Dear Co-op …

A letter from Edie Lamort, feminist and sexual freedom activist, to the Co-operative Group about their latest censorship decision.

Just over five years ago I bought a flat in London SE1. One of my local shops happened to be the Co-op and on my first visit I picked up a Co-op membership form. Loyalty cards can come in handy after all, you get discounts and bonus points. This week the Co-op announced that they had given in to pressure from extremist groups and decided that Lads Mags must come in modesty bags. So as a Co-op member I decided to write a letter to Chief Executive, Steve Murrells. Here it is:

Steve Murrells
Co-operative Group Limited
PO Box 53
New Century House
Manchester
M60 4ES

31st July 2013

Dear Steve Murrells

As the Co-op is one of my local stores I decided to become a member and to use it when I can. I prefer use the independent shops and the Co-op rather than give yet more money to the ubiquitous Tesco. However with this weeks news that the Co-op will be demanding that Lad’s Mags to be sold in modesty bags I will no longer be shopping my local Co-op. The reasons for this are as follows.

As a woman I find the current trend towards more puritan values very disturbing. Lobby groups such as UK Feminista and Object represent the more extreme and fanatical end of this trend and I am very disappointed that the Co-op has buckled under pressure from them. With the proposed censoring of the Internet last week and the general moral panic at the moment about ‘sexualisation’ this is another retrograde step. It is almost like we are experiencing a sexual counter-revolution.

I am worried about this overall message that demonises the female body and buys into centuries old patriarchal tradition that female flesh is sinful and corrupting. It is this mentality that spurred the Witch Trials of the 16th Century and in more recent times has cast a veil of silence over sexual abuse. It leads to an environment where people are made to feel shame about a perfectly natural urge leading to anger and frustration rather than self-awareness and understanding.

The message the Co-operative is sending out is that it agrees with the backward idea that female sexuality and the female body is essentially a corrupting and bad thing and therefore must be hidden. That the female body is dirty, wrong, and bad. It is also extremely hypocritical as celebrity magazines such as OK and Heat are far more salacious and negative about bodies. I find it bizarre that you are ok with these gossip mags that foment insecurity around cellulite, weight etc but are not with ones showing confident and liberated women. Will you also require them to be covered up? What about videos games that regularly feature violence?

We have come along way since the 60s, and the emancipation of all of us to wear what we like (a woman will not longer be branded ‘tart’ for wearing a short skirt) and to explore our sexual selves, which has been a very important social force. I can guarantee you that if this trend towards puritanism continues we will see a rise in sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. This is because the message you and others are sending is that sex and especially of the female kind is inherently wrong. This will make zealots more confident about chastising the ‘temptress’ or slut-shaming women who dare to be emancipated. The train of thought that goes ‘oh she’s a slut look at her she deserved it’ will be encouraged by actions such as modesty bags.

It also seems like a cheap publicity stunt, similar to David Cameron’s unworkable Internet porn ban. I am aware that the Co-operative Group is not the best financial shape and that a sensational press release will raise brand awareness for far less money than a broadcast advertising campaign.

I would urge you to reconsider your actions; meanwhile please find enclosed my membership card, as I no longer wish to be associated with your company.

Regards

A member

Please feel free to add your voice at steve.murrells@co-operative.coop or write a letter to the Manchester head office address above.

28 thoughts on “Dear Co-op …”

  1. Letter sent, I was wondering if there was any chance this could be reblogged over on Everyday Whorephobia?

  2. What should be remembered is that for UK Feminista this isn’t enough and they are calling for a total ban on the sale of lads mags in supermarkets. They probably see this as a step closer to that ultimate aim of total censorship.

    1. Agreed – their ultimate goal is a total ban which is backwards and worrying. Unfortunately they have created a momentum and have a lot of people scared and on their crazy side.

  3. You have lost perspective about this. It is about the objectification of bodies and the subsequent commodification of the people whose bodies are thus objectified. It isn’t about which publications are subjected to modesty bags, it is about treating humans humanely. Have you never seen Woody Allen’s ‘Everything you ever wanted to know about sex but never dare ask’ in which a Balkan shepherd dresses a sheep up in stockings and a garter belt? Where is the dignity in the exploitation of the human form and what really are you inveighing against?

    1. Here’s the problem with using objectification as a broad term to describe the sexual attraction to female bodies, it is counter productive to feminism as a movement. Sexual desire is a natural desire; an inclination to desire and find attractive the body of the opposite sex is also normal and healthy. By shaming people about their bodies, telling woman to cover up and accusing men of exploiting woman who have chosen to strip bare; we create an environment that is not only closed minded and puritan, but also ripe for exploitation. We have enough people confused about their desires, ashamed by their bodies, and afraid of their sexuality already. We don’t need to add to that by adopting the puritan values that our ancestors lived under.

      With this whole “Lose the lad mags” spiel, they’ve once again trotted out the “think of the children” line. Creepiness factor of saying “think of the children” when talking about wank material aside, I think it is a lazy argument. When “thinking of the children” on this issue, I think of the roll of the adults in their life, particularly the parents, to teach their children about sex and sexuality and make sure they are ready and well informed by the time they have reached the age where their body has started craving it. For decades parents have debated when is the best time to talk to your kids about sex; well, my mom’s policy was when the child starts asking about it and showing a curiosity, that’s the time; which was why she bought me an educational book and answered any questions I had about it when I was 9. Unfortunately, many parents today try to put off having that talk as long as they can, in the naive belief that if they can just shield their kids from it, they might not develop until they, the parents, are ready to discus it.

      There was this story by a dad whose ten year old son had stumbled upon some tits on the internet, and he sent him to his room while he considered what to do. What struck me the most about it was even though he’d never had the talk with his son, the first words out of his son’s mouth were if he was going to punished. I found it appalling that despite his total lack of information about sex, the boy had already absorbed our culture’s shame in their own sexuality; from the moment his dad caught him he knew he was in trouble, like he had done something wrong.

      Trying to hide your kids from sexuality has always been a futile, ineffective struggle; and with images being beamed into homes through the TV and internet; it’s a struggle that’s pretty much lost in this day and age. Rather than try to hide your kids from sexuality and the adult world, parents should explain to their children, educate them so that they are prepared and have healthy views on it. Teach your kids that its okay to have a healthy desire for the human body, but teach them to have respect and appreciation for the person too. People wanna look good, and they’re going to be attracted to people they think look good; but all people have feelings and are more than a collection of legs, thighs, boobs, butts, tummies, and crotches. Teach them an appreciation for both the body and the human being; don’t try to teach acceptance of one and rejection of the other; that’s not going to lead to healthy feelings, about themselves or other people. You don’t have to show your child porn, but if they see it; explain that many woman aren’t going to look like that, and you shouldn’t judge women solely by their bodies. Tell them it’s okay to enjoy porn now and again, but remember that these are models getting paid to display their bodies; and every person deserves to be treated like a person. Treat them the importance of no, and teach them to not judge or discriminate against people by what they do consensually in the bedroom, or by how frequently or infrequently they do it.

      Sadly, much more effort is put into shielding kids from sexuality than explaining it to them properly. The same is also true about misogyny (although misogyny, unlike sexually, is wrong). They are going to be exposed to misogyny; it’s in our history, it’s in our fictions, and for many of us it’s in our day to day lives. You want to curb misogyny, teach your kids what misogyny is, and why it’s not okay. Teach them about how hurtful it is; I doubt there are many kids who aren’t familiar with getting their feelings hurt. Inform them, and inspire them to be a better person, one who treats both genders equally and speaks up when a witness to inequality. Also teach them the difference between exploitation and choice. A woman choosing to strip on camera doesn’t necessarily have to be being exploited, she could like showing off her body or like the money; and those are both valid options and doesn’t mean they are debasing themselves; so don’t judge them for doing so but also don’t feel ashamed for liking it. That’s a lesson that sadly the feminists behind UK Feminista and Object never learned; and it is their ignorance on the subject of sexuality and desire that leads them down a futile road of censorship and “slut shaming” that harkens to the days of yesteryear, rather than forward towards progress and equality.

      1. Awesome response! And a good point about the confusing of misogyny and sexuality. I personally don’t look at a woman in a bikini and think ‘disgusting’, but obviously it’s in the eye of the beholder.

        Also the cry of ‘objectification’ is something I have always found simplistic and rather ridiculous. We all look at each other on many different levels and one of them of course is visual and lustful. We make many snap decisions about each other in an instant and whether this is right or wrong; it’s just how we operate. It also makes me think of these ‘feminists’;

        ‘What’s wrong with you, are you asexual?’ ‘Have they never looked at anyone in lust? Whether it be a man or woman?’

        Of course we all have. I can find a man incredible attractive but it does not lead to acts of violence. If it did the problem would lie with me, not the attractive man and vica versa.

    2. I’m sure the models who appeared in these magazines and were well paid feel so exploited and that they were not treated humanely.

      The problem is objectification is so subjective. What you might find objectifying others might see as sexy or attractive. This could apply to any picture of a sexy woman not just those in lads mags.

      1. Time to read around objectification theory and the research that supports this. Covering up lad mags is not saying women’s bodies are evil, sexual desire is abhorent etc. Rather it is a contribution to the debate about how best society can educate and support people expressing their sexuality in a way that enhances wellbeing for all at the same time.

        1. If there really is genuine research which supports objectification theory – as opposed to ‘objectification’ being a convenient meme for the supporters of censorship – would you care to link to some of it, so that readers of this blog can evaluate it for themselves?

  4. It would be interesting if the majority of naked flesh on daily display was young men with flaccid and erect cocks all over magazines in our newsagents/supermarkets. Or disabled people. Or just pictures of naked 50 year olds. I think the puritan argument used here ignores that a very narrow and limited view of ‘acceptable’ sexuality is consistently displayed by these magazines. One that really does not need to be in full view of young children everyday. Sex is great but surely it is an adult past time that has a time and a place?
    PS. What a different world you seem to live in where victim blaming seems a thing of the past. Lucky you 🙂

    1. I’d be all in favour of a wider range of models on display. In fact porn is far less judgemental than magazines, and uses a far wider range of body types. And guess what: the people who attack lads’ mags also attack porn.

      Please understand: this is a very cleverly packaged moralistic anti-sex campaign packaged as “concern for women and children”. If you think that covering up female nudity will improve attitudes towards women, I suggest you check out Saudi Arabia, where that experiment has already been under-way for a while. I don’t think it worked.

  5. Unfortunately victim blaming isn’t thing of the past but I see no reason to encourage it any further. I am very uncomfortable with the general trend to censor and condemn sexuality as bad at the moment. We had come so far (things were not perfect) but to then start rolling back the decades instead of moving forwards is scary. As a woman I do not wish us a a society to go backwards because I will personally be in danger.

    In terms of other types of images – well you only have to pick up the gay mags for pictures of sexy young men, copies of Bizarre for tattooed dwarfs etc and Closer and Heat for the pictures of celebs papped in unflattering poses, cellulite and baby bumps.
    Most of these are owned by a small group of holding companies who are obviously covering off all areas of the market. Of peoples desire to gossip and be voyeuristic.

    1. Very true Edie. And the ones victim blaming are the so called “feminists” who have declared that strippers and glamour models are to blame for rape.

      1. The radfems are only too willing to try to deny personal agency to any woman who doesn’t agree with their ideologically misandrist, pro-totalitarian dogma; ‘slut shaming’ and victim blaming form only part of their wider canon of dishonest rhetoric.

        1. The most abuse and the most patronising treatment I have ever received as an erotic dancer has been from these RadFem women. Most of our mainly male audience are respectful.

    2. It’s very telling that women’s magazine Filament – which published nude and otherwise eroticised pictures of men amongst its other content – encountered fierce opposition from the radfems, who claimed that it was an instrument of the Patriachy, and couldn’t possibly have been founded and run by a woman!

  6. Edie, thanks for an interesting letter, and I found the comment stream interesting too. The real motive behind the ‘Lose the lads’ mags’ campaign was clear the moment they said they weren’t satisfied with the introduction of ‘modesty bags’. This all part of the relentless militant feminist campaign of shaming men by demonising their sexual interest in women, and in young attractive women in particular.

    We really should start a counter-campaign seeking to pressurise retailers into not stocking ‘Men’s Health’, or romantic novels with covers which invariably feature men who are handsome / tall / fit / rich… how do men who work in stores, or shop in stores, cope with this objectification by the matriarchy? No, that wouldn’t take off. Unlike feminists, men don’t collectively go ‘wah… wah… wah… wah… wah…’ until they get their way (Laura Bates of ‘The Everyday Whining Project’, I’m thinking of you). Talking of whining, have you seen this video? Priceless…

    http://j4mb.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/so-you-want-to-go-to-the-lake/

    I’ve just put a link to this URL on our blog, and emailed the chief executive of the Co-op. Oh, and I’ve subscribed to this blog so as to be sure of getting future posts. Keep up the great work!

    Mike Buchanan

    JUSTICE FOR MEN & BOYS
    (and the women who love them)

    http://j4mb.org.uk

  7. You are making the mistake of mixing up ‘sexuality’ with ‘commercial exploitation of male fantasy’. All the feminists I know love the former and dislike the latter, precisely because it limits sexual expression for women. It’s because we love sex so much that we are angry about how it has been hijacked by commercial interests and sold back to us in a stale,soulless pre-packaged photoshopped way that is, from a woman’s perspective, nothing to do with OUR sexual pleasure, and all to do with pleasing a man. We are not slut-shaming, but commenting on the inequality of representation. Edie, you say you are worried about society going backwards because that would make it more dangerous for you, but I am also worried about things going backwards, and the gains women have made being lost as we are turned again into the male sexual playthings we have been in the past. The only difference is that you are happy with the current sexual representation of women and I am not.

    1. How is banning the lad mags from store shelves going to address this inequality? If you’re advocating inclusion, bans and censorship seems counter intuitive. Both men AND women enjoy these images. Is it a full view of the portrait of human sexuality? Absolutely not. It is a slice. I don’t see how advocating against the portrayal of one slice of sexuality is going to cause a surge in the portrayal of other slices. The internet is the largest provider of sexual gratification material today; and it allows access to virtually all types of sexual preference; be it breasts, butts, bondage, or men having their nuts crushed by women in high-heels. I agree that society needs to adopt a more expansive view of the sexual condition, but grunting “man pleasure bad” isn’t going to get us there.

      1. Taking lads mags off supermarket shelves will address this inequality by reducing the amount of sexualised imagery of women we see every day to nearer the amount we see of men in our everyday lives. Some women enjoy these images but many more don’t, as is evidenced by the increase in body insecurity, eating disorders and plastic surgery.Reports from the UN, the Leveson Inquiry and the government all conclude that this imagery is contributing to a less equal society for women and provides a context in which harmful sexist attitudes can prevail. If I don’t like bondage or men having their nuts crushed by women in high heels I can simply avoid those web sites, I have no such choice when it comes to surgically-enhanced, pouting sex-objects because currently they fill the public space. I just want the choice. You will still have the choice to go and look for these pictures if you want them. Man pleasure bad will not get us there but neither will Woman pleasure doesn’t matter.

        1. You’re seriously saying that to way to reduce inequality is to attack everybody’s rights? Women are more interested in horoscopes than men. Should we strive for equality by banning astrology from magazines? Oh and men are more interested in cars. And women are more interested in hair. And men are more interested in extreme sports. And women are more interested in clothes. And men are more interested in music. And women… sigh, let’s just ban everything.

        2. I think this is a moral panic that has been totally exaggerated and my experience of ‘feminists’ has left me with a serious lack of respect for them. They are privileged, self-righteous and appear to love a bit of paranoid drama.

          Don’t take your view of the world from panicked headlines only, look at the world around you. There are not an overwhelming amount of women dressed as porn stars and a sexy images all over the place when I go to the supermarket. Maybe where you shop, but even in this hot and humid summer, not where I shop.

          Most people are dressed in normal clothes, a lot of women are in veils in my area, a lot have come back from work, many don’t have the occasion to leave the house in a bikini and high heels unless they are in a villa in Ibiza. There is no one getting their tits out by the produce section, no bare breast at the bakery. The lads mags are over in one corner along with the lottery and cigarettes and it has a separate till. They are on the top shelf and tucked behind other titles such as Mojo, NME and Kerrang! You can see the title but the picture is obscured.

          It’s the panic and the condemnation of ‘bad’ women that is out of control, not the ‘sexualisation’ of society that is out of control.

  8. Thank you. I think its about bloody time the moderate feminists stood up and started reigning in these extremist neofems. Censorship is something that should not be abided, and it makes me sick to see women who call themselves feminists jump into bed with the puritanical right because it is convenient at the moment.

    This trend really needs to be reversed before feminism itself becomes one of the greatest forces for removing agency from women, which it has been in danger of for a number of years. There is still so much to be done for the cause of women, pick your fights properly! Don’t go after the easy stuff like lads mags!

    1. Too many ‘liberal’ feminists enable the radfems because they perceive some kind of pay-off in doing so, even if that ‘pay-off’ is an excuse to not think about a tricky subject, or the short-term removal of a source of political harassment (the ‘squeaky wheel’ scenario). If the mainstream left abandoned identity politics once and for all, it could get on with the job of working for genuine social justice without the need to appease aggressive special interest groups.

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