December 15, 2011

Study: Lads’ mags sound identical to rapists

As I was driving through America’s Farm Belt on the way to a prison (miles and miles of cows and plowed corn fields as far as the eye could see), it was a bit incongruous to suddenly see --

Photo by Karen Franklin

-- an ADULT SUPERSTORE, perched on the side of the freeway like a giant mousetrap. While sex offenders are chastised for even thinking about pornography, a free-world traveler like me can't escape its dehumanizing specter, whether on the highway or in my hotel room. Novelist Russell Banks was surely on to something when he called sex offenders the canaries in the coal mine, victims of a $10-billion-plus industry that preys on their loneliness and alienation.

With that vision in mind, I was pleased to see that two of my favorite academic scholars are getting a flurry of media attention over their new study finding that most people cannot distinguish between statements about women in British lads' mags and those made by convicted rapists.

In the study, due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology, men identified more with the comments made by rapists than the quotes made in lads' mags. And that's not necessarily a bad thing: On the whole, the statements pulled from Britain's four leading lads' mags (what North Americans would call men's magazines) were actually more denigrating of women than the rape-justifying statements made by rapists.

For example, here are two quotes:
  • "There's a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves."
  • "You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick."

The first quote is pulled from the book, The Rapist Files: Interviews With Convicted Rapists. The second is from a lads' mag. (If you want to test your ability to differentiate rapists from lads' mags, Jezebel has obliged with an online quiz containing 16 of the statements used in the study.)

The study authors worry that lads' magazines (which are not categorized as pornographic because they do not show full nudity) are mainstreaming hedonistic, predatory attitudes toward women.

"The apparent normalising effect of lads' mags runs counter to the work that is done with sex offenders both in prison and the community,” lead researcher Miranda Horvath told the Guardian. “Sex offender programmes challenge the men about their sexist, misogynistic and derogatory beliefs about women and seek to reeducate them. Yet it appears that some similar beliefs have been presented in recent lads' mags, which are normalised and accepted in mainstream society."

Said co-researcher Peter Hegarty in a press release, “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?”

He added that young men should be given credible sex education and not have to rely on lads' mags as a source of information as they grow up.

Dr. Horvath of Middlesex University is a pioneering researcher into multiple-perpetrator rape and co-organizer of the London conference on sexual violence at which I gave a keynote this summer. Dr. Hegarty at the University of Surrey has just completed a fascinating research project on Lewis Terman of Stanford University; his book, Poison in the Gift: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men is in press by the University of Chicago Press.

The article is: "Lights on at the end of the party: Are lads' mags mainstreaming dangerous sexism?" by Miranda Horvath, Peter Hegarty, Suzannah Tyler and Sophie Mansfield, in the British Journal of Psychology. Author correspondence may be addressed to Dr. Horvath (HERE).


Truth in Justice Files said...

Did you snap that photo along Highway 41 in Wisconsin? It certainly looks like an "adult superstore" I've noticed on trips through my home state.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

Nope, wrong state. Sad to hear that this is not a isolated eyesore. Maybe I should sponsor a guessing contest?