Last week Coles decided to remove copies of Zoo Magazine from its shelves amidst complaints that the magazine "teaches boys that girls exist purely for their sexual use."
Sadly, the supermarket chain's cowardice in bowing to the demands of self-regarding do-gooders who neither read Zoo, much less appear in its pages, is not a one off incident. It merely highlights the power of professional moralisers to use confected outrage as an excuse to impose their will on society at large.
Where offence is detected, moralisers have a modus operandi that is well practiced. Their first step is to attract attention by feigning maximum outrage, usually creating an online petition to give like-minded naysayers an opportunity to join their crusade. A nominal victim is useful fodder in the process, as is linking the moralisers cause to some universally reviled evil (sexism, racism et al).
Once the case is mounted, moralisers usually have little trouble conscripting others to their cause. After all, what right-minded person could possibly condone the exploitation of the buxom young damsels that abound in Zoo's tawdry pages?
The final stage occurs when the Facebook shares, retweets and other assorted modes of keyboard activism have reach critical mass. At this stage, moralisers prosecute their cause as no longer an opinion but a universal moral truth; one with the moral authority that rightly deserves to be imposed upon society at large.
Coles' abandonment of Zoo Magazine has all these hallmarks. A 20 year-old checkout attendant at Coles claimed to feel 'unsafe' in the company of newsstands bearing Zoo's glossy bikini clad covers. What's worse, dealing with the depraved libertines who sought to purchase the debauched magazine sent our benighted checkout attendant into a dizzying state of moral disarray. She claims it made her complicit in 'rape culture.'
Enter the feminist firebrands from 'Collective Shout,' who promptly set up a petition calling for Woolworths and Coles to abandon the sordid lads rag. Appeals to universal moral truth were in full force. Collective Shout argued that Coles and Woolworths had a 'responsibility to the community' to do the right thing in light of their commitment to 'family values'. Of course, this contrived plea carries the unspoken threat that if Coles and Woolworths failed to act, they too would be complicit in enabling society wide misogyny.
These claims are alarming, to say the least. But is Zoo Magazine really the festering cesspit of moral turpitude its detractors make it out to be?
Sure, the magazine contains thinly clad models. These models are interviewed – not as objects, but as people – and the topics range well beyond sexuality. These models also choose to go in the magazine voluntarily of their own free will and are paid handsomely for doing so. Lets not pretend self-interest does not exist on either end of the transaction. Indeed, for those aspiring to a career in modelling or promotions, appearing in Zoo is no doubt a hefty boon.
Posing in revealing attire for movies, TV and print has been more or less the norm for both sexes for decades. Exposing skin can certainly be salacious. But conflating the fact that bare bodies arouse our most basic instincts with fuelling a sleaze culture that profits from the denigration of women is an Olympian leap in feminist logic that would make even Germaine Greer blush.
So lets think about the implications that lie beneath Collective Shout's mealy-mouthed exercise in public enlightenment. The claim that Zoo degrades women infantilizes the models that choose to appear in its pages. It treats them as lacking the capacity to make their own decisions and portrays them as enfeebled pray to the lecherous eyes that feast on the magazine. Its claims are equally if not more disparaging of Zoo's readership, suggesting that consumers of men's magazines and perpetrators of sexual violence are one and the same.
None of this is not to say that Zoo has never been guilty of publishing things many would find unpalatable. Instead, it is to highlight that claiming among the most mild of men's magazines promotes violence against women is a highly contestable position to take. It is exactly the type of contestable viewpoint where those who hold it have no right to enforce it upon the will of others.
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