Tag Archives: book covers

Writing: Sexist SF Covers

sexist, feminism, objectifying women, sex sells

This made me laugh but it outlines the extreme of the difference between the way women are portrayed to men in comics and SF covers. Read this article for more insight.

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.

book covers, SF, comic books, objectifying women, sexism, victims, submissive women

Jim Hines makes fun of SF covers that objectify women but he does it for a good cause.

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.

sexist poses, sexploitation, Jim Hines, objectifying women

I cannot do better than just showing what Hines is doing. Go read his blog.

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.

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The Demise of Bookstores

I spent many many years working as a book buyer in a bookstore. It was a bookstore specializing in science fiction and fantasy, as well as books to do with cartoons, animation, fantasy art and genre films. I used to know every book coming out. The bookstore was mostly a comic book store that had the book area as well as the gaming area, which had started with Dungeons & Dragons.

The comics branched into all sorts of merchandise, made hugely popular by Todd McFarlane and his toys and of course his Spawn comic creation. Dungeons & Dragonsexpanded into numerous other roleplaying games and became predominated by Warhammer. The books, well they went the way of the dinosaurs when the owner decided they weren’t profitable.

Of course the reasoning was faulty because most bookstores keep their regular customers coming in by buying the new monthly releases. All publishers have new releases and most of the major ones have both paperback and hardcovers, with the larger and more popular selections coming out before the seasonal holidays and the second largest for the ending of the school year (usually the college year but coinciding with summer as well).

The owner didn’t pay his bills on time, which meant the mass market monthly releases didn’t come out and though some people were always buying the older books (series) too, many shoppers read all the new books every month. It was a flawed logic but it still killed the book aspect of the store, except for the art books.

Over those years there were fights by many independent booksellers to protect their rights. The megastores like Chapters came along and got super deep discounts from the publisher, which meant they could lower the price of their books. Whereas the small independent bookstore would buy maybe 25 instead of 2500 of a book and couldn’t lower the price. The difference in the two types of store is that the bigger chain stores often had staff who knew nothing about books and a new book remained on the shelf for two weeks only, then was stripped and sent back. (stripping is where the cover is removed from the paperback and returned for credit since returning the cheaply printed books is not economically feasible).

The small bookstore would tend to keep a larger variety of titles on the shelf for longer, perhaps specializing in genres (antiquarian, fantasy/sf, crime/mystery, religious), and the staff would be highly knowledgeable, as well as lovers of reading themselves. But how does a little mom and pop operation compete against a corporation with business men drawing up plans for increasing revenues? They can’t and most bookstore owners do it for love, hoping they can survive, pay the rent and maybe live off the proceeds. You don’t get rich running a bookstore.

The independent booksellers had to band together across Canada to keep themselves from sinking. It worked…to a degree. In Vancouver, of the three bookstores that specialized in science fiction and fantasy (The Comicshop, Granville Books, and White Dwarf Books) only one survives, White Dwarf. Chapters expanded their sections somewhat but you’ll be hard pressed to find something really odd or obscure, or an older series but an other than top list author, unless you go to White Dwarf.

It is a constant threat and on top of the big box stores these days, there is Amazon, with their big discounts. Unfortunately people are looking more for the discounts and saving a buck or two (that they may then pay in shipping) and foregoing service and knowledgeable staff. I’ll always be a champion of the little independent store whether it’s selling pet food or books. To me, the homogenization of our society into sameness and banality will kill individual thought and creativity.

Maybe we are heading toward a completely electronic society, but not yet. With the economic crunch, it will be the demise of some bookstores and this article is worrying. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2009/02/02/bookexpo-cancelled.html This happens again and again and will happen yet again, but a plus note is that booksellers are tenacious and hopefully book lovers will survive. Here’s to the little guy, the underdog and a search for the unique shopping experience in the world of mass merchandising.

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