Sex offenders and lads' mags

Other research presented at the Institute of Education Sexualisation of Culture conference (see my last post) found that people struggled to tell the difference between statements of convicted sex offenders and statements taken from mens’ magazines. This raises many interesting questions (see post about this on The Sociological Imagination).


One broader concern I have which relates to this is that magazines aimed at men and women both perpetuate an idea that the ‘other gender’ is mysterious and requires figuring out and playing in order for readers to get what they want from them. It seems that it will be difficult for people to form mutual relationships if they are so encouraged to see potential partners as things rather than as full human beings, not to mention the restricted ideas of ‘opposite genders’ that come across in such magazines.


  1. Lisa Millbank

    4 January

    I think that this study shows the close intertwining between rape culture and capitalism. This is pro-rape-culture agitation for profit. Like you say, the popular media both perpetuates, reproduces and offers an answer to the ‘opposite gender’ problem.

    It’s a very powerful / striking study, and it’s already been – and will be – a powerful weapon for those of us looking to expose rape culture for what it is. But one friend, as we discussed this, mentioned the classism of this study. It’s easy to read this report and, instead of walking away with the message that, “Popular culture = rape culture”, conclude that, “Working-class culture = rape culture”. Even I’m making a leap here between “working-class” and “lads’ mags” that is a huge simplification, but you get what I mean, right?

    That’s not necessarily a criticism of the study, but perhaps of the field; if this was accompanied by more studies, for example, of high-class “lifestyle” mags, and looked at the attitude there to nude female models bedecked with jewelry for sale, then it might be clearer that the conclusions have to be drawn culture-wide and not according to class.

    • megbarkerpsych

      4 January

      I definitely agree that class is worth considering in here more explicitly. And worth looking at magazines more widely (e.g. also how do ‘women’s mags’ perpetuate such a culture?)

      David Gauntlett’s work on lads’ mags is interesting on this because he looks at both who are producing and writing for the mags (mostly middle class) and who they are targeted at (more working class). His book on gender and media is well worth a read on this (

  2. I cannot comment on the study seeing as I have not actually read any papers reporting on it. The media coverage has not clarified what exactly it is that the research was measuring, and if it is a measurement of the normalisation of ‘rape culture’ via ‘lads mags’, then stripping the quotes of their lad mag context undermines the validity of the study. In relation to magazines perpetuating ‘sex differences’, isn’t that what the above video does too? The message seems to be ‘men consuming lad mags are potential rapists’ with the result that ‘women are vulnerable and need protection’ …

    • megbarkerpsych

      4 January

      Agreed it raises lots of difficult questions Alison. Your point about perpetuation of the ‘vulnerable woman’ stereotype is a big problem for many campaigns and projects around these issues. Also, tricky indeed to research existing gendered dynamics without also reinforcing them.

      I will definitely post here when the paper itself is published so we can see how it deals with the concerns that you and Lisa have raised.

      • Thanks Meg. Here are some thoughts on it:

        Whenever the topic is porn (and I think lads mags are one type of porn), I always feel nervous about discussing it. For that reason I am starting with disclaimers! I am neither pro- nor anti-porn. On a personal level I dislike lads’ mags. On a theoretical level I can see how they are open to interpretation.

        I’ll stick with ‘context’ seeing as that was the issue I had already raised before seeing the paper.

        The main hypothesis was that men would identify more with quotes attributed to lads mags than when those quotes were attributed to convicted rapists, which did happen. But it wasn’t the same men identifying with the quotes so there may have been between-group differences. Perhaps assigning both correct and incorrect attributions to within-group participants might have limited confounding variables? Anyway, the researchers interpreted this confirmed hypothesis as evidence that the mags normalise sexism. But is the idea of ‘more ok for a mag to say it than for a rapist’ such a bad thing? The same words in different contexts can have different meanings. This finding could be interpreted as a deliberate distinction between fantasy and reality, with rape more strongly disapproved of. However, the fact that the ‘correctly attributed’ group identified more with rapist statements than mag quotes problematises my point as it suggests participants were identifying more with the words per se than with the words in the imagined context of their source – tricky! I wonder how actual consumers might make sense of the magazine quotes in the context of the magazines.

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