Archive for November 2008
Watched by Kristina Lloyd
Truly, I get eye-bleed if I look at this cover for too long – eye-bleed and heartache, for the book is mine, my second novel and most treasured of my dirty darlings. And oh, Gott in himmel, that cover’s rotten!
As we’ve said before, authors and editors (freelance rather than in-house) are rarely consulted on cover design. We get what we’re given. And when I was given this cover, part of me thought it must be a joke, a parody, an ironic commentary on all those covers featuring headless women in unlikely underwear. Oh, you know the ones I mean. There are classy ones and crass ones but they follow the same basic pattern: eroticise the woman by focussing on her body; focus on her body by excluding her head.
Erotica, however, is not big on irony, and this cover is clearly someone’s sincere attempt to represent my book with this vile objectification of a woman (who I take to be my narrator, my central character, someone whose kinks are much like mine). You might think it doesn’t count because this book is in Foreign but sexism in erotica covers (as in life) doesn’t end with the English-speaking world. Women, not men, still provide the erotic/erotik/erotischer eye-candy while male models primarily get their pecs out for gay smut and romance. In fact, the only real difference I can discern between UK/US covers and those on the continent, is that the latter are often more explicit. So if your dirty book’s translated into, say German or Dutch, there’s a good chance your new cover will feature tits, arse or a full-on beaver-shot. Actually, I jest. Just tits and arse. Occasionally, the arse might even be a guy’s.
Now I’m not against objectification per se and it seems appropriate that sex (erotica in this instance) is sold or represented via sexy bodies. (Contrast the inappropriateness of using bodies, primarily female, to sell cameras or MP3 players or shampoo, and how this widespread objectification means our culture views women as having mainly a sexual meaning, and so ‘sexy’ is signified by women’s bodies, and on it goes, looping round and round.) Much of erotic desire is about flesh and skin, about wanting this sort of body or that body, about wanting to touch, taste, fuck, inhale, embrace, so using sexy bodies to represent this is fine by me. Sure, the erotic is about a thousand and one other things as well: the hinted at, the unseen, decaying lilies, seedy alleyways, and the catch in his voice when he says ‘Suck it, bitch.’ (Um, OK, so maybe that was too much of a dip into my psyche. But you get the gist, and I’m sure you have your own angle.)
Erotica covers would do well to recognise the more subtle, sensual and intangible aspects of sex. But far more pressing is the need for them to recognise that the desire to touch, taste, fuck, inhale, embrace is not specific to men. Women want too. Lots! And me, in my wanting, well I’m more than happy for men to be objectified. This isn’t some tit-for-tat revenge on the patriarchy for its ceaseless objectification of women. This is about wanting to see men for the sheer, knee-weakening sexiness of them.
A SLIDING SCALE
It seems to me there’s a sliding scale in all of this. We start off with sexualisation, depicting people in ways which are hot by emphasising his or her body rather than, say, something which represents the unique and precious snowflakeness of an individual personality. Keep going in this direction and you end up objectifying someone by making their body, in particular the obviously sexy bits, the prime focus. Erotica frequently achieves this by decapitating its women.
Now, I’m not trying to insist that erotica covers feature heads, faces and personality. I can see the value in sometimes keeping these things off stage because if the face doesn’t float your boat, it can detract from the physique. Or if you’re one of those strange women content merely to identify, then if the cover model’s lippy is, like, so not your colour, you may struggle to slip into her skin. So, you know: heads. Over-rated.
However, erotica’s frequent and unimaginative chopping off a head by cropping an image, invariably of a woman, is really quite unpleasant. Again, keep going in this direction, keep removing parts of the female body that are surplus to requirements, and you end up with what looks like erotica’s logical conclusion, covers such as Gib’s Mir. (I’m told it translates as ‘Give it to me‘ or possibly (please, no) ‘Sock it to me‘.)
While I don’t want to bandy around words like ‘misogyny’, I fear we’re getting perilously close with my monstrous cover. Take a look: it’s not merely that her head has been cropped from the image, it’s that the design actually draws attention to the unimportance of her head (and so of her identity, her autonomy, her self). And it does so not once but twice. First off, her head’s been bagged so its ‘not-thereness’ is actually really rather ‘there’. And secondly, jesusfuckingchrist, did they do this with free software? Was the designer on lunch? On crack? Could they not find a compass or pen-knife to scratch out everything above shoulder level? Was it too much effort to create something that might actually look like a bit of BDSM kit?
So, head off (as cheaply and easily as possible, thanks) and tits out. And the tits here are neatly spotlit so we know exactly where to look, exactly what’s important about this woman. And, yup, she’s wearing a corset, universal signifier of the erotic. I don’t have a problem with explicitness. I am pro-porn (I just wish it was better) and I’m mighty happy looking at naked people (especially, but not exclusively, at men). So my problem with this book isn’t that her breasts are bared. I don’t find nipples controversial. I think it’s important to clarify this because it gets a teensy bit annoying when people respond to our feminist argument for more cock as if ours is the repressive, anti-sex voice of illiberalism insisting everyone get dressed. We want to see more sexy men on erotica covers which means (because this is how maths works) less of what currently dominates the covers: sexy women.
Gib’s Mir seems an exaggeration or encapsulation of what all those hot-babe covers are saying. It disregards female agency and desire. It blinds the woman; she is the looked at, never the one looking. It demeans, degrades and objectifies by reducing female sexuality to a pair of tits, to flesh to be ogled. It’s just awful.
But here’s the rub: I kink for female submission. I get off on being demeaned, degraded and objectified. I like the thought of being used and de-humanised, treated as a piece of meat, a fucktoy, a mere body for his pleasure. (And, incidentally, in fantasy I’m often being used by some anonymous, swaggering brute who, in many ways, is as much a piece of meat as I am.) Having no control, no power, no responsibility rocks my sexual world. I like to play passive and be the one who is done to – but, of course, my desire isn’t actually passive because I know what it is and I’m perfectly capable of saying to him, ‘Hey, I like to play passive, will you help me fulfil that desire?’ I don’t write much ‘lifestyle’ smut so my characters aren’t usually as kink-aware and demanding articulate about their sexual needs as I am. However, they do know what they like (though they may be conflicted about communicating it or uncertain how to get it) and in the narrative they’ll say stuff like:
Go on, check out the goods. Objectify me to your heart’s content … Make me meat, merchandise, cunt for sale – a cunt so greedy I’ll do it for free.
I like being objectified. It takes the heat off having to be yourself.
But there’s a world of difference between a woman actively *choosing* to be objectified to get her sexual jollies and women (as a sex, as a whole) being objectified left, right and centre without their consent. Unfortunately, some people struggle with this concept. They think if my feminism is about striving for female empowerment and gender equality, I must be hot on cuffing him to the bed and making him suffer. But I don’t get off on that, so why would I? I want to be the one who is cuffed and suffering – me, me, me! And feminism is surely about allowing and enabling women to own their sexuality, whatever it is. (And as a corollary to this, I believe a guy can dom and degrade a woman and still have impeccable feminist credentials.)
So my sexuality entails some sort of playing out or mirroring of our society’s gender-based power imbalances. In short, he tops me in bed. And there it ends. I try hard in my writing to convey that women can have M/f sex without being blind or indifferent to the ideological and social structures which make for a world which favours men; that women can have kinky submissive sex without that reinforcing the status quo, without them being plagued by some misplaced feminist guilt; that women can actively participate in their own sexual subjugation and find it super-hot. Actually, I don’t try hard. This stuff is in my ink. I just try hard to make it sound less soapboxy and more complex than I did in this paragraph.
And that’s why the cover of Gib’s Mir stings so badly. The English cover of Asking for Trouble (above) is fine. I got a guy because my publisher was marketing the book as erotic romance. (Heck, I’m surprised we haven’t been sued.) But Gib’s Mir turns the ideas I’m trying to express into their very opposite. It makes my sexuality part of the oppressive, disempowering structures I’m at pains to reject. It positions the book as just another in a long line of smut where man is the consumer, woman the consumed.
It’s extremely difficult to visually represent female submission as an active choice by using imagery of solo women. Images including men would do a lot to offset this. Better still, images of sexy dom men would show that wanting to submit is also, inevitably, about wanting to be dominated. No, really, it is. You can’t do it alone. And so for women, he matters in all of this; him with his big beautiful muscles, his hard hands, cruel eyes and that sadistic little sneer.
I want to communicate, in my writing, my belief that women can kink for dominant men while rejecting a male-dominated world; that we can embrace female submission without fearing we’re shoring up patriarchal notions of female passivity, of women as the ones who are ‘done to’ and desired, never the do-ers and desiring. Feminism is about equality, meaning women have the same rights as men to sexual pleasure. If there’s such a lumpen thing as a ‘message’ in my writing, it’s this: that women can be sexually submissive without reinforcing sexist constructions of men and women, without perpetuating gender inequality. The cover of Gib’s Mir, with its flagrant objectification and degradation of a woman for mass-market male consumption, tells us we can’t.
Erotica Cover Watch has been criticised in the past for hurting people’s feelings by holding their book covers up as examples of erotica publishing’s sexism. We’ve been accused of being negative and unsupportive of the erotica community. Asking for Trouble is mine. I’m proud of the contents but I utterly loathe this German cover. It’s ugly, sure, but far worse than that, it negates the politics which for me, and many others, are fundamental in reconciling female sexual submission with modern, aware feminism. And trust me, that negation, that massive misrepresentation, damages a lot more than my feelings.
There’s something incredibly beautiful and sexy about sleeping men. Looking at them feels vaguely illicit, almost as if you’re spying on them and exploiting their vulnerability so you can drink your fill. Well, yum. I’m drinking him, thanks. Gregory Capra’s extremely nice butt has been bared on Erotica Cover Watch once before, and the above image is taken from Fred Goudon’s Sunday Morning, another fine book on BICEPS’ ever-growing Christmas wish-list.
Make the most of his loveliness because on Thursday I’ll be bringing you one of the ugliest, most offensive erotica covers I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve seen a few. Heck, I may have to blog from behind the sofa.
Watched by Mathilde Madden
This is one of those covers where I guess I have to say upfront, yes, it is a nice picture. Of course, I did think that most fairy tales had men in them – Prince Charming, etc. But instead of any glimpse of a prince we get another ‘instructional’ book cover. Look she’s reading a book. That’s how to read this book, women, it’s smut – hold your tits whilst reading.
Of course, as ever, men don’t need to be told visually how to enjoy porn books.
So nice cover – if you aren’t sick to death of erotica covers featuring solo women. It’s a classy image. Tasteful and sepia toned. And I think – in declaring our desire to see men on the covers of erotic books, the war against ideas of tastefulness is one of our hardest campaigns. Because a lot of people want erotica to be nice and look nice (nice in a dirty/sweet kind of way) and being a woman and saying you want to look at naked men, is – in sophistication terms – a bit like saying you want to eat a Pot Noodle while wearing a ratty dressing gown and picking your nose.
Let me explain. There is something of a notion that for a woman, being turned on by images of sexualised men just isn’t very clever. Or maybe that “Nice girl’s don’t”. Perhaps even with a touch of “It’s all a bit non-U, darling“.
Bared Super Muscley Bums
Here’s an example of the perceived trashiness of women looking at men. In my novel Peep Show (which has a woman on the cover – naturally – for a book all about a woman who likes to spy on gay men having sex. Sheesh) the main character, Imogen, remembers a time when she went to see a rather trashy male strip show
When I was in my late teens I went to see one of those male strip shows, with some of my friends in the Upper Sixth. It wasn’t my idea. It was a birthday treat for someone else in our gang, who had just turned 18.
It was sort of The Chippendales, but not, one of those so-similar-they-might-as-well-be, rip-off acts.
All my friends pissed themselves laughing all the way through the show. And so did I. Except, well, except. See, I did find it funny. Who wouldn’t find trousers with Velcro-ed seams and enormous oiled up men, with bared super muscley bums, tres amusing? But, at the same time, this other part of me, the part I was just getting to know back then, found it the single hottest thing I had ever experienced.
Strip. Tease. Oh yum yum.
Male striptease for women, man titty erotic romance covers. How come in the ghettos where men’s bodies are served for female consumption it is always utterly crass? Why is female desire for manflesh only allowed to be at the seediest trashiest end of the sexual market. The equivalent of the men in flasher-macs kerb crawling. There we are next to them, drooling over some orange, over worked out bloke, with shaved pecs and a mullet.
So I can understand why a lot of people howled when we started this blog thinking that we were campaigning for more trashy Fabio style book covers to cross from the women only world of romance into the more generalised world of erotica. But we’re not asking for that. We’re campaigning for as wide and interesting a variety of images of sexualised men as there are of sexualised women.
In fact, talking of variety, let’s not throw the man titty out completely. Sometimes – when it comes to prime beef – you actually want a hamburger not a steak. I only think the covers pumped out by Ellora’s Cave and the like are a bit much because there’s no subtler man candy aimed at women to balance it out. So there’s two things here. One is why can’t women like looking at men in that totally seedy trashy way without that making us dumb or shallow? And the other question is why, when we do look at men, do we only get that seedy trashy stuff that is currently perceived as dumb or shallow?
I want the seedy trashy to lose its stigma and also for women to have eye candy that is seen as properly sophisticated, even arty. But the only images of men that are allowed to be arty, sophisticated, black and white, are ones aimed at men. Quick index: if a picture of a naked man is black and white you can bet your life it will be labeled homoerotic.
But this artlessness around sexualised male imagery for women is more than just a bit annoying – it is actively contributing to the shameful dearth of man candy on erotica books covers. These days erotic fiction is experiencing a Renaissance and this nu-erotica is very concerned with shedding its old school trashy, pulpy image. Rather like the growth in Burlesque, titillation with a heritage – smut that is aware of its history – is stepping out of the shadows and claiming its place as art. As erotic fiction becomes more mainstream (yay) and the top end of the market fights to be called literature, it becomes impossible for it to put non-gay sexulised men on the cover. Because the covers have to be sexy but classy – they have to look like literature – and really, could anything in a man titty cover be called literature?
And so if women want nice, classy, arty imagery on book covers representing their desires – well, it’s solo woman how-to-get-off. Or…
Sapphic Love is Far Nicer
Really, there’s only one kind of female desire that can ever be thought of as grown up and sophisticated in the world of erotica book covers – and that is the desire for other women. Sapphic love is far nicer. And this gets prettier pictures.
Use erotic book covers as your guide and it almost seems as if lesbian desire is much more proper and grown up. Wanting men is immature and lazy (get thee to the romance section).
When we criticise covers that only display women as sex objects a lot of the criticisms we get feel like they’re deriding us for being immature. Like we can’t see that she (random cover model) is pretty. Like, if we can’t get our jollies looking at a picture of a pretty lady we must be sexually stunted in some way.
Not stunted – just straight. Just how it is.
Right now, if you want nice, subtly suggestive (possibly black and white) soft focus sexual imagery aimed at women, lesbian erotica serves it up in spades. But why aren’t any – of the admittedly few – arenas where men are served up for women, doing anything even approaching this level of tastefulness?
Female Bodies are Used to Sell Everything
Some people point out to us the female bodies are used to sell everything. That the idea of the feminine symbolising the erotic is hardly confined to erotic books. Why then, they ask, should we expect erotic fiction to be any better? Here’s why: because erotic fiction tells us it is better. Modern erotic fiction tells us all the time how it embraces all kinds of sexualities. It is published by hip, feminist, diversity-aware publishers. Submission guidelines tell us anything goes. Boundaries are pushed and the reclaimed land is marked out for all to enjoy.
And the fact is, modern erotic fiction enjoys its position as liberal and progressive rather too much to be still making these kind of simplistic glaring errors on gender equality.
Eek! I’m totally on the run this morning, throwing some man candy at you and disappearing. All I have time to tell you is that this is hot new model Will Chalker (worth a google image search if you have a spare moment) and that this pic is all about the hands. Mmm.
I’ll be here on Thursday – hopefully with a bit more time – to look at Mitzi Szereto’s Erotic Fairy Tales
Confessions: Admissions of Sexual Guilt, ed Sage Vivant and M Christian, pub Thunder’s Mouth Press
Watched by Kristina Lloyd
Look, look! A man’s ear! Now you might think this makes us happy because Whaddawewant? MEN ON THE COVERS! Whendowewantit? NOW!
But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. The point is we want sexy images of men and that ear, well, not so much, thanks. However, my gripe isn’t about men appearing on erotica covers only as token body parts. I’ll save that for another day. My big problem with this cover is that its image pretty much sums up erotica’s deepest sexism: that women are both product and package while men are the beneficiaries, the buyers.
Look at the image. She is speaking, he is listening, and if you were in any doubt about what she might be telling him (because book covers sadly lack that auditory dimension), the designer has helpfully added the word ‘stories’ (with a neat little fellatio twist in the way her luscious lips hover at the head of its horizontal). Phew, glad that one’s been cleared up. Stories! For a moment, I thought she might have been narrating the history of Emmeline Pankhurst.
According to the blurb, Confessions features stories from both men and women. However, as is usual in general erotica, its cover emphasises the female aspect. It is telling us visually that the voice of erotica is female. Now before anyone jumps up and tells me this is empowering to women, please stay still while I shoot you down. Sure, it’s wonderful that more and more women are writing erotic fiction and finding a voice. That in itself is radical, empowering, liberating and really fucking great – and I’m having some of it, if you don’t mind. After all, not so many decades ago, women were expected to be silent on this matter, and ‘lie back and think of England’ was the lynchpin of female sexuality. However, when these new contemporary expressions of female sexuality, aka our voices, are then sold on the same basis as old-school porn – as titillation for men – then our gains really don’t seem so great.
In what is regarded as the first erotic novel in English, Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (pub 1750), the author, John Cleland (a bloke), presents an epistolary tale of a woman’s sexual adventures, told from the female point of view. Now as then, the female voice is enormously popular in erotica, especially when that voice is held to be true. In memoirs and confessionals, the narrator takes the reader into her confidence and shares some sexy secrets. Society’s double standards which (still!) celebrate men putting it about while criticising women who do likewise means the female confession has much more currency than the male. It’s deemed more interesting, for starters, because traditionally the female experience has not been articulated. (Female sexuality, wrote Freud, scratching his head in bafflement, is a ‘dark continent’. Huh-huh, and you wanna colonise it, do you Big Boy?) It’s also more potent because, in baring all, a woman stands to lose a lot more than a guy ever would. (For shame, the slut!)
Thankfully, this is changing, and it’s changing fast. Women are speaking out and (ahem) taking it in. We are the challenging voice and the quiet consumer (ah, the power of the quiet consumer!). In blogs, mags and books, we are declaring and exploring our sexuality for ourselves. We’re happy to write material which gets us and others off, and also happy to read one-handedly, an activity once the preserve of men. We’re refusing to be cowed by the slut/stud dichotomy and by the shame associated with appetite because, hey, we want to have a good time too! And that good time might be anything from vanilla sex with a different guy every night to hardcore pervery with the love of our life to a jolly nice wank while watching gay porn.
In short, female sexuality has at last found its voice. You can see it expressed directly in the hugely popular blog-to-book authors such as Zoe Margolis, (aka the super-smart Girl With a One Track Mind); in the growing numbers of female erotica authors and editors; and in those anonymous bloggers with something new and interesting to say. And these voices are poles apart from the ‘female’ voices which have dominated erotica from Cleland’s Fanny Hill to contemporary Nexus authors such as Ray (‘I very often centre the story on a young lady’) Gordon. They’re real, they’re true, and their raison d’être is not simply to give men hard cocks. However, when publishers package up our voices in covers featuring half-naked babes, the implication is that nothing has changed. Female sexuality is being mis-sold as female sexiness, and it’s being sold directly to men. Sure, women buy this stuff too because we’re very adept at compromising and accommodating ourselves to a man’s world. There’s no alternative to erotica packaged in this way and, as we know, women aren’t put off by other women on the cover in the way that men, scared they’ll catch the gay, are put off by male models, a disparity publishers merrily exploit.
In the debates surrounding Erotica Cover Watch, we’ve heard from a few disgruntled men complaining they’re often discriminated against in the field of erotica. They can’t get published as easily as women, they claim, and sometimes, they’re even obliged to write under female pen-names. This, say the Disgruntleds, is sexist! Well, yes, but not in the way you think it is. Because sexism is more complex than men and women being treated differently on a case for case basis. It operates on the societal level and is a deep-rooted, systemic bias which strives to keep women in a place of inferiority. If men struggle to get published as men in erotica, or if fewer opportunities are available to them (and I’m not even sure this is true), this ain’t because women have more power; it’s because men have more power. It’s because men, the consumers of porn and erotica, the dictators of market demand, want to hear female voices.
That men, the main market, are so keen to hear the female voice is for me one of the prime justifications for ‘women-only’ erotica imprints (such as Black Lace, publishers of my and Mathilde’s fiction). It’s not to give women a hand-up because we struggle to get published (we don’t); it’s to create a space where we can feel free from the standard ‘horny honey’ sexist marketing angles and where we don’t feel we’re simply dishing up smut for the satisfaction of straight guys. I doubt I would ever have started writing dirty books if it weren’t for imprints such as Black Lace. Nexus, BL’s companion ‘general erotica’ imprint, doesn’t actively exclude female authors but I take one look at those covers and I think, yeah, you’re not talking to the likes of me. Nexus guidelines say as much: We know that Nexus books are read by both men and women. However, our covers are designed to appeal primarily to men; we know that some female readers find the cover pictures off-putting. Since it’s impossible to please everyone, we target our books at the majority.
Well, at least they’re being honest. But the upshot is, as reader and writer, I’m going somewhere more female-friendly. I do wish Black Lace would take the next step and actively carve out its space as women-only erotica by featuring more guys on its covers while simultaneously easing up on its insistence we write erotic romance. I want sex not sunsets. To date, it seems we can’t have one without the other; we can’t have man candy on our covers without candlelight content. Because when BL positions itself as erotica (not romance as it did do for a couple of heady/irritating years), we get women on the covers again, often solo. It seems even women-only erotica can’t help pitching itself at the male consumer.
Ironically, one of our Disgruntleds, a budding erotica author, asserted he preferred to write from, and read about, the female POV – as if he were doing feminism a favour, whereas in fact, what he’s doing is himself out of a job. Historically, women have had to write as men in order to get published (think George Eliot, Currer Bell, not to mention the deliberate gender neutrality of JK Rowling). Romance and erotica are probably the only genres where a female author-name (real or pseudonymous) holds greater sway, and it’s plausible that now more women – actual ones with vaginas and stuff – are writing porn, men and men masquerading as women take second billing. But that women (as writers) fare well in erotica is really only comparable to the way women fare well in porn movies and prostitution. Women have something men want: sex. And so women as writers are turned into women as product. And this sucks, big time. If women-only spaces arise to counter and evade this sexism, then I really don’t think it’s the guys, the Disgruntleds, who are suffering here.
MY DIRTY DREAMS
It doesn’t have to be this way. If erotica can shrug off its old habits and start addressing men and women as consumers, then female desire can find a true place from which to operate. More men on covers is the biggest, most important change erotica can make right now. This move would shift the emphasis away from female sexiness. It would position women as desiring rather than desired and give a whole new context to female-penned porn.
In recognising women as consumers, it may even mean that the Disgruntleds get a fairer stab at publication because after all, plenty of women (and I raise my hand) enjoy reading quality fiction centring on the male sexual experience. The massive rise in popularity among women readers of gay fiction and m/m in erotic romance puts paid to the notion we need a female figure to identify with. And in erotica, the reason the authentic male voice is heard less than the female is because women are not its targeted consumer. I don’t think I’m alone in enjoying male-authored fiction about male characters. However, men ‘dragging up’ in order to write male-pleasing porn about ‘a young girl pulling her panties down and exploring her femininity‘ (© Ray Gordon) does significantly less for me.
I love writing smut. It gets me hot and I’ve learned so much about myself and my sexuality from sitting at this keyboard and from dreaming my dirty dreams. I love to think of other people – men and women – reading my work, getting equally hot, and maybe learning something too. However, this cover of Confessions: Admissions of Sexual Guilt depicts what I utterly loathe: the idea that my sexy fiction is little more than honeyed, horny words poured into his ear, entirely for his pleasure, paid for from his pocket.
(Warning: scroll down very carefully, especially if you’re at work!)
‘You can’t have too many wet men’ is one of my mottoes in life, and here to prove it is a double dose of damp and dripping deliciousness.
Lust at First Bite (right) is the latest anthology from Black Lace and features hot vampire smut from both me and Mathilde. Because it’s marketed as erotic romance (meaning there’s no need to fret about putting off the straight male consumer: he’s already put off – ew, romance! ) we get a guy on the cover. And, oh wow, isn’t he a gem? I love this cover. It’s deeply sexy. If you want a taste of the book’s insides, check out the excerpts on my blog and on Mathilde’s. And if you’re still hungry, try the sexy snippets on Lust Bites.
I’m getting confessional on Thursday and taking a look at Sage Vivant and M Christian’s (ed) Confessions: Admissions of Sexual Guilt. Please join us then.
And don’t forget, Man Candy Mondays are for everyone. We already have regular support from Wintersinger and Heidi Champa, and we’re always eager for more muscle. So if you want to play along, do a hot dude on your blog today and help spread the word: men are sexy!
Okay, here endeth my post. You can now go back to scrolling up and down, up and down …
Yes Sir, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press. Yes Ma’am, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press
Watched by Mathilde Madden
In the world of sexist book covers, way back before there was that “Mammoth” cover that set us screaming and registering a new blog with wordpress, there were these covers. Covers that make the problem of only women and no men on erotica covers so clear we couldn’t not talk about them on cover watch.
Covers where the sexism is so blatant, in fact, that I am not sure I even need to write a post to go alongside them. But, okay, let me see what I can do without just repeating what is totally obvious and in front of your eyes or just being too angry or too cruel. (Because – trust me – I really would just rather write ARRRRRGH! YOU FUCKERS! for 50 words).
Firstly I ought to say that this is a publisher we’ve covered before and an editor we’ve covered before. And normally I’d qualify and say that this isn’t personal or about anyone’s work in particular, this is about erotica book covers in general – as a whole – and how if you look at a bunch of them you start to feel very, very depressed about the lack of man candy on the covers and the sexist underlying reasons for that. And while this isn’t personal, and this isn’t about anyone’s work in particular I do have to say, that these two covers on their own are enough to make me depressed about the sexism in erotica book publishing. I mean really, does anyone think that this is okay? Really?
And poor old Rachel Kramer Bussel seems to have been saddled with terrible covers yet again! She commented after my last post that she didn’t understand why I thought the book cover was sexist. Well maybe this is easier to understand. Does anyone not understand why this pair of covers is sexist?
I’m not the first to point this out. The jaw-dropping sexism of the covers of this pair of books has already been the subject of more than one internet furore. Over on the wonderful Lust Bites the promo post for these books got diverted a little when someone asked the obvious question;
“Okay so the book with stories from the point of view of a submissive man has a picture of a dominant woman on the cover and the book with stories from the point of view of a submissive woman has a submissive woman on the cover. OMGWTFBBQ!!!!????” I paraphrase, but, you get the idea.
And it’s that fact that here are two covers: straight women ignored on both, that makes it rankle so much. Last time I checked the population was roughly half men and half women, so two books (books aimed at a general audience of erotica buyers) why the fuck have a (headless) woman on both?
And I don’t want to get too technical here – there’s not much need – but just for a second, note the viewpoint. The position of the gaze. The role we are cast in if we look at the covers of these books. If you look at the cover of Yes Sir you are instantly the dominant man, glowering down at your submissive woman’s bare arse cheeks. If you look at the cover of Yes Ma’am you are instantly the submissive man gazing up at a dominant Amazon.
Last summer I spoke at the London Literary Festival as part of a show called Dirty Books (hosted by James Lear who I am delighted recently took my crown as The Erotic Award’s Writer of the Year – no one deserves a big golden cock statue more than him – except me) and I showed these covers as part of my talk about how surprisingly unusual it is for straight women to sexualise men in erotica. When people saw these covers one after the other they gasped with horror.
It turned out someone from Cleis Press was in the audience (they publish James Lear) and she spoke to me briefly about my complaint. Bluntly, she told me that women had to be on the covers of these books or lesbians wouldn’t buy them.
Yes really. The argument in favour was basically: Oh but won’t somebody think of the lesbians!
I’m a writer. I got the submission call for these books. It specifically requested heterosexual stories. But, despite that, the girlie covers? For lesbians! Huh?
Won’t somebody think of the lesbians – the more PC than thou shut up smackdown for straight women in need of man candy everywhere.
Most erotica book covers feature a picture of a woman. And it passes simply because, well, if there is one person on a cover it might as well be a woman. It’s only when you look at several covers you begin to see the problem – it is always a woman – or when you see a pair of companion volumes like this. When are publishers going to address this problem? Sometimes it feels like the ‘elephant in the room’ of erotica. So obviously a big smudge on modern erotica’s radical egalitarian sex-positive image – but no one mentions it. Sometimes on cover watch it feels like just by showing covers and saying that all the pictures are of women we are being overtly radical – strident and even mean. When all we are doing is showing erotica publishing the covers of their own books.