Erotica Cover Watch: Best Fetish Erotica, ed Cara Bruce
Best Fetish Erotica, ed Cara Bruce, pub Cleis Press
Watched by Kristina Lloyd
No, no! Come back! Don’t hide behind the sofa! Honestly, we haven’t moved over to horror fiction. This is still erotica, still the genre we know and love – although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise because that cover is a tad argh and yikes and OMFG, that’s a stump on stilts! Run!
The word ‘fetish’ is frequently used to mean ‘kinky sex’ rather than obsessive devotion to an object or activity. However, this anthology (out next month), does seem to be true to its word with stories featuring ‘corsets, girdles, high-heeled feet, cross-dressing, rubber balls, spanking, fast cars, voyeurism, masochism, knives and plushies’. So it’s a book about desire for weird things but, as per usual, the cover falls into the idea of desire being solely represented by desire for women’s bodies meaning once again, we get a cover image of a woman, irrespective of the book’s content. Well, sort of a woman.
In a genre where sexism distorts representation to such an extent we only get women on the covers, the logical conclusion is this: distorting a woman’s body to turn her from ubiquitous sex object to dehumanised fetish object, devoid of agency and wholeness, and functioning only to satisfy another’s paraphilia. Because doesn’t it look like a paraphilia when there are two sexes and the focus is entirely on one?
On Cover Watch, we’ve often railed against headless women and bemoaned the butts in our faces. This cover takes us a step further: it exaggerates the sexually important components (long legs and ass), cinches the waist and shrinks the torso, and removes all other extraneous body parts (head and arms). Actually, to make the woman even less human, let’s replace her arms (arms! so boring!) with shadows, ghostly, withered, useless limbs belonging to a creature who might have you screaming in the night – and not in a happy way.
The image puts me in mind of the dark, surrealist misogyny of Hans Bellmer’s dolls.
The various blurbs to Best Fetish Erotica add to the book’s list of fetishes the phrase ‘ – nothing is off limits!’ or describe the stories as ‘taboo yet tantalizing‘. Well, clearly something is off limits: men! The desire for a male body is a taboo too far for erotica covers.
A while back, I wrote a story called Boot Camp for Alison Tyler’s F is for Fetish anthology. It was about a woman who got off on polishing men’s army boots. I described the boots as having ‘three pairs of eyelets rising up to the metal loops of a speed-lacing system, black laces crisscrossing over leather tongues, as beautiful as corsetry.’ Because it’s always sodding corsets, isn’t it? I wanted to spin that standard signifier of sexiness, of desire denoted by corsets and, by extension, women’s bodies, into something more representative of my desire. And of course, in writing about a kink for grubby army boots, I was writing about a fetish which conceals an ever deeper, freakier, more marginalised fetish of mine – a desire for (whisper it!) men’s bodies, for cock and come and a cracking pair of thighs. It’s a paraphilia I have (and I know I’m not alone). It’s called female heterosexuality.
An image as grotesque as the one on Best Fetish Erotica makes perfect sense according to erotica’s current terms of representation which position women as the desired, never the desiring, and men as those who look but are never looked at. This cover highlights how senseless and offensive those current terms are. Erotica is still being pitched at a perceived male readership, a stale, outmoded bias which distorts and disables female sexuality. The image on Best Fetish Erotica encapsulates and condenses the deepest flaws of erotica publishing, a misshapen body to parallel a misrepresented sexuality. While the picture may look modern and edgy, the message it’s sending – erotica is for men, not for women – is well past is sell-by-date.
OK, everybody – back behind the sofa! Arghhhhh!