I’ve talked about this before, the blatant objectification of women on book covers or in comic books. In my distant past I worked at (and edited a newsletter) a comic book and science fiction bookstore. There have always been comments in the comic book industry of the scantily clad women or those in skintight outfits, revealing every curve, indentation and nipple though they were supposedly wearing a costume that wasn’t painted on. In those days I made several relevant comments that while there was sexism of the women, there was also sexism of the men.
Superheros are made of heroic or amazonian proportions in almost all cases and all you have to do is talk to any professional comic artist to confirm this. A man or woman is more than you or me. They are perfectly built, well-muscled, super agile, larger than life. While the man package may not be emphasized as much in those tights because its considered too in-your-face (and indeed the ancient Greeks thought the small penis was the modicum of civilized decorum), a woman with larger than life, gravity-defying boobs (I use “boobs” intentionally here) is the norm. Most comic books are still geared toward the adolescent boy who is preoccupied with his growing awareness of the other (or same) sex, and of games. (Or so I’m told.)
I read a lot of comics and I always sneered at the improbable poses of women in stilettos with gaping holes in their costumes and nipples ready to tear through the fabric but who could still perform death-defying feats. You can find other posts on my site about superhero costumes.
But as we go on to book covers, I remember good old Red Sonja. She was Conan’s female counterpart, wore a chainmail bikini and carried a sword. Now I want to point out that Conan wore little more than a fur loincloth himself so they were equally unarmored and nearly nekkid.
But this title transitions us to book covers, where Conan books and comic books existed. There were the infamous Gor books in the 70s an 80s and after awhile I refused to bring them into the bookstore because not only did they objectify women on the cover, the stories were also all about slave women victims.
Whereas comic books have their heroes of each gender portrayed in their form revealing outfits, and women jutting out body parts that would kill their backs, SF covers tend to have a still larger imbalance with more women depicted as sexy whatevers than men. Writer Jim Hines has tried to point this out by doing poses as seen on SF covers. They’re hilarious but he’s proving a point. While many SF covers now portray other things, creatures or events, women are still disproportionately exemplified as sexy, sexy and a victim, sexy and deadly. Female warriors still get to wear less armor than males.
Jim Hines has pointed out that even something as innocuous (we think) as a woman just standing and facing the viewer on a cover can still be sexist. And indeed, every pose has a chest thrust out or a hip cocked with a hand on it. Basically all women must be vixens who can seduce you to death or maintain sexy while maiming you. This includes pop tops, midriffs, short skirts, high heels and cleavage.
While there is some improvement since the early days of SF, there is also some regression with Hollywood’s and advertising’s attempt to sexualize everything! Pulp covers are one thing, but there is still room for a lot of improvement in today’s fiction covers. Next time you pick up a fantasy or SF book see if you can spot the sexploitation.