My Continuing Struggle Against Lad Culture: Nathan Stephens-Griffin of ONSIND on FHM, FRONT, Lemuria, and Andrej Pejic.
(Andy’s note: This piece was originally posted on Nathan’s blog, Queering Veganism. Nathan kindly gave me permission to repost it in full here on I Live Sweat. You can check out the original post here.)
I realize I’m probably one of many people writing about this, but I just read an article which made my blood boil.
Every year FHM conducts a poll to decide the ‘worlds 100 sexiest women’. So far, so objectionable. This year, the person who appeared at number 98 was a model called Andrej Pejic, pictured below:
I’m not really into objectifying people, or judging them by narrow and oppressive beauty standards, but I happen to think that Andrej is very attractive, and I understand why even readers of a lads mag like FHM would agree. What the people who own and edit FHM didn’t realise when they published Andrej’s picture in their magazine poll, is that Andrej is a male bodied person. A self-identifying ‘man’ if my research is to be believed (although feel free to correct me). When they found out about this they posted a very hateful online retraction, in which they described Andrej as a ‘thing’ and said that the idea of Andrej potentially becoming a Victoria’s Secret model has had them reaching for the ‘sick bucket’ (you can read the full text in all its pathetic glory at Alicia Swann’s blog).
What a bunch of insecure, childish homophobes. And I use the term ‘homophobes’ not because Andrej is gay (this may or may not be the case, but Andrej’s sexual preferences are largely irrelevant here); I say it because these pricks are clearly so disgusted by the idea that they themselves were sexually attracted to a non-female bodied person that they have overreacted massively and responded by insulting this entirely innocent human being. Perpetrators of violence against trans folks have often been said to have been taking out their own frustrations and sexual confusion on the victim. Creating hatred and violence out of something potentially beautiful (sexual attraction). This could have been a watershed moment of progress for FHM and society in general, instead they’ve swept it under the carpet like an embarrassing ‘mistake’. Imagine these heteronormative fuck-wits watching porn. If a man’s face or body part appears on screen at the moment of ejaculation they probably feel dirty for weeks.
FHM has been criticised for it’s transphobic response (e.g. here and here, and presumably many more places), and it has since retracted the initial statement. But it hasn’t been criticised for its seemingly insatiable desire to rank, categorise and sexually objectify women based on arbitrary indicators of value. Isn’t this just two sides of the same ugly, oppressive coin? In describing Andrej as a ‘thing’, FHM highlighted its own desire to dehumanize; but this is what the magazine does on a monthly basis anyway. FHM promotes the idea that women are here for men to ogle at and fantasize about fucking, and nothing more. I appreciate and support the concern over the apparent transphobia, but my concerns extend a lot further. In my utopia, there would be no such thing as a ‘lads mag’.
Last week, I sent an email to the power-pop/indie/punk band Lemuria. I have met Alex and Sheena from Lemuria a couple of times (onsind had the pleasure of supporting them a couple of years ago), and I guess you could say they are mutual acquaintances of mine (in that they are pretty good friends with one or two of my pretty good friends). My email alerted them to the fact that the stage they are playing at an upcoming alternative music festival in Kent this summer is sponsored by FRONT magazine. FRONT is a self-styled ‘alternative’ to lads mags, it is kind of like a cross between Kerrang and Suicide Girls. I consider myself to be very sex-positive, I also think that nudity is a wonderful thing. But I will reject magazines like FHM and FRONT to the hilt.
FRONT magazine, like FHM, is fundamentally sexist. It profits from treating women as (sex) objects. It promotes narrow and oppressive ideas about (female) beauty. It is made (primarily) by men, for men. FRONT is no different to FHM. Yes the women on display in FRONT have tattoos/piercings, but they are also more often than not body-hairlessly infantilised, skinny, large breasted and air-brushed out of reality, just like they are in any other lads-mag. Tellingly, Andrej’s apparent flat-chestedness was brought up in FHMs retraction; you can imagine them privately cursing themselves for letting a flat-chest slip through the cracks onto the pages of their magazine.
I realize that I could be alienating friends here. Me bashing FHM is one thing: it’s what lager lads read after all. But FRONT has been embraced by some members of the punk scene. So, to preempt the usual kneejerk male defensiveness, I want to stress that I do not think that my rejection of lads mags/mainstream porn makes me ‘better’ than anyone else. I have friends who buy, read, have worked for and have appeared in FRONT magazine (both as models and as bands- no points for guessing which gender was appearing in which capacity). As a 15 year old, I read those kinds of magazines uncritically (including FRONT, before it restyled itself as an ‘alternative’ magazine). At that age, I saw no harm. At 25, I see it all too clearly.
As the lead singer/guitarist in a ‘punk-eque’ band, Sheena from Lemuria has often had to deal with (overt and subtle) sexism (this article is a great reference point). In a recent interview with punknews.org, Sheena (pictured below) said:
“I think women [in bands] should be viewed as musicians more than their gender should have anything to do with it.”
Having met Alex and Sheena, it struck me that them playing in front of a banner which promotes the exact opposite view of women, would be somewhat contradictory and self-defeating. FRONT promotes the idea that women should be valued solely for their appearance and their (hetero)sexuality, not for what they have to say or for their creativity or talent. I hope that Lemuria consider pulling out of the festival, or at least offering the organizers some kind of ultimatum regarding the festival’s sponsors. I can’t see it happening. I love the band, but they have gotten to the point where they are so popular that my email will probably never get read. They don’t handle their own booking, and I can see them just turning up, playing and leaving without really noticing or understanding what the fest was sponsored by. Or maybe Lemuria think magazines like FRONT are a good thing to be associated with… I sincerely doubt it.
I guess the main point I’m making is that flash-in-the-pan out cries about these magazines often can’t see the wood for the trees. I remember a furore a year or so ago when guest columnist Danny Dyer advised a heartbroken ZOO magazine reader to ‘cut’ his ex-girlfriends face up, so that ‘no one else will want her’. The media fuss was overwhelming, so Zoo sacked him, and the next week published an article about domestic violence. The sad fact is that Dyer’s ugly, hateful words are implicit in every page of ZOO magazine regardless.
(Andy’s note: The Danny Dyer incident outlined above caused my mate Liam, with a bit of help from my hungover husk, come up with this Just Giving campaign. If you’ve got a spare couple of quid, it’s still open.)
Until these magazines begin to value women for more than just their appearance (or at the very least embrace a more inclusive version of beauty); until they embrace the idea that men finding male/trans bodies attractive is not something to be ashamed or hysterically defensive about; until they stop treating women like sex objects, they will still be perpetuating the same fundamental value system which makes domestic violence, rape and misogyny such a sickeningly prevalent aspect of our society.
Apparently, Andrej wants to do a Playboy shoot. I guess that’s one potential reformist route to trans liberation.
Me? I just want to shoot Playboy.
Nathan is one half of One Night Stand In North Dakota, my favourite UK band. He’s interested in comics and queer theory, which makes him double-rad to the power of zombie dinosaurs. His contact details are on his Tumblr, which you can find here. I Live Sweat interviews ONSIND last year too. Go and read!
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