has been to do with how they affect children but less has been said about the influence they have on their intended audience of young men and the women with whom those men socialise,’ she said. ‘These magazines support the legitimisation of sexist attitudes and behaviours and need to be more responsible about their portrayal of women, both in words and images. They give the appearance that sexism is acceptable and normal – when really it should be rejected and challenged.

‘Rapists try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no, and there is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads’ mag could have come from a convicted rapist.’

Dr Hegarty stressed the need for comprehensive sex education for young males, so that the magazines would not be their only source of information.

Melissa Petro took a different interpretation of the study results, suggesting that the male editors weren’t entirely responsible for the derogatory statements made about women, especially in relation to the large number of female writers and editors writing for the publications.

‘But before we start to go nuts on men and their magazines, let’s have a reality check,’ she said. ‘The truth is, women are involved in all aspects of the production of men’s magazines… As a feminist, I’ve always felt my work was more appropriate for men’s magazines because, let’s face it, if men’s magazines do, on occasion, speak pejoratively of women, women’s magazines, by and large, speak pejoratively to women. I would rather read (and write) features like GQ’s cover stories on Herman Cain and Steve Jobs than yet another interview with the queen of “reality”, Kim Kardashian—or one more story on how to “Blast Fat Fast”.

‘Because women are involved in the making of men’s magazines just like men—and even more than men, if you count the models—conversations about men’s magazines (including pornography) should be conversations about media, rather than indictments of men.

‘Whether the media contribute to rape is a conversation worth having. Yet assumptions about who’s to blame stop such conversations in their tracks. Yes, the media shape people’s views on gender and sex, but it’s people—men and women—who create the media.’

What do you think should be done to address the results of the study?

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