Scrolling through my Google Reader just now, I came across a post at the Book Pushers website, stating their must-have titles for July. In order of appearance and category, the books listed are:
Night Veil, by Yasmine Galenorn
Naked City, an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow
Hammered, by Kevin Hearne
Ghost Soldiers, by Keith Melton
Spell Bound, by Kelley Armstrong
Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher
Bloodlands, by Christine Cody
Skin Dive, by Ava Gray
Dead Alert, by Bianca D’Arc
Dead Iron, by Devon Monk
Touch of Frost, by Jennifer Estep
Heartbreak Creek, by Kaki Warner
Only Mine, by Susan Mallery
What struck me immediately was the staggering difference between how male and female protagonists were depicted on the covers. The heroines of Night Veil and Spell Bound are both shown with bare, toned arms and midriffs, their long hair loose, wearing tight pants and staring sexily forwards from the center of the cover. By contrast, the heroes of Hammered, Ghost Soldiers, Ghost Story, Bloodlands and Dead Iron are universally set to one side or depicted glancing with their heads turned down or sideways, and all of them bar Atticus of Hammered (who has a sword) are wearing Badass Longcoats. Three of them have weapons. The cover of Naked City, which features both a man and a woman, follows a similar theme: the man is set to the side, glancing downwards and swathed in a coat, while the woman stares sexily from a place of prominence, her corseted cleavage, long hair and bare shoulders on prominent display. Even the YA cover, Touch of Frost, shows a pretty, long-haired girl staring sexily outwards. Note that in every instance, the long-haired girls have brown/dark hair, which the cynic in me thinks is used to denote Sexy Girls Who Are Neither Stupid Not Sluttish, both negative characteristics which are the traditional purview of blondes.
Compare this with the four romance titles: the two paranormal offerings, Skin Dive and Dead Alert, both show shirtless, well-muscled men. One is faceless, set to the side; the other has a sword, and is accompanied by a PVC clad woman, who – yes – has bare arms, long dark hair, a gun and a come-hither expression. The historical romance has a landscape; the contemporary shows a man and woman, both clothed, on a beach, cuddling intimately.
So, look. I am in no way trying to disparage these books, because they all sound awesome, and at least two of them are already on my TBR list; nor am I trying to point fingers at the authors, or say that the images, taken individually, aren’t compelling. But what the hell is going on in Coverlandia? I mean, it’s not like I’ve been unaware of the gendering of SFF book covers, and I’m certainly not a noob when it comes to trope-spotting. But seeing it all laid out so clearly in a post that had nothing whatsoever to do with cover commentary really brought it home to me. So far as I can tell, these covers have all been constructed in keeping with a set of rules that must look something like this:
- Sexy, bare-armed brunette women and brooding, weaponised men in coats sell books.
- Men will be objectified only when the books are being marketed to women.
- Women will be objectified regardless of audience, though this will be dialed back slightly for YA titles.
- Men are sexiest when they appear diffident.
- Women are sexist when they appear confident.
- Unclothed men are sexy. Clothed Men are sexy. Unclothed women are sexy. Clothed Women, though, are not.
And so on, to the point where my response to the whole wretched business is as follows: