Dude, WTF are those women doing on those covers?

Hi, all–

About 10 days ago I blogged about sexism in sci fi (and we can extend that to publishing and writing in general, sadly).

If you have not read it, please read Kameron Hurley’s awesome piece on writing women into fiction, and ways not to do that.

Here, I want to talk a little bit more about that and then bring your attention to cover art as one of the layers (author Jim Hines’ term) in the giant reeking onion that is sexism. More on that below. First, I want to call your attention to a particular blog post…

Join me for more…

Anyway, I bring this up again because all around bowl of awesome writer Chuck Wendig has posted one of his 25 Things blogs in which he discusses 25 things to know about sexism and misogyny. Read that. Not just for Chuck’s take on it, but also because he supplies a lot of links in which authors are bringing this shit up, and discussing it, and saying that IT IS NOT OKAY to treat women like service droids. IT IS NOT OKAY to assume that their science fiction must suck Jagorian raider balls because it’s written by beings with ovaries. IT IS NOT OKAY to dismiss women as somehow “less than” at conferences, or to feel them up when you have a bit too much at Comic-Con and to assume that since they’re women, they must totally want penises in them all the time from whichever male happens to be near and oh, my god I couldn’t possibly learn anything from estrogen or a uterus, since that’s all that women are about.

THESE THINGS ARE NOT OKAY. And pointing out that these things are not okay is not infringing on the free speech rights of the douches who engage in such behavior. Rather, it’s calling attention to the fact that maybe you’re saying crappy things and behaving in a crappy fashion. If you engage in such douchery, well, here’s your chance to really think about what you’re saying and what you’re doing. Here’s your chance to grow a little bit as a human and think about how your behavior contributes to an entire avalanche of douchery that rolls down the hills of opportunity and engulfs the publishing and writing industries in a nasty clotted snowpack of sexism and misogyny. Seriously. Don’t be dicks, as Chuck says. Don’t be assholes.

I will direct you now to more posts that are addressing the asshattery that has been going on at the Science Fiction Writers of America. Recently. Not to suggest asshattery has not been afoot for a while. Anyway. Here’s author Ann Aguirre on how she has experienced marginalization in sci fi. And here’s author Delilah Dawson, with another absolutely shitty story about how she was treated at a steampunk conference.

And now let’s talk about cover art. In comics and spec fic, women are often sexualized on covers, and placed in ridiculous poses that are often impossible in real life. Here, a martial artist/contortionist analyzed some of the poses women are put in on book covers and notes that the poses are impossible and/or ridiculous for fighting purposes.

Have a look, too, at the Hawkeye Initiative, in which clever people re-do comic book covers with a dude as the sex object and posed in the often ridiculous poses that the women are. Great stuff. “Put it to the Hawkeye test!” appears to be a clarion call for people to put Hawkeye in the same pose as the woman/women on the covers to call attention to how women are portrayed on covers.

Also see Jim Hines, fantasy author, posing himself as some of the women on book covers and comics. Sometimes hilarious, but always telling. Here’s the blog post that started it all, when he attempted to replicate poses that women were doing on book covers and comics. You can see all the poses at Jim’s Flikr account HERE. Go see.

Then, to answer people who were all, “well, men get posed in ridiculous-ness, too,” he did this post, and basically demonstrated that no, that’s not the case. Men on covers do not sacrifice power or agency for the sake of sexuality (his words). Reviewer Ocelett noted it too. And then, with more coolness, Hines created a fundraising opp — cover poses — to raise money for a condition that affects girls called Aicardi Syndrome. And also to raise awareness about the objectification of women in various genres through the medium of cover art. Here’s one of Jim lampooning a Catwoman cover. And here’s another. You get the idea.

Jim’s overall point is that sexism infuses publishing in layers, and it can be expressed in covers and it’s time we started talking about that, and demanding that the industry do better, and put strong, competent women on covers that aren’t contorted into sexualized poses:

So how do we fix this problem? We keep talking about it. We recognize that it’s a multi-layered problem that’s been evolving for a very long time. We don’t settle for simplistic answers. We speak out about the bad covers and the good ones, the covers that show strong, competent women who may or may not be sexualized, but if so, it’s not done at the expense of that strength.

Author Seanan McGuire talks about that, too, but notes that when a woman is portrayed in a half-naked way (like her book, Discount Armageddon), read the book before assuming that the cover is another jaunt down sexist lane.

When I go to the bookstore, half-naked women greet me in literally every section except for cozy mysteries. There are elegant half-naked women on action novels, waiting to be ravaged. There are misty, wistful half-naked women on YA novels, ready to embark on romantic adventures, probably while drowning. There are lots of half-naked women on science fiction and fantasy, many of them happy to show me their posteriors. And this doesn’t even touch on the comic book store, where there are so many half-naked women that I barely even notice them anymore. Once I stopped expecting puberty to give me a figure like Dazzler or Illyana Rasputin, I just tuned all the thrusting hips and pointy boobs out, like the white noise that they were.
Riddle me this, o world. If women mostly don’t ask for half-naked girls on book covers, if most book covers seem geared to the male gaze, whether rightly or wrongly, then why is it men stepping up to call those covers garbage, and to call the women who grace them slutty? Why is my cover getting slut-shamed by someone who doesn’t know the girl in that picture, doesn’t know who she is or why that image is an accurate one? It’s like the art is awesome as long as it’s on a closet door, but if you’re asked to like it in public, it’s time to throw out a few micro-aggressions to keep people from thinking you’re “that kind” of person.

It’s a great conversation that’s going on, and I’m glad to see so many men and women engaging in it, and calling out sexism and asking people to really think about it, and to change things. Thanks for that.

Anyway. Food for thought.

Happy reading, happy writing.

2 thoughts on “Dude, WTF are those women doing on those covers?

  1. Hey, just wanted to let you know, your Chuck Wendig link leads to Kameron Hurley’s article. Which is actually a great article, but one which already has it’s own link.

    Great post!

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