Ladettes, lads' mags and a complicit culture
PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 November 2017
EMMA JONES recalls her time working in the magazine industry with its very warped view of women
When I was in my 20s, and a London-based journalist, with a newborn son, I was invited to meet the editor of a lads’ magazine. I was excited, since I needed a job.
He asked me if I fancied writing a column. “Yes thank you,” I said.
“A sex column?”
I see – that kind of column. I knew where he was going. You know the kind of thing... A diary of a woman who loves sex a lot. Can’t get enough. She’s sexually confident, of course, like a real man. Only not a man, but a woman... Talking confidently, about the kind of sex that many men hoped to be true. That she loved to do all the stuff they fantasised about, like loads of anal and girl-on-girl, probably. Making it acceptable.
Better even, because a woman was saying it for herself, because that was what feminism was about back then. Ladettes and all that...
Young women who got to drink beer from bottles and party hard, as long as they wore cropped tops and got their kit off for the lads’ mags as well.
They were owning it. (Except someone else owned the copyright.)
Ladettes weren’t allowed to age, but they didn’t know that at the time. They only found out later, when their marriages went wrong and the papers said it was their fault for wanting it all, when they should have been looking after the kids and their husbands.
I didn’t do the column. I couldn’t get it up, so to speak. For the sample, I wrote something subtle and nuanced. I knew it wasn’t what he wanted, and that was that. To be fair it was just as well.
I’d just had a baby anyway. To be honest my body wasn’t producing much more than milk. I was tired, and it would be an effort to pretend that was sexy on top of everything else.
Having worked in mags and tabloids for several years by then, this wasn’t my first experience of the all-prevailing lads’ mag culture.
When I was editor of Smash Hits, a pop magazine for teens and prepubescents, I was invited by the publishing company to a big conference in a hotel in the countryside. All the other magazine editors would be there, too and all the top brass.
One of the magazines in our stable was Big Nuts or Loaded Guns or Wank Pants or something, not sure which one. None of the female writers who worked for my magazine ever liked it much, when we had to visit their floor in our building. It smelt funny and there were of posters of girls with their tits out, plastered all over the place.
At the conference, it was suggested by an editor of a magazine and a few others, on stage, in front of the whole audience, including the bigwigs, that it would be a great ‘cross-promotional’ idea if I posed for the lads mag. The idea was met by the conference room full of people with some laughs. I was embarrassed.
None of the other editors, of Kerrang! and Mother and Baby and whatnot, had been asked to do anything like that. But I was not shocked. I had just come from newspapers. The Sun, specifically, where Page 3 was the mentality.
Once or twice, I’d had been asked to caption photos of women, splayed-out like randy roadkill for the paper. One particular weekend, I remember I had to write a picture caption for a photograph featuring Katie Price, then Jordan, lain down with fake snow splattered all over her chest.
A hundred words or so. Unpleasant, but was just what you did there. In the Saturday edition of the Sun (the one that made all the money,) the Page 3 girls were covered up a bit, the logic being, that it wasn’t a working day, and therefore the men reading the paper wouldn’t need cheering-up so much.
When the first female editor took over, her promised revolution, of getting rid of topless models, was, on day one, giggled away. Instead, she changed the spelling of the name of the girl on Page 3 to her own name. They shared the same name but with slightly different spellings.
The only difference was that the girl with her top off spelt hers the bog-standard way (Rebecca), so it was changed to the editor’s way, with a ‘k’ in the middle and an “h” at the end. This was an industry in-joke.
Thus, the one with less clothes was robbed of her true identity as well as her dignity. That was then. This is now.
Suddenly, things have changed because of Harvey Weinstein. Who knew the sexual revolution would come in the shape of a groping man-blob?
But, as every fashion photographer knows, styles change, as quickly as the hot nude teen in front of the camera. Still, it came as a surprise to those entrenched in the old ways.
Photographer Terry Richardson, once the daaar-ling of the fashion world, shooting ad campaigns for everyone from Marc Jacobs to Yves Saint Laurent, described the recent decision by Conde Nast – in the light of allegations about the treatment of models – to ban editors using his pictures, as “revisionist history”.
Now, I don’t like his kind of work much, or the way he operates – to me it’s just sexual aggression dressed up as a gag. ‘Uncle Terry’ Richardson – who has denied any exploitation or misconduct – is smiling, thumbs-up, when he appears alongside and on top of the mostly-naked models. That’s his shtick, because he knows who the joke is on. And it’s not him.
But sadly, the creep with the camera is right. Up until now, magazines have joined in the sniggering. By rights, they should hold their hands up, and admit their part in the cultural history he claims, rightly, they are revising.
In the pre-Weinstein days, they were in on the in-joke. The week before Richardson was pulled, for the last time, a prominent writer from GQ was sacked for acting out the culture of the magazine culture I’m talking about.
Back-in-the-day, in the Nineties and early Noughties, he would probably have got away with it. He was after all, one of the lads. But rightly, he was booted out.
The baby I’d just had, when I went to the lads’ mag editor’s office, is a 15-year-old lad himself now. I hope I brought him up to know this stuff isn’t funny.
Emma Jones was a showbiz reporter for, among others, the Sun and editor of Smash Hits magazine