Men’s magazines also known as lads’ mags normalise sexist humour, according to new research which refutes the idea that men perceive them as ironic or ‘harmless fun’. Editors of men’s magazines such as Zoo and FHM have long claimed that sexist humour in their publications is harmless because male readers perceive it as ironic.
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However, researchers, including those from the University of Surrey in the UK, have refuted that idea. In the first study of 81 men in the UK aged between 18 and 50, participants were presented with sexist jokes both in and out of a lads mag context.
Young men – particularly those who scored lower on sexism measures – considered the jokes less hostile when taken in a lad’s mag context (but not more ironic or funnier). A second study, of 423 men aged 18-30, aimed to identify the correlation between sexism and lad’s mag consumption.
This showed that if a man displays ambivalent sexism he is more likely to buy lads’ mags than other men, but not more likely to indulge in other forms of direct sexual consumption. A third study, conducted in the US, demonstrated that when shown evidence of the extreme hostility of content found in lad’s mags, young men de-legitimise these magazines.
In this study, selected participants took part in a sorting task which involved identifying which of a group of quotations had appeared in lads’ mags and which had been used by convicted rapists.
Having failed to do this effectively – correctly identifying only half of the quotations – the men who had taken part in the sorting task viewed lads’ mags as less legitimate.
The three studies built on earlier research led by the University of Surrey which helped ignite a public debate about the role lad’s mags may play in ‘normalising’ sexist attitudes.
Using the same sorting task as the recent study, a series of studies in 2012 found that men could not distinguish between quotations from lad’s mags and convicted rapists – but they identified more with quotes from either source when they were said to have originated in lad’s mags.
The research contributed to the decision to put lad’s mags in black plastic wrappers on supermarket shelves in the UK.
“Sales of lad’s mags have declined significantly in recent years, with several ceasing publication,” said lead author Peter Hegarty, professor at the University of Surrey.
“But ‘lad culture’ and the normalisation of sexism is still a major concern, particularly on university campuses and online,” said Hegarty.
“These latest studies demonstrate how a concrete source of social influence can shape the expression of a prejudice that is generally considered unacceptable in an egalitarian society.
The study was published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinities.