Disclaimer: I am a dramatic writer, and that does not mean that I am trying to imply that my opinion is dogmatically held (and you should hold that same opinion, and I’ll reward you with lots of money…). I don’t operate like the Huffington Post or Jezebel
Please,please disagree with what I write, reject it in any way. I only put this here because I am very wary of our internet culture that construes opinions as facts. This is a rant, a very opinionated rant. Disagree with sound-mindedness though! No stupid, bully posts will be tolerated!
Happy International Women’s Day!! Here is a rant that I previously published on Tumblr, and I thought would be very pertinent for today.
The disparaging reality remains that women writers are still relatively underrepresented in our public school English classes, thus perpetuating the lie that fiction written and framed by a women’s voice is uninteresting to a male reader. Except, female students often have to read books strictly from the male perspective all the time. Due to this, I think this rant is necessary:
Original Tumblr Rant About Female Writers Underrepresented in Public Schools:
That moment when you realize that the vast majority of novels in middle and high school were mostly written by dead, white men….
And, they say public schools are the bastion of liberalism/socialism…Give me a break!
Wouldn’t want a few boys in school having to read that novel: Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights? They might be emasculated. No, you must all read about women (50% of the population), only through the perspective of male writers. We must safeguard our American men from female perespectives…YIKES…
But, look how women in school just have to put up with reading all these novels, written by dead white man? But, they’re classics, and they’re written by authors that never had their authorship questioned.
The fact that some Americans know nothing of Phillis Wheatley (awesome African-American poet from late 18th century), or that Sam Adam’s wife was a pretty damn articulate letter writer is damning evidence that there is underlying misogyny in our public school curriculum in English/History classes. I certainly didn’t learn about Phillis Wheatley till college.
Another discouraging factoid is that women’s voices is usually an elective in high schools, meaning that books written with women are seen as optional, thus relegated to the corridors of being unimportant. Wouldn’t want our men-folk to be obligated to read books, written by a population that is the majority of the population???? You don’t want to be the sole, feminized male that daringly would want to read a book, written by women.
This stigma is carried further into the publishing industry, where every book that stars a woman, must be published with a insipid Harlequin cover to implicitly tell men that they would be best to avoid digging into a book that concerns a woman’s thoughts.
Sexist or Inaccurate Gender-Specific, Pigeonholing Book Covers
Some Publishing companies continue to egregiously publish books from a female perspective with insipid covers that are not just inauthentic, but downright demeaning. Not all though, and it is comforting to remember that many are very careful, in creating covers that aren’t insipid. I believe insipid book covers are insipid and ineffective from a marketing standpoint; the goal of marketing something is to create the widest range of potential readers, not a limited group. Chick-lit covers are fine by nature, and okay if the text supports such a cover. Otherwise, it is not accurate to the text, if the character is displayed in a sexed-up or dolled-like way.
“The simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality.” (Maureen Johnson)
“[These covers] are using every stereotype of mainstream femininity to visually represent work that specifically challenges those very stereotypes! It’s a really crazy paradox,” (Meenakshi Gigi Durham) (Speaking specifically about the weird trend of the anniversary copies of books, like Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar,receiving an insipidly feminine cover.)
Take for instance, this recent cover redesign of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s cover for Woman of Substance, More like Attack of the Despairingly Skinny Mannequin!
Did you know that this book is about a strong female business women? The cover begs to differ; the insipid cover above contrives an entirely different idea of this story. It says that this woman’s looks; her stark-white skin, her freakishly skinny body, and sumptuous dinner-party gown; are far more crucial points that the fact that Emma Harte, the protagonist of this story, is a smart, individualistic businesswoman, who has a story of strength and endurance that can motivate men and women.
And these book covers just get worse:
Repackaging Classic Books with an Insipidly Feminine Cover
Not Jane Eyre, Jane Harlequin
“The larger problem, I think, is not the outlandish repackaging of a few revered books by women, but the less obvious and more insidious tendency to visually trivialize a great many books by a great many women.” (Nara Schoenberg)
Jane Eyre; one of premier examples of nineteenth century feminism; is given a vacuous redesign by this publishing firm that wishes to insultingly portray her as a mere Victorian waif. This undermines the fact that she is smart, and makes profoundly counter-cultural choices in an era in England that is deeply misogynistic and resentful of a woman’s journey for success and self-definition.
Not Anne of Avolea, More like Canadian Model of Avonlea/ Queen Bee of Prince Edward Island
What the hell, Sourcebooks? Honestly, what is up with this ghastly cover for Anne of Green Gables? Why does her skin look unblemished and pale ? L.M. Montgomery would be insulted by this demeaning piece of trash. Anne Shirley is smart, voluble, and one of the earliest examples of a strong, self-educated woman in literature. But no, you decide to insult the intelligence of your readers, and take a crap on the legacy of this character, by prettying her up. This isn’t only misogynistic; it is also negligent of the fact that Anne Shirley was no vain princess; she lived and dwelled among common, unpretentious folk. I feel like this cover disrespectfully omits that part of the very community she happens to inhabit.
Look at how humble and perfectly ordinary the original Anne Shirley looks:
This is lost in translation,and I am really, really saddened by the choices that Sourcebooks made to doll her up, in attempt to appeal to a new set of vain readers. I know some people think I’m being too dramatic, but I strongly feel that these new covers are an insult to the original intent and purpose of these books.
The new cover spits in the face of the fact that Anne Shirley lives with lower class folks,and is not someone of a higher class.
Urban Fantasy& The Weird Seductive Poses
Urban fantasy is notorious for making nearly all their female characters pose in a certain seductive way. Is the book an action-packed adventure, or is the gun-toting prostitute going to rip off those bloody clothes after each encounter with a bad guy. Are we gearing this book for women? Personally, I think this book looks more for the men; you have a smoking-hot woman with a gun, who isn’t even wearing attire that any female police officer would even wear. This cover thankfully isn’t the most egregious example of the Urban Fantasy Seductress trope. She is not making some painful contortionist twist, when posing on the cover. (There should be a discreationary warning on these covers; please do not try posing like this in real life or you’ll severely break a bone, or something.)
“Yeah I’m strong, but it’s my sex appeal that really matters.” “Look at me, hold this phallic sword aloft, with my really, really skinny arms.”
Also, the seductress actresses are normally neither muscular. They have twig arms. As a guy with twig arms, I don’t think I’d be able to hold that sword up for so long.
Incredibly Lame Love-Triangle YA covers
On the left-hand side of this ad, you will see many descriptions of strength, but notice how the bizarre “Two men Love her” is at the top. This ridiculously dumb slogan (on the back of the book in huge, “can’t miss it” sized font) nearly dissuaded me from reading this book, because I found that advertising the love triangle in such an overt way was not only off-putting, but kind of insulting to the main female character’s strength.
So yes, advertising your love-triangle is an extremely lazy marketing strategy, and it also drives more people away from your book. Readers want to be surprised about a book’s elements, not hit over the head with obviousness of the use of an overtired trope (by reading enough YA, you’ll learn that it is on the fringes of going from overtired to beaten to death).
Throne of Glass might be good, but it’s stupid “Two Men Love her,” is enough to make any judicious reader stay far, far away from this book.
If your marketing relies on such hackneyed concepts, you are showing that you’re lazy and you really don’t know what effective marketing entails. It shows that you think that emphasizing a lazy, overused trope (especially alongside a description of a female character’s strength) isn’t going to sound a bit patronizing.
I’ll describe this inept marketing in valley-girl terms:
“Like, she totally may be strong, but like, two guys love her… Who cares about saving the world, when two men love you…”
Just Grossly Inaccurate Covers
I’ve complained incessantly about this cover, and it is because it is much too floral. It’s not sexist or misogynistic, but it is grossly inaccurate. It is colorful, and beautifully rendered. Again, it is inaccurate based on the subject matter of the story.
The story is not about pretty flowers, and happy-go-lucky damsels, as unfaithfully represented by this cover. It is a story about pestilence (an illness that kills tons of people), the survival of a dying breed of human beings (the rare Healers), and various countries embattled in war. There are tons of dialogue about military strategy and other sorts of things.
Of course, this cover begs to differ. It looks more like “I’m so pretty, Oh so pretty!” And, the bulk of covers with books, featuring female characters, fall into this less egregious category of inaccurate covers, where the publisher feels this strange necessity to insist that this book is primarily suited for female readers.
In a way, you could argue that the fact that this book cover seems to drive male readers away (from a book that is heavy with action sequences/military strategy), the covers are thus sexist. But, I’m still a bit undecided about it….
After Tor Fantasy outdid themselves with the Mistborn covers, we get this dreadfully inaccurate cover. This book cover does seem to suggest that it is a book, primarily geared for females. It’s not as over-the-top hit you over the head with its overt feminine qualities. I still feel it is wholly ineffective as a cover, and seems to suggest that Tor, for some reason, had no idea how to market a fantasy book with two female perspectives. Rather than go for more of a landscape cover for a gender-neutral book, they made the wrongful decision of showing a sleeping damsel, and just threw up their arms in defeat. “No, we can’t deal with making covers for a book about this uncanny species called “women”)
In a way, the sexism of covers like the two above are more like inadvertent, ignorant sexism. It is pretty innocuous, and no one (but people that over-think things like me will detect it). It does show a certain laziness that gives us a nice insight into how marketers inexplicably cannot figure out what to do with covers for fantasy novels, starring female characters.
It is a bit ridiculous, when you consider that a series like Game of Thrones has dozens of female characters, and the publishers mainly focus on the elements of the actual story, rather than trying someway to forcefully gender restrict the cover.
It begs the question, as to why marketers cannot figure out the easiest marketing riddle. How do we market diverse stories that feature dynamic female characters? Why do they feel a need to somehow contrive a restricted, gendered audience?
Readers deserve more mature treatment. We are not stupid, and we want high quality books. I think it is high time that publishing houses try a bit harder to stop being so unreasonably dumb, when it comes to forming attractive covers for books that don’t patronize women or men. Yes, covers that are over-the-top flowery and effeminate are insulting, because they imply to prospective male readers that they don’t want to emasculate themselves, by reading this novel.
These covers are a prime example of the deeply entrenched sexism of the publishing industry, which needs to stop making our female heroines skinny and flowery. We are no longer dwelling in the era of the “Lady of Shalott.” Smart, perceptive readers want covers that are mature, and boast the merits of a book, rather than give them a cover that only patronizes the strong-female character that is at the core of this artwork.
If we want more men to start seeing women not as a whole separate species, it is time for the publishing industry to rethink the way they portray women on their covers. Returning once more to my original disparaging reflection the lack of books written by women in school, I think the bad, sexist book covers are another extension to this continuing problem.
Why are we so afraid for male students in our country, to think from a woman’s perspective. When we have the few strong female characters in the Bible being represented as waifs in silly, frivolous Christian Harlequin novels, this cultural unease of fully embracing and celebrating the feminine traits that coexist in both genders (egalitarian values) is reflective of a culture that is still pretty sexist.
It was refreshing as a student to read The Diary of Anne Frank, but her story was a tragic one, implying that the only important female voices for literature courses are the Juliets, the Ophelias, and the Anne Franks: the women that are never victorious, but are somehow just martyrs (honorable victims in a sense). They’re never heroes, without meeting some tragic demise. People might cite The Scarlet Letter,as an example of reading feminist literature in school. But, she is alienated by her community, and she is not a powerful figure.
This may seem unimportant to some, but books are where we can transcend the more superficial elements of reality. It is where people go to think more deeply about our humanity. When our public schools and publishing companies are still deeply confused about how to represent books written by female or featuring female protagonists to either readers and students, we are perpetuating the antiquated belief that women are somehow entirely different species (even though they represent the majority). We are denying the deeper, more egalitarian traits that are shared by both genders.
As the Quakers believe, there is no inferior gender; it is a fabrication of society’s attempt to limit our human potential. And, this is something that publishers and public schools need to reflect on more closely, when devising curriculum and designing book covers. Women need to be represented more authentically.
Remember Beauty and the Beast’s message, It is the beauty of the heart, not the beauty of the exterior that is more important.
When we forget this notion by either superficially representing women on book covers or featuring only tragic martyrs as female characters in literature in school, we are denying educating people about the interior beauty and special abilities of each person that goes beyond gender.
If you so desire, you may brand me as a crazy person that uses hyperbolic speech, but I have written this post through very vigorous thinking and reflection. Yes, this issue might not be important to you, but it is important to me, as a reader that reads a variety of books written by both male and female writers. It matters to me because I am shopping for a high-quality piece of literature that distinguishes these common values,rather than make them gender-restricted.
So, for all smart readers, out there! Please stop restrictively marketing books, in the name of conventionality and profit!! Maybe, you’d actually encourage other people to read certain books, outside of your little demographic box, if you thought a little more outside the gender box.
I’ll be routinely adding more covers, as the day progresses. Please comment with your findings too! I want to do an additional post, showing that not all publishing companies are perpetuating this problem. I love the Mistborn covers, the Orson Scott Card covers for his Genesis women covers, and any cover for Shannon Hale’s books.