Blog of Feminist Activism

The feminist activism of charliegrrl and co

WHSmith travel stores campaign

Posted by charliegrrl on March 21, 2007

Object have launched a campaign calling for WHSmith to sell lads mags and pornographic newspapers, in line with retail guidelines in their shops in train stations and airports.

WHSmith state they display lads mags and pornographic newspapers above 1.2 metres in their shops, in order to comply with *NFRN guidelines to keep such material out if sight of children. 1.2 metres is the average height of a 7 year old. They tend to do this in their high street shops. However, go into any train station and airport, and you will see this is not the case. Furthermore, WHSmith sell ‘adult’ porn mags in their travel stores.

Why is there this discrepency between their high street shops and travel shops..?

Please support the campaign by emailing WHSmith, calling for lads mags and pornographic newspapers to be sold above 1.2 metres in their travel stores. Also demand that they stop selling ‘adult’ porn mags.

Here is an example of an email Layla wrote to them recently…

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am absolutely disgusted about the way in which WH Smith runs its stores. Over a year ago, at the WH Smiths in Cardiff Central Station, I made a complaint about the fact that there were magazines of topless women on the very bottom shelf, as soon as you walked in to the store. There was a child who was pointing these magazines out to his mother. Do you believe that it is appropriate for young children to see pictures of naked women posing together in a sexually provocative way? Because interestingly, forcing a child to witness acts of a sexual nature is a sexual offence under the Sexual Offences Act, with which, there is virtually no difference between that and forcing children to look at pictures of semi-naked women in your shops.

The shop manager informed me that there was nothing she could do as the publishers of these magazines pay a special rate to have their magazines in the places where they’re most noticed. So it seems that you are happy to accept their money and to throw away your morals in exchange. “Where they’re most noticed” -surely magazines of a sexually explicit nature should be kept to where they cannot be so easily seen? They are highly offensive, degrading to women and it is beyond belief that WH Smiths considers it perfectly acceptable for children to witness such things.

After writing to your head office last year and receiving no reply, I am disgusted to see that this pratcice has not changed. You persist in displaying sexually explicit magazines well below eye level, in places where children can see them, pick them up and look through them.

This is unacceptable and something needs to be done to stop this abhorrent practice.

Dear Layla
Thank you for your email, expressing your concern with the display of ‘Men’s Lifestyle’ magazines at our Cardiff Central Station store.

We appreciate that we need to be sensitive about the positioning of certain items, however, we do not wish to exclude items from our range that many of our customers wish to buy.

Currently, we aim to display these titles in our Travel stores at a height of 1.2 metres and above. However, there will be occasions when this is sometimes not always possible due to space restrictions and during special promotions. With regards to offensive covers, we are currently meeting with suppliers to obtain polybags for certain titles within this range. We hope to implement this within the next eight weeks.

We are always grateful for the feedback we receive and I hope that my reply helps to demonstrate how seriously we consider customer comments while continuing to cater for the varied preferences of our Travel customer profile.

Thank you for allowing us the chance to explain our position in this matter. If I can help you further, please contact me.

Kind Regards
Caroline Morse
Customer Service Coordinator

*NFRN stands for National Federation for Retail and Newsagents

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20 Responses to “WHSmith travel stores campaign”

  1. Linda said

    1.2 metres is actually the height of the average 7 year old – so even if Smiths do display porn mags above this height small children can easily see them. What particularly annoyed me in WH Smiths at Piccadilly Station in Manchester is that when I wanted to buy ‘Diva’ (with a picture of a fully clothed woman, in fact in a high necked victorian style shirt, on the front), it was right on the top shelf! And virgin trains are just as bad as they had ‘FHM 50 high street honeys’ on the BOTTOM shelf in the buffet car – almost on the floor! When I e-mailed them they said other customers had complained and they were ‘reviewing the situation urgently’. So if you see Porn next time you’re on a Virgin Train, e-mail customer services and ask what happened to the ‘urgent review’.

  2. Camryn said

    I don’t live in the U.K. but I emailed them anyway. I hate to think of the way we’re brainwashing children to see women as sexual objects from such a young age (apparently 1.2 metres up).

  3. Linda said

    On my way home, I went into WH Smut in Manchester Arndale, to check out the porn there. Nuts and Zoo are displayed at a height about 5cm below my – um – crotch. So given that my inside leg is 75cm that means they’re displaying them at a height of 70 cm. Which is *consults child height table* the height of a 1 year old!

  4. Mwezzi said

    Those polybags, in my experience, are rarely fully opaque – you can almost always see the content through them without having to try.

  5. Camryn said

    I got nearly the same reply back only in mine they didn’t refer to them as men’s lifestyle magazines, actually admitting they were “pornographic magazines.”

    Dear Camryn

    Thank you for your email telling me your feelings towards WHSmith Travel selling Pornographic Magazines.

    We appreciate that we need to be sensitive about the positioning of certain items, however, we do not wish to exclude items from our range that many of our customers wish to buy.
    Currently, we aim to display these titles in our Travel stores at a height of 1.2 metres and above. However, there will be occasions when this is sometimes not always possible due to space restrictions and during special promotions. With regards to offensive covers, we are currently meeting with suppliers to obtain polybags for certain titles within this range. We hope to implement this within the next eight weeks.

    We are always grateful for the feedback we receive and I hope that my reply helps to demonstrate how seriously we consider customer comments while continuing to cater for the varied preferences of our Travel customer profile.

    Thank you for allowing us the chance to explain our position in this matter. If I can help you further, please contact me.

    Kind Regards

    Jo Tyler

    Customer Service Coordinator

  6. Liz said

    I’m so pissed off with WHSmut at the moment!

    I was shopping in Enfield in the last weekend for Mothers Day and went into WHS to get a card. Anyway, I decided to check out the ‘porn’ section to see if they were adhering to ‘guidelines’.

    In fact, the display was just as you go through the doors on the left – and definitely not 1.2m above ground as I’m 5.3′ and the display started at around hip level, if not slightly lower!

    There were lots of kids in the shop and so, I decided to do some ‘feminist’ action and turn the covers around, not having any stickers (I wouldn’t have got away with that because there were alot of store assistants/guards around anyway). But I felt that on the weekend of Mothers Day and St Patricks Day, stuff like this shouldn’t be anywhere near anybody’s view…if ever!

    So I don’t actually think that WHSmut are adhering to guidelines and it’s not just the travel shops that need targeting. I’m so happy that Object is getting tough with WHS 🙂

  7. Great Liz for taking action. Maybe we do need to have a good look WHSmith’s policy in their high street shops, because I thought they were placing them above a certain height but a few of you have stated otherwise- yes WHSmith are pissing me off too!

    Thanks Camryn for emailing WSHMith. I got a similar reply…

    Thank you for your email of 20 March 2007 telling us how disappointed you are with some of the titles we are selling at our Travel stores.

    We aim to provide a wide variety of material in our stores to cater for the varied preferences of our customers. We appreciate that we need to be sensitive about the positioning of certain items, however, we do not wish to exclude items from our range that many of our customers wish to buy.

    We refrain from stocking adult magazines in our high street stores, though we offer a limited range in our station and airport stores as these cater for a different customer profile. We restrict our adult range to the nine most commonly available titles which we ensure are displayed on the top shelf.

    By providing a choice that comes within the range of contemporary public demand, we leave our customers to make up their own minds about the titles they buy. We are currently satisfied with our in-store displays both in our travel stores and our high street stores. I regret that you do not agree with this decision and apologise for any offence we;ve caused you.

    I realise my response may not reflect that which you would like to hear, however I hope you will still feel happy to shop with us in the future.

    Kind regards

    Sarah Duncan

    Customer Service Coordinator

    So WHSmith state that they sell ‘adult’ porn mags in their travel shops, because they are catering for a specific profile of customers- do they think that women and children don’t use the train, or ever fly..?

  8. Linda said

    The really easy way to take action if you haven’t got any stickers is to simply grab some other harmless type magazine and cover up all the lads mags – surprisingly effective – LM readers will simply think they’ve been moved! Alternatively a very fun thing to do (only works for women, chaps) is to stand there slowly flicking through a copy of Zoo, Nuts whatever and watch the pervs sidle up, wait to see if you’re going to move and then sneak away again – too embarrassed to buy one. Hilarious and works every time!

  9. Rachel H-G said

    Or religious people. Or pro-feminist men.

    No, obviously porn users are the only group which buys magazines to read while on the train/plane.

    Has anyone ever seen someone reading a “top shelf” porn mag on public transport?

  10. Michelle said

    The “different customer profile” thing is also rooted in sexism- I think WH Smith think it is largely men who travel for business/work etc and are therefore the ones who enter their travel stores, so WH Smith are providing them with their porn while they are away on their business trips…

  11. Grace said

    Saying that they have a different customer profile is really just a cop out isn’t it? Assuming that they realise that their customers will be going on journeys after they make their purchases are they thinking that the porn will provide light reading on the train/plane (and who cares about the people who have sit near them or ticket collectors/flight attendents??)? When i’ve bought a magazine for a journey I normally read it while i’m travelling not when I get to my destination.

    My favourite magazines to hide porn with are mortgage magazines, needlework magazines and cat magazines, because porn/ladsmag readers are probably less ready to rifle through those kinds of magazine for their target purchase.

    Those ‘opaque’ covers are ridiculous, in that they don’t really cover anything. They are better than nothing but they’re few and far between anyway.

  12. fannyblood said

    i only EVER go in there to spy now. my local one ALWAYS has the porn top shelf but all 4 at stansted airport has them from the floor up. the daily sport was also on the bottom shelf of an outside display on full display.

  13. Rachel H-G said

    My favourite “porn covers” are Country Life, Horse and Hound and Computer Shopper, depending on what’s to hand.

    The NME last week with Beth Ditto on the cover got spread around the magazine section of my local Tesco a fair bit too.

  14. tiggyrascal said

    Is it not intimidating enough for women to use public transport without knowing that WHSmith is happy to make porn available in their travel stores for a ‘different customer profile’ – read: misogynist perverts?

  15. Here is letter of complaint by a ReSister and response back from WHSmith…

    Dear all,

    Can I open by suggesting that it is the alienation of 51% of your
    customers that is responsible for your falling sales. There has been
    a slow start, but are you aware of new plans afoot regarding a
    national boycott of WHSmith?

    Might I further suggest that this is connected to your stock:
    publications such as Zoo, Nuts, Loaded, FHM, and Front, tabloids
    such as the Star, the Sun, and the Sport, which aggressively target
    young male customers through the sexual objectification of young
    women.

    These publications display young female bodies as objects for use
    by men. Does WHSmith hold any responsibility for the message we send to young British men about women through these publications?

    Why must your female customers feel sexually intimidated when they walk into your stores, into train stations, into petrol stations and
    service stations?

    Does WHSmith support rape? If not, why do you actively promote the female body as an item to be used at will for male gratification?
    Are you even aware of this? Is your response tailored by being
    Britain’s largest distributor of porn?

    Ultimately, it is the visual rape of women that is making your
    money. By continuing to promote this, you ultimately risk losing
    half your market. It is only by respecting your customers that your customers will respect you.

    I look forward to your responses.

    On Mar 26 2007, Cavilla, Juliette wrote:

    Thank you for your email, addressed to our Chairman, Robert
    Walker, our Group Chief Executive, Kate Swann and Alan Stewart, our Group Finance Director, expressing your concerns about our range of Men’s Lifestyle magazines. As Customer Relations Manager, your correspondence has been passed to me for reply.

    Customers often have strongly differing views about the products
    we sell, including men’s lifestyle magazines, and we aim to strike the right balance to meet the needs of all our customers.

    We work closely with the publishers to ensure that their products
    meet the expectations of our customers and where we receive customer complaints about an issue of a certain publication, WHSmith commits to collate all customer feedback on the title and raise the specific concerns with the publisher.

    In our Travel Stores, our men’s lifestyle magazines are displayed
    adjacent to other titles that are bought primarily by our male
    customers like sports, entertainment or music titles and wherever
    possible, we make a conscious effort not to position them next to
    children’s titles. In our High Street stores, we ensure that all
    these titles are positioned above 1.2 metres and again, are not
    displayed near products aimed at children. Each year we review our shelf layout plans to ensure they remain relevant and we believe that our current positioning of men’s lifestyle magazines achieves the appropriate balance to meet the needs of customers with different requirements.

    I am sorry for the offence we have caused you however, and please
    be assured that we will take your comments into consideration during our next range review. If I can be of any help to you in the meantime, please let me know.

    Kind Regards

    Juliette Cavilla
    Customer Relations Manager

  16. Good point Tiggyrascal- we al know women have been raped on trains, and it can be intimidating to travel alone as a woman on a train at night- but yet WHSmith cater for the travelling misogynists by selling porn.

  17. tiggyrascal said

    It would be funny were it not so very sad and frightening.

    Going on a journey and worried you might have to leave your misogyny at the carriage door? Well you will find your every perverted fantasty catered for in our travel stores; so you can rest easy that you can continue to objectify women, even while travelling!

    WHSmith: catering for the misogynist on the move.

  18. Rachel H-G said

    Another grrrrrrr! Why do they always assume that music magazines are bought mainly by men and put them next to the porn? I’ve been buying various music magazines since I was a 14-year-old girl.

  19. tiggyrascal said

    This isn’t directly relevant to the post but it is kind of connected to women travelling and I just had to let you know about it…

    Todays Metro (4th April 2007) has a letter on p.18 from a Sarah Uddin saying this:

    ‘The death of poor Lindsay Hawker in Japan is yet another tragedy with the same lesson: women should not travel so far on their own. I’m not being a pre-18th century thinker – as a woman myself, I just know that some savages out there think we’re easy targets’

    This is wrong on so many levels- I am speechless with anger! Grrr!

  20. Nella said

    “We appreciate that we need to be sensitive about the positioning of certain items, however, we do not wish to exclude items from our range that many of our customers wish to buy.”

    Brilliant. Every good newsagent needs to facilitate the traditional pasttime of wanking on trains.

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