Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Erotica Cover Watch: Erotic Fairy Tales by Mitzi Szereto

with 8 comments

41m13dc1wxl_ss500_Erotic Fairy Tales by Mitzi Szereto, pub. Cleis Press

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.

askforit

Do we really want images like this in erotica as well as erotic romance? Well kind of...

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.

vintage

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…

Nice. But when do us straight women get our tasteful wet man covers?

Nice. But when do us straight women get our tasteful wet man covers?

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.

Written by mat

November 20, 2008 at 7:36 am

8 Responses

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  1. Brilliant post!

    I think this gets right to the heart of a lot of people’s barely-acknowledged discomfort with the male image. He is vulgar. Wanting him is vulgar. And yes, it’s odd and rather paradoxical that erotic romance – supposedly conventional, safe, unchallenging – is more than comfortable with the male form while erotica – supposedly envelope-pushing and a challenge to the mainstream – doesn’t want to get its hands dirty, doesn’t want to do something outside the norm. It makes you question the very notion of ‘radical’.

    I look forward to the day when we get erotica covers featuring men which are as beautiful as the cover of Erotic Fairy Tales.

    kristinalloyd

    November 20, 2008 at 10:34 am

  2. Damn, I just proved your point. I wanted to find that lovely picture of the Erl-King, but halfway through googling I remembered it only exists in my head. I quite agree: it is a beautiful cover and if only people could branch out and treat the beauty of men as tastefully. (The only place I see seeds of this is – interestingly – for men’s perfumes. I wondered if it was because they were being aimed at gay men, and then I thought – hold on – that’s quite a small market segment, and actually most men have eau de toillettes or aftershaves – BUT men very rarely buy their own – it’s the women out shopping – Someone Is Marketing Hot Men To Women. YES! YES! And now it’s Christmas, they’re doing it overtime! YES! IT REALLY IS CHRISTMAS! Spray THIS on your bloke and he’ll look like THIS. Slightly off-topic – but at least there’s an exemplum out there. Anyone else know the exemplum song…? No…?)

    Olivia Knight

    November 20, 2008 at 1:13 pm

  3. Look, I get your point. I even agree with it. I think you’re right on the money and I usually love this site.

    But are you seriously calling romance novels (half of the ENTIRE fiction market, BTW) “the seediest trashiest end of the sexual market”?! Seriously? Jane Austen? Nora Roberts? Jayne Ann Krentz? Laura Kinsale? Suzanne Brockmann? Eloisa James? Sandra Brown? Because if you are, OMG, please stop.

    Yes, Ellora’s Cave covers sometimes suck. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes e-books from other e-publishers really suck and sometimes they’re stunningly beautiful. And as for mainstream covers (sold in a bookstore), yes, some of them are awful. And some are beautiful representations of sexualized men accepting the desiring gaze of women.

    Sarah Frantz

    November 20, 2008 at 4:46 pm

  4. Er, nope. Not saying that at all and not sure how you got that idea. Firstly we are talking about covers not content. And the seedy trash I am talking about is the images of sexualised men that occasionally get served up for female consumption and that include the man titty book covers and the sleezy hen night strippers.

    I wanted to be careful in this post to say, not that sleeze is bad, just that it is bad if the only images of men straight women are allowed to consume are sleezy and low rent.

    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.

    And of course we’re not hating on romance novels. That would be crazy. Although I think the sales stat you quote is for sales in US, which is not really the ENTIRE anything. Just sayin’

    mathildemadden

    November 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm

  5. Okay. Sorry. Touchy issue and I seem to have had a delicate trigger recently. I apologize for jumping all over you. 🙂

    Sarah Frantz

    November 21, 2008 at 5:13 pm

  6. A few thoughts on the whole fairy tale thing, coming from a mom who has watched waaaaaaaay too many Disney-fied fairy tale movies…

    The main male character (Prince Charming or whoever) in a lot of fairy tales is usually a pretty pointless character. He’s only there to rescue the female character/Princess, and he gets so little dialogue and characterization he might as well be a stick figure. Meanwhile the heroine, who is the focus of the story and gets all the best lines, is usually a helpless innocent/idiot who couldn’t think her way out of a wet paper sack. This is most true in the traditional Disney movies, but also happens in a lot of other portrayals of fairy tales.

    Recent books and movies have moved to change this (on the screen, the best of these are ‘Ever After’ and ‘Enchanted’). But the tradition is beautiful, brainless, helpless heroine and barely existent hero, which means that for erotic fairy tale anthologies, you’re fighting a double up-hill battle to get a meaningful image of a man on the cover.

    In any event, I’m right there with you, wanting to know what the hell is wrong with straight women wanting to look at dirty pictures of naked men. That’s why I draw said dirty pictures, to make sure I get what I want!

    Helen Madden

    November 23, 2008 at 9:38 pm

  7. i would love sexy arty covers of men. also by the way these man candy photos are just gorgeous and inspiring for not just daydreaming and wanking but also give me ideas for characters and stories. so thanks for putting them up🙂

    Amanda

    November 24, 2008 at 11:56 am

  8. […] sure, there are debates to be had about trashiness. There are sticky questions about using imagery that is clearly primarily for gay men. We […]


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