May 5th, 2010
The full letter and reply is as follows:
I’m 23, not a bad-looking bloke with a decent job, but I broke up with my missus a few months ago and can’t get over her. She seems to be doing fine, any advice?
You’ve got nothing to worry about, son. I’d suggest going out on a rampage with the boys, getting on the booze and smashing anything that moves. Then, when some bird falls for you, you can turn the tables and break her heart. Of course the other option is to cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her.
Obviously the immediate, and most shocking, problem with this reply is the incitement to violence with the encouragement to ‘cut your ex’s face’, emotionally harm a new girlfriend and ‘smash anything that moves’ (aka get pissed up and shag around) on a night out with your mates.
As you may expect this caused a lot of outrage, although it left a number of questions unanswered. Including whether Dyer genuinely gave this answer or if (as is usually the case) a staffer wrote it and he just gets paid to put his name to a column. We also have no clear idea whether the editorial and production team failed to notice this reply, or noticed it and thought it was acceptable to print.
Regardless of who wrote the reply, the answer is callous and cannot be passed off as ironic – as is the usual approach of lads’ magazines when criticised.
Unfortunately there is a long history of lads’ magazines not taking relationships/sex issues seriously. From Zoo’s previous idea to ‘win your girlfriend some boobs’ through to their inclusion of non qualified advisors on their advice column they have form for sidelining relationships issues while presenting misogyny as ‘fun’. Myself and others have consistently offered to help provide frank sex and relationship advice men want, but men’s magazines remain resistant to this.
Zoo isn’t unique in this regard. When asked to address sexism or incorrect sex information in their pages lad’s magazines traditionally argue it is not their place to do so they are – in their words – about entertainment. They see having to present sex and women in non sexist ways as ‘boring’ or ‘worthy’ and argue their readers don’t want this. When you criticise them they make out you’re boring, ugly, or out of touch – and nowhere near cool enough to get their postmodern approach to sexuality.
Unsurprisingly lad’s magazines have historically approached sex/relationships issues either with complete silence, or with inaccurate advice, or with humour. There are some things, however, that just aren’t up for this treatment. And domestic violence is one of those issues.
We know that threatening an ex is common after relationships break up, indeed threatening that you’ll harm someone if they consider ending a relationship/leaving you is a primary indicator in relationship violence. Cutting someone’s face is not the only means of harming an ex. Other forms of physical assault including using acid are ways to get back at an ex. Katie Piper, for example, has become a spokesperson against this kind of harm. There is also the emotional abuse suffered when rumours are spread about you by an ex, or where an ex stalks you or gets their friends to harass you. (These issues are also picked up in Ophelia Bottom’s excellent post)
Relationship violence is a problem within straight and gay relationships and affecting different genders. And we need advice pages to provide advice for people to recognise and deal with partner violence – not advocate it.
Over the course of the day challenges to Zoo and Dyer spread across twitter, blogs and forums. People were encouraged to contact the magazine’s editor (email@example.com), its publisher (Bauer) and Dyer’s publicist.
Because experience tells us appealing to a magazine’s sense of journalistic integrity or moral values tends to be ignored I suggested a better way to make Zoo listen was to contact those advertising with the magazine – companies like Gillette, Kelloggs and Love Film who may not want their products associated with advocating domestic violence. I would suggest if you are concerned about this case you focus on targeting advertisers as if they withdraw their business it will force the magazine to listen and publisher to take action.
Zoo did issue the following statement “A Bauer spokeswoman blamed the comment being published on a “regrettable production error” and said Zoo’s editor, Tom Etherington, offered his “apologies unreservedly for any offence the response may have caused”. Dyer claimed he had been misquoted. “This is totally out of order, I am totally devastated. I have been completely misquoted. This is not the advice I would give any member of the public I do not condone violence against women.”
This could be possible. I’ve written advice columns for several mainstream magazines and have found my original replies have been edited – sometimes very misleadingly – before they end up in print. However, if such a thing happens you usually talk to the magazine, make a public statement on your blog (or similar), or resign.
We perhaps may feel more willing to believe Dyer’s ‘misquote’ accusation or the magazine’s defence of ‘production error’ if the magazine had not previously published similar advice from Dyer – this time suggesting setting fire to a woman.
It even seems the man who asked Dyer for advice has come forward, stating “”I buy the magazine every week and I watch his [Dyer's] movies and I thought he was a bit of a funny guy but now, after seeing that, I think he is a bit sick. I read his column every week, sometimes it is funny, on mine he overstepped the mark, It does change my view of the magazine for printing it and the man. I did it because I wanted some advice. His advice was a bit sick. I was with the girl for a year and would never think about trying to hurt her. I’m going to ring them [Zoo] and see what they have to say. When something like this happens at first I’d like an apology and maybe compensation.”
This at least indicates the letter was genuine, even if the reply was horrific. Sadly, though, it seems the man is seeking compensation – which seems an unfortunate attempt to cash in on an already unpleasant situation.
I had anticipated the magazine would blame feminists or Dyer himself or to go with the ‘it’s ironic’ response they usually favour. I suspect the mobilising of people on Twitter and the encouragement to target their advertisers meant they could not do as they usually do and ignore complaints about their content.
However, their response and offer to give a donation to a women’s aid charity is not adequate. There was a systemic problem here that involves all staff at all levels. The fact that nobody thought it was an issue to publish a letter like this means within the magazine (and the publishing company) nobody has enough insight to realise this is a problem. Or, more chillingly, they do have insight but don’t care.
For the past few years there have been ongoing complaints about the way men’s magazines operate. They are under increasing pressure to shift copy. Regardless of Zoo’s apology advertisers should think twice before placing adverts with the magazine until they can be reassured they won’t be advocating violence against women.
This letter sums up what is wrong with magazines like Zoo that treat their readers like they are fools, who do not provide the information readers need, but present an image of their readers that suggests cutting up a woman’s face is okay.
We should not let this story rest. We need to keep Zoo magazine and publications like it under scrutiny and to request they update the public on what steps they have taken to ensure this never happens again. If we do not hold them to getting their magazine in order they will simply return to this kind of messaging.
It is also a good time to focus on the quality of advice in the media generally – something I’ve been campaigning on and researching for many years. If you are interested in papers I’ve published on this issue – particularly critiques of media advice giving or guides to good practice, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I have emailed Zoo’s editor today highlighting their problematic approach to sex/relationships coverage and offering my advice on how to address this issue. I have done this several times in the past and have always been ignored. I do not expect anything to change this time, but the offer is there – as it is to any media outlet who wants to ensure their sex/relationships content and advice is accurate and engaging.
I appreciate this is an emotive and distressing issue so if you or someone you are close to has been affected by violence you can get support from:
The Hideout – for young people affected by violence
Love is Respect
Men’s advice line (for men experiencing abuse from current or ex partner)
Duluth Model – indicates how violence happens in relationships