Blog of Feminist Activism

The feminist activism of charliegrrl and co

Demo against WHSmith: Stop Selling Lads Mags!

Posted by charliegrrl on April 25, 2007

Saturday April 22nd, East Midland Feminists, Northwest Feminists and supporters demonstrated outside WHSmith in Leicester, calling for WHSmith to stop selling lads mags.

WHSmith is one of the biggest distributors of porn in Britain. They rarely shelve lads mags on top shelf, and rarely above their own guidelines of 1.2 metres. They promote lads mags and adult porn mags with special offers and promotional displays. They dismiss feminist concerns about lads mags stating they are merely providing customers with a choice…

The demo was a great success. Many people supported us and we collected 70 signatures for Object’s petition, calling for regulation of lads mags in the way they are displayed and sold. The demo resulted in lots of lively discussion with the public about the harm of lads mags and why we think WHSmith should stop selling them.

The management of WHSmith weren’t happy… They called the police but our demo was peaceful and legal so they didn’t hassle us.

A WHSmith employee came out to speak to us saying that WHSmith do not sell porn and they are only providing the customer with what they want. He soon regretted this after an EM Fems member took him through the porn images from lads mags and gave examples of misogynistic quotes. When faced with breasts after breasts posing in psuedo-lesbian poses, he couldn’t really deny it!

We got loads of support from teengage girls and it was great to chat to them about the negative messages lads mags give men about women and how being a glamour model is not an aspirational career.

The teenage son of one of the demonstrators and his friend came to show their support, and filmed the event, so watch this space!

High Points of the day:

WHSmith shop we demonstrated against, moving their lads mags to the top shelf, and taking many off the shelf

WHSmith employee not realising their travel shops sell adult porn mags, and being genuinely suprised by this

A Mother telling us she is fed up of her fifteen year old son being able to buy lads mags, and then had a go at the WHSmith employee for WHSmith selling lads mags to teenage boys.

Rachel having an argument with an aggressive porn-loving man, attracting quite a crowd of onlookers, and calling him a dirty old man.

A young woman signing our petition against lads mags, depsite her boyfriend telling her not to- kinda went like this…

Boyfriend criticising us saying there’s nothing wrong with lads mags
Girlfriend about to sign the petition

Boyfriend saying, ‘Don’t you dare sign that petition, what about my Nuts magazine!’

Girlfriend shouted back, ‘I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR NUTS MAGAZINE!’

It was a beautiful moment 🙂

Comments from people taking part

When my son was four, he saw the cover of FHM in Jacksons on Queens Road and asked me why the women had no clothes on, I couldn’t explain to him what these magazines were for at four, not in the middle of a supermarket
Concerned Father and Son

I felt the demo was a great success. We got the
attention of WHSmith management who now know there is
a campaign out there to get them to start taking their
retailing of lad mags seriously.

It was really encouraging the amount of support we got
from the public in general, we collected 70 signatures
to present to Head Office. Particularly encouraging
was the response from young women; I spoke to a few
women who objected to lad mags, one who worked in a
newsagent herself who was fed up with the displays of
these mags in her workplace.

Of course, there was the predicted response- largely
from men- about how women aren’t exploited because
they choose to pose for these mags and are making a
lot of money from it, and that women’s mags i.e. Cosmo
are just as bad. I spoke to one man who was with his
young child who couldn’t see the problem with these
mags, to which I asked, “So you’d be happy for your
daughter to pose for these mags for money?” to which
he replied “It’s their choice.”

On further reflection, I feel with these street
protests we can’t expect to change the attitudes of
such men. I think the most important and productive
aim is to reach out to those people- the young women-
who do agree with you but before they saw this
campaign on their high street were unaware of how to
make their voice heard about it. It’s about getting
them on side and joining us to strengthen this
campaign. And of course, getting the likes of WHSmith
to sit up and pay attention. Then the misogynists will
just have to catch up.

We can’t stop here- we’ve got to keep the momentum
going with this one, cause I feel we could make some
difference.
Michelle, East Midland Feminists

Overall, the demo was a success and provoked much needed discussion in the street about the harm of lads mags and the harm of sexual objectification of women. We plan to continue to campaign against WHSmith until they stop sellings lads mags, stop profiting from porn and sexism and stop being complicit in the normalisation of porn.

Thanks to Em Fems for organising this, Brand New Feminist and a concerned Father and son for joining us and all the supportive members of the public who joined in lively debate with men who tried to make out that men are objectified too! Thank you!

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30 Responses to “Demo against WHSmith: Stop Selling Lads Mags!”

  1. Anji said

    Sounds like a fun and productive time was had by all! 😀 I wish there was a group like this down here in Portsmouth. There don’t appear to be many other feminists though. :o(

  2. emma said

    You should start one Anji! Mind you there are some strange people in Portsmouth….. (not you of course!)

  3. Arantxa said

    It’s great to read this. Very positive. Now I feel all encouraged to go out and stage my own protest!

  4. Camryn said

    “I think the most important and productive aim is to reach out to those people – the young women – who do agree with you but before they saw this campaign on their high street were unaware of how to make their voice heard about it.”

    So true, you won’t change everyone’s minds but I believe there are countless people out there (particularly women) that do agree and would be buoyed by your efforts. Congratulations on a kick ass protest! This is sure to have a domino effect.

  5. Burrow said

    This is awesome to hear about. I wish that there was a group like that here. (there’s only a few of us)

  6. ms. jared said

    that is SO awesome! really inspiring! it brings a tear to my eye to read about a positive outcome from this type of demonstration. THANK YOU!

  7. Jen said

    Hi all,
    Reading the responses i am pleased that people feel inspired to carry out their own protest. Just to those that think they need lots of people you don’t. When Em Fems began there were three of us and on various ventures just one or two! If you start something people feeling the same way as you will come along and before you know it you have your own active feminist protest group. Good luck, x

  8. fannyblood said

    WELL DONE, LADIES. I feel a protest at my local WHS coming on … !

    STORMY?!!!!!

    x

  9. Liz said

    Wow, this is so inspiring, thanks for the report Charlie!

    I think Michelle was right about getting through to young women and encouraging them to take part in further protests and also get to know how they can protest themselves.

    It will always be difficult to persuade or change the views of men, especially in public in a walk by protest. Maybe it takes more time to persuade men that their magazines are misogynist and violent towards women.

  10. tcupnewt said

    This is fantastic… I’m certain there are plenty of women and young girls who don’t like lad’s mags but don’t know how to express why or feel they will be labelled as “prudes” and just need to get over it. keep showing the way. 🙂

  11. Sarah said

    Hi, This looks great! Did you have to get permission to demonstrate first? Not sure how these new laws work …

    If anyone has Anji’s email address I’d like to get in touch as I’m quite local to Portsmouth.

    Sarah

  12. Sarah said

    Also I’d like to agree wholeheartedly with the point about teenage girls feeling strongly against these mags but not knowing how to express it. I always used to think it was just me being insecure!

  13. jo22 said

    “I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR NUTS MAGAZINE!” Fan-fucking-tastic!!!

  14. Grace said

    Oh it was brilliant! The highlights for me were talking to people aged about 13-15 years old and actually seeing the *click* as they realised what I was saying was true; talking to a bunch of ‘lads’ (by appearance) – one of whom agreed that LMs should be on the top shelf, the others listened without derision; and the fact that WHSmith oh so inconspiciously suddenly top-shelved all of their LMs!! One guy also said that he would burn the lot of them if he could…but I got the impression he was more of an extremist than a feminist!

    That argument between the couple was classic! It will be branded forever on my memory as a reason to smile (I thought the clap from myself added a certain touch, especially as it annoyed the boyfriend even more! haha!)

    My mind has been wandering and formulating a song about Lads Mags based on that tune that they use for the Clover margerine adverts…

    Hopefully we can arrange something similar in Birmingham soon! The lapdancing capital of the UK will get a little shock 🙂 and there are now three of us here…the group is in the making!

  15. eilidh70 said

    Well done everyone!

  16. witchy-woo said

    Reading about this is a brilliant way to end what has been a (personally) shitty week. You’ve made me smile and restored a fair bit of my “rah! feminism!”

    It sounds like you had a fab day and did some good work.

    Well done all of you – you rock 😀

  17. Hannah said

    Wow – it’s so great so read of such a successful event! I think it’s so true that a lot of younger girls feel uncomfortable about these magazines, but don’t quite know how to express it for fear of being labelled a prude or ‘sad’. It’s wonderful to hear of so many people agreeing with you 😀 And YAY for the woman who went up against her boyfriend!

  18. Sam said

    “Also I’d like to agree wholeheartedly with the point about teenage girls feeling strongly against these mags but not knowing how to express it.”

    I hear this from at least one woman everytime I speak publicly. They’re hurt and angry, but our general culture and the excuse-making sexee feminism they encounter in most of their women’s studies classes teach them to ignore their negative gut feelings about pornstitution.

  19. Army said

    Outstanding you guys – wish I could have been there! All it takes is one voice to start it off.

  20. Rachel said

    Great write-up Charlie! My feedback..

    I was deliberately targetting men, as well as women, and found age to be an important factor.

    Under 20: men, although not as clued-up as the women, with a bit of discussion understood and accepted the main problems.
    20-30: most resistence (men and women). LM target audience.
    30-50: women a bit more clued-up, many men still resistent.
    Over 50: men and women much more open to discussion.
    Also, Asian men and women (all ages) were much more aware.

    So, I reckon talking to younger men as well as women is important. Once you’re through the initial shield of machismo, they’re often just as open-minded as the girls.

  21. Well done 🙂

  22. Emmeline said

    Good on you EMFems! It’s an important campaign – we should not put up with this normalisation of pornography in mainstream culture. You should be commended for taking it on.

    I particularly enjoy Rachel’s arguments with the “dirty old man” 😉

  23. shinka said

    Thank you for doing something about this problem. I do not care to see bare breasts while shopping. I most certqainly want my son to be involved in more valuable activities in society.

  24. stormy said

    Well done EmFems! Great work.
    FB – there are a few supermarkets that I have ‘issue’ with, as Shinka says, why on earth should we have breasts thrust in our faces whilst we do the weekly shop?

  25. theendlesssky said

    Can anyone point me towards current laws regarding the height these mags/newspapers should be at? I often see them at toddler height in petrol stations etc- would I be in the right to ask them to move the mags? And could I do anything if they didn’t? I get the feeling the police wouldn’t be too bothered.

  26. You are perfectly within your rights to ask the petrol stations etc to move the lads mags/newspapers out of sight of toddlers.
    There aren’t any laws regarding the height of such magazines and newspapers though. So legally they can refuse. Object, a pressure group [link at the side] are campaigning for a law to be introduced so that sexually explicit material is kept on top shelf.
    There are guidelines that are voluntary, by the NFRN- National Federation for Retail and Newsagents- that state sexually explicit material should be kept out of sight of children. So you could quote this to them.
    I don’t have a copy to hand, but here is an explanation of the guidelines
    http://www.ppa.co.uk/cgi-bin/go.pl/news/article.html?uid=10461

    You can ask the petrol stations if they have heard of the NFRN guidelines, you can complain to NFRN that the petrol stations keep them visible to toddlers
    http://www.nfrnonline.com/about/contact_us.html

    You can send the company who own the petrol station, a letter/email to ask them to shelve the mags/tabloids out of view of toddlers.

    You can downloads example letters from Object’s website.
    Good luck! And let us know if you hear anything back from them.

  27. Jessica said

    I think what you girls are doing is great however I think displaying such images on the highstreet is disgusting a lot of women go out of their way to hide these sort of images from themselves, their husband and their children. I think if you’re to place these images up at least cover the women in the pictures, it’s a harsh reality but those who do know it’s wrong don’t want to have to relive the discomfort while shopping.

    Please cover them up next time girls, other than that I’m all for what you’re doing.
    Jessica.

  28. Karl said

    To minimise complaints from consumers without adversely affecting the sale of these titles the voluntary guidelines recommend that:

    * retailers do not display these titles at children’s eye-level or below, to ensure they are not in the direct sight and reach of children
    * retailers do not display these titles adjacent to children’s titles and comics
    * where display space restraints preclude the above, those titles with front covers that may cause concern are part-overlapped with other titles so as to minimise the potential for offence to parents with children.

    WH Smiths follows all of these guidelines, magazines are kept 4 shelves up, childrens comics are 4 aisles away from them, and the space is not an issue.

    Thank you and shut up complaining

  29. Arantxa said

    What Karl has pasted in is from the National Federation of Retail Newsagents is of little meaning. Not only are these ‘guidelines’ voluntary, but they apply to any magazine a consumer may find offensive, including women’s glossies and the emphasis is on reducing the number of complaints. These are not guidelines that WHSmith follow. WHSmith promote lad’s mags by putting them on offer, advertising them on posters and placing them on several rows (floor to top) at the very entrance of the store where many passersby and every single customer entering the store will see them.

  30. silkie said

    Brilliant well done girls!! Yesterday on our local news was a story on a lady in Greenock Scotland, who had taken it into her own hands to petition retailers on displaying these so called magazines out of the sight of children. So inspired by that I trotted off to my local newsagent, who diplayed FHM,Nuts Zoo and more (not to mention all the porno “newspapers” on the floor), and asked her if she would cover them up – which she said she would – the magazines anyway. I feel great about doing this and would encourage anyone who is offended to do the same – I am also going to take it up with my MP. These mags have gone too far. Come on girls we can fight back -lets go!!!! xx

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