'A loaf of bread and a dozen wet, horny babes, please.' 

Supermarkets and local newsagents

I said I would look at women's representation in local supermarkets and newsagents. I had little idea how I would tackle either and thought I would simply "see what happened.' As it turned out, my day became a series of impromptu and random interviews on attitudes to pornography. The effect of popular magazines in reinforcing stereotypes has been researched and written about repeatedly for 30 years. The impact of pornography, in  encouraging, at the very least, demeaning of women and girls, and, at worse, violence against them, has also been well documented by feminists. What is more interesting, and depressing, to me, is why, in spite of persistent campaigning, the stereotypes still exist, and increasingly violent and explicit material is freely available, in shops where the general public buy food, clothing, children's books and toys. The question is, what should we do about it?


I began with my local, large Sainsbury's supermarket, focussing on women's magazines, and men's magazines. There are a large number of 'Women's Lifestyle', which range from Woman and Home, through to Country Kitchen, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, and Zest (Get a flat stomach – fast!). They move on to more specialised subjects, You and Your Wedding, Your Hair, Glamour, In Style, Good Housekeeping (the latter presumably comes when you've exhausted your appearance skills). After this come celebrity magazines, Hello, OK and the like. It goes without saying that the images of women on the covers are all young, slim, white, and mostly with long blonde hair.

I then moved around to the men's section. Sainsbury's now has a policy of putting 'explicit' magazines behind a grey board, at easy reach level. The covering partially obscures the photos so you can only see a sliver of bare leg or breast – it gives the impression of naked women straddling a broad board, which is somehow worse. Often, the magazines are leafed through and left exposed. Therefore, hiding 'explicit' material  becomes a very token gesture. 

Men's magazines are divided into subjects such as Sports, Motoring, Music. Semi-clad women feature on the covers of motoring magazines, still posed provocatively on car bonnets as they were 30 years ago, and on most of the sporting magazines. They are at adult eye level, or lower. Then there are the lads' magazines, Nuts, Zoo, loaded, FHM. This month's loaded advertises on the front cover 'the nude issue. 80 women 100% naked'. Inside, the content is as promised, including several pages of graphic images of (supposedly) lesbian sex. These lads' mags are geared to a teenage market.

 I asked two middle-aged men (separately), what they thought about the lads' mags (I flicked through them, showing them page after page of semi-naked or naked women with huge, unnatural breasts in 'fuck me' poses).  I added, 'how would you feel about your sons reading them?' Both replied almost identically, with comments such as 'It doesn't bother me'; 'Don't mind, can't see the harm'; 'Don't have a problem with it.' When pressed, 'Don't you think it humiliates women?' one said 'No,' and the other said he had never thought about it. I then asked a middle-aged woman for her opinion. She leafed through them, clearly surprised at the content. 'Zoo, that's very PC, isn't it,' she said outraged, 'animals in wet t-shirts!' The cover of this magazine portrayed, again, a parade of scantily clad women with surgically altered breasts. She went on to say they were 'offensive, exploiting the women, exploiting the kids who buy them', and added, 'Get them hooked, cheaply, then they'll progress onto the more expensive £5+ ones. (Some of the lads' mags are priced at £1.40). She added, 'So Sainsbury's is selling 'dirty magazines for kids'.

Next, I spoke to a Sainsbury's employee. He said they covered up the lads' mags because of complaints from customers, at a national level, but added that the distribution of magazines was intended to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. 'It's their choice, isn't it?' (We might question Sainsbury's definition of 'broad audience'). Their policy is to sell lads' mags to customers aged 16+, but the age range who buys them in Sainsbury's, he thought, is 25-6. He informed me that young men do not tend to buy them in supermarkets, as there are too many restrictions. 'Newsagents are easier as the mags are lower down and there's no age check. Anyway they have their own web-sites'. At this point he took Nuts off the shelf, and pointed out the web-site, listed in minute writing next to the date and the price in euros. 'So you can look at their web-site, you don't have to buy the magazine, and there's much worse on the internet, anyway,' he concluded, adding hastily, 'not that I look at porn'.

Local newsagent

Behind the counter, there was a white woman, aged around 55-60, and a young Asian woman whose mother owns the shop. They were happy to talk. They said 'old men come in and buy pornography regularly, they used to browse, but now shop policy is to seal the magazines up so they can't. If they want to read them, they have to do it in their own homes.'

The porn magazines were all there, but packed tightly together on the top shelf, so images of naked women were not obvious. The lads' mags were at eye level but tucked into each other, so, again, not seen at a glance. The top shelf magazines were taped shut. The younger woman pointed out the 'speciality' porn, featuring, for instance 'different ages. Over 60s, 30+, children'. I asked why the lads' mags were at eye level, and she said 'the distributor tells you where you have to put them on the shelves, and lads' mags have to be where they are easy to reach.' In response to my question, she said 'boys as young as 11 buy them regularly'.

I asked how it affected them selling this stuff. The older woman said 'It embarrasses us. Sometimes I have to look for the price on the front cover and it isn't obvious, and I have to stare at a naked women. It makes me embarrassed at my own body with this man standing there and I don't want to touch his hands when I take his money. Ugh!' She shuddered.

Suddenly, they nudged each other and mouthed to me, 'Look, there's one now. One of

the dirty old men. He comes in all the time.' A man in his 60s was looking at the top shelf, but, feeling himself observed, seemed unsure what to do. I went and stood beside him, also looking up at the porn. I then took a magazine  down -  woman in very explicit pose, huge breasts dangling, crouched on all 4's, buttocks thrust into the air – and said innocently, 'What do you think of this?' He was bemused, and didn't answer. I persisted, 'Do you look at porn?' I think he was startled (I can only speculate) because he said 'Yes'. 'Oh, what do you get out of looking at it?' I asked earnestly, in interview mode. 'I prefer reading books,' he mumbled, and hastily left the shop.  

Finally, I asked about distribution – why does the owner stock pornography? They thought shops were obliged to take certain numbers of every magazine, and that if they refused magazines they don't get free distribution.

Tesco Express

This small store is in a different part of South Bristol. The lads' mags are in full view, within easy reach. People queuing for the tills can't avoid seeing them. I wondered if they were strategically placed deliberately, as I noticed a similar accessibility in a Tesco Express in Shepherds Bush. Tesco Express stores are always very busy, with long slow moving queues to the tills.

The Duty Manager was a young woman who informed me that a plan comes from head office and you have to set out the magazines accordingly.  The pornography isn't hidden. I asked the manager what she thought, and she said 'I don't mind.' Then she added, 'I don't look at them.'

Two small general stores, with no other shops around.

Next was a small general store among lots of houses, selling groceries, and wine as well as papers. The top shelf was stuffed with pornography, including attached DVD's advertising 'hard-core porn.' The man behind the counter was unwilling to speak to me, and unhappy that I removed a magazine to show him. I put it back, and left.

As I walked into the last store, the first magazine, at eye level, was Wet, horny babes. (Underneath were teen magazines, tweenie, daisy, Star Girl). This magazine, easily within reach, was the most sickeningly explicit one I saw – entire pages were close-ups of women's vaginas and anus's. I took it up to the two men at the counter, flicked through the pages, and as before, asked what they thought of these images and why they were selling them. When another man came into the shop in the middle of our discussion, the manager got embarrassed and hid the images.

 His response/justification for stocking them was interesting. First, he said 'Christianity

has gone too far. It's this country we're living in. No morals. If we were in a Muslim country it wouldn't be allowed.' I pointed out that it was he who was stocking the pornography, and that I, too, was grossly offended by these images (not that I was convinced he was). He then changed tack, became apologetic, and said, 'I have to pay the rent. Look at that bread over there. It goes stale; no-one will buy it tomorrow, I have to throw it out. This', indicating the revolting magazine, 'sells really well. I make a good profit on these magazines, so I'm not going to stop selling them.'

Finally, I asked if there was an age limit in who he sold them to. He said 18, and that he didn't ask for proof of age.

Interview with 4 boys

When I returned to my car, there were four boys having a heated argument outside Tesco Express, one African Caribbean youth aged 19, and three white boys, aged 12-15. I asked if I could interrupt to ask them some questions. The conversation went roughly like this:

Me: Do you read lads' mags?

Boy (12): You mean Nuts, Zoo, loaded?

All: Yes

Youth (19): I read porn, I have a porn magazine in my bedroom at this moment, 'cos I haven't got a girlfriend, and this stops me going out and raping women.

Me: Whether you're winding me up or not, why would you want to rape women if you weren't wanking in your bedroom?

Youth: I couldn't help myself, man.

Me: Come on. You don't really think men have an uncontrollable urge, do you?

It's difficult to remember how the rest of the conversation went. The 15 year old might have agreed the image of women in the mags was sexist, then the 19 year old said he was too young yet to know anything. The point was, they were all familiar with the magazines, and rape was treated as a joke.


Today (July5th), I was shopping in Sainsbury's. loaded was exposed. I think Tuesday must have got to me at some level, because I felt furious, and called the manager. I said the fact they sold these magazines sickened me and asked what was wrong with him that he condoned selling this extremely offensive rubbish. He said the fact that I don't like them doesn't mean that other people don't have the right to buy them and could I kindly leave the store.


I suggest that

1) The Fawcett Society formulates a policy against pornography, on the grounds that

   a) pornography demonstrates the unequal treatment of women, and

   b) promotes the unequal treatment of women, and, additionally,

   c) insults and demeans men and boys by providing such material for their gratification.

2) our local Bristol group initiates a local campaign against pornography, starting with attempting a ban in supermarkets such as Sainsbury's, Tesco, etc, and tackling the distribution system to small shops.

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