Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Archive for the ‘rachel kramer bussel’ Category

Erotica Cover Watch: Please, Sir AND Please, Ma’am, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel

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Please, Sir, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press. Please, Ma’am, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by Mathilde Madden

What? No. Really? Really, Cleis Press? Really? Deja vu, anyone?

I mean, you do realise that it’s possible to take photographs of men, don’t you? You haven’t got them confused with, I dunno, vampires or something.

Well, I guess the best that can be said about this. And it’s accompanying book is that it is some kind of improvement on those last ones. Now instead of black rubber corsets we have coloured corsets. Plus, the women have heads: w00t! Women get to have heads, party!  Except that we don’t count that on Cover Watch. Nah, see, we count trashy women on covers the same as sophisticated women with vaguely hip make up. Still women. Still covers featuring women and only women. This is an erotica book and in the erotica publishing industry only women can represent the erotic. No, strike that, it’s not quite true. Only the desires of straight men can represent the erotic.

Like I said before, think about the gaze. Think about whose shoes you are being invited to fill as you look at these covers.

Now, do I need to come right out and say it: this, men and women of the web, is sexism at it’s simplest.

Since these books are about sex and power, let’s talk about sexism and power. We live in a patriachy. Men have power; women have power only where men allow it. So, say, women get to have the “power” of sitting on a book cover looking sexy, but we don’t get to have the (real) power of having our desires represented on book covers. Can you see how different those levels of power are?

What’s particularly unfair is how much artistic energy women sink into the erotica publishing industry. Women make up the bulk of the writers and editors and reviewers for these books, often for very little financial rewards. Wouldn’t it be nice if the result of all this work and enthusiasm was a product that acknowledged their right to desire on the packaging? Instead of just presenting their labours as a delicious treat for straight men to pick up and enjoy?

Again and again we see this idea that women who want to be part of sexual culture have to become performers. Have to be on display. Only men get the privilege of watching from the shadows, comfortable that their desire will be presented for them without them having to offer anything of themselves in return.

That these books, like the previous two in the series, refuse to acknowledge female desire (the books are explicitly heterosexual) on the goddamn covers is shameful. It’s 2010, women have eyes and hearts and minds. Erotica publishing’s continued obstinate ignoring of that simple fact is sexist, nasty and, actually, in these tough economic times, probably downright dumb.


Written by mat

February 11, 2010 at 11:05 am

Erotica Cover Watch: The Mile High Club, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel

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The Mile High Club, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by: Mathilde Madden

mile high

Here at Cover Watch we have a simple wish: Men on the covers of erotic books. To keep our dreams simple (and, you know, so damn basic it kind of makes me want to cry) we don’t worry too much about which men.

Oh, sure, there are debates to be had about trashiness. There are sticky questions about using imagery that is clearly primarily for gay men. We don’t have as strict a policy on this as some of our fellow warriors for equality. Man Candies are swiped from gay sites and blogs all the time, but we do understand why it’s important to say, hey, it is not okay to tell straight women that there is no problem because they can get their jollies from gay porn. Of course we can. (Of course we do.) But that doesn’t mean we don’t want our desires acknowledged . It’s not okay to ask straight women to dress up as gay men in order to see man-flesh.

Some people like to talk about what straight women really prefer. Our main position on this is that straight women’s tastes vary as much as straight men’s – and just take a look at a little thing called the internet to see just how wide ranging those tastes can be. Upshot of this – if you’re a straight woman and you see a single image of a sexy guy, chances are, it won’t be the exact image that does it for you. And this can be hugely frustrating in a world where such images are so scarce. But for us that means we cheer for all images of men on erotica book covers – and elsewhere – even if they are not our thing. Our reasoning: there’s a woman somewhere who is being made super happy by Mr Minotaur, Mr Hairy, Mr Elfin, Mr Piercings, etc.

Not that this policy is perfect. Of course some images proliferate unduly, but, for now, we welcome any attempt to get more guy-flesh on the outside of erotic books are well as the insides.

And, we don’t mind if the women want to stay on the covers too. We want equality not the moon on a stick (again, I pause and weep for how tiny and reasonable our request really is). Men pictured with women – yay! Okay, not the covers that features a huge amount of heaving bosom and a man’s hand off in the top corner, but a het couple where both get equal billing, sure. Nice.

Which is why we like this cover and cheer for it. And, god, sometimes, we feel like we are always complaining about Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Cleis covers – she has had some stinkers! So it’s really nice to see this.

So yay and yay again for this cover. And I will, at no point in this essay, mention the phrase ‘He looks like he’s hiding the body!’

Mathilde Madden

Written by mat

October 15, 2009 at 10:14 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Yes Sir AND Yes Ma’am, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel

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yes-s1Yes 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 yes-mfeel 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.

What a man on a book cover could look like

What a man on a book cover could look like

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.


Written by mat

November 6, 2008 at 10:00 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Crossdressing, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel

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Crossdressing, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press

Ooh, crossdressing. Don’t mind if I do. Bit of guy-liner does tend to turn my head. This sounds like a great idea for an erotica collection.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon, and I still like the sound of it: From femmes who channel Marlene Dietrich in the sexiest of suits to men who love nothing more than the feel silky panties stretched tight against their skin, these characters boldly indulge their fantasies of being a girl — or a guy — for a night. Drag queens get dolled up for a night on the town, a dyke packs a special surprise beneath her dress, and a devoted husband puts his dress-up skills to the ultimate test in this seductive new collection.

But, it would seem this subject matter was something of a tricky problem in the sexism department at Cleis Press. Crossdressing usually makes me think of a guy looking startlingly masculine whilst surrounded by frills. Your mileage may vary, but essentially I’m thinking the default image is a guy in women’s clothing- just type it into google image search.

But, obviously, we can’t have that on the cover.

A man? On the cover of an erotica book? No freaking way.

Okay, well, how about a woman cross dressed as a man. That can be kind of hot too.

But no say the suits in the sexism department. A woman in men’s clothing sounds far too enjoyable to straight woman – they might squint and manage to mistake it for man candy. How about this? A woman in woman’s underwear. Okay we’ll make it a sort of boyish looking woman – but clearly a woman.

Which is what we get. A woman wearing women’s clothes. It’s not actually crossdressing in any way, but at least there are no men or any men’s clothing on the cover of the book.

And, god, this is an erotica collection about crossdressing and even that panders to the unreconstructed straight male buyer who would piss his pants if he saw a man on the cover of his book. Or even a woman in a pair of men’s undies – which surely wouldn’t turn off lesbian consumers so I think we have pretty hard evidence right here that this bias is for the guys.

I am thinking of making this a regular feature. Erotica book covers where the sheer effort put into the sexism just makes me *headdesk*.

Mat x

Written by mat

October 23, 2008 at 6:59 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Mmm yes, there, there, harder, oh yes, more, more, please …

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Mmm yes, there, there, harder, oh yes, more, more, please …

Watched by Kristina Lloyd

Ladies and gentleman, a bit of hush, please. Gather round, come close. Brace yourselves as we dim the lights. Remember, no touching unless you’re wearing our specially-provided latex gloves. (Wash your minds out! I meant touching the books.) The items you’re about to see are rare and precious gems. They are examples of – and you may struggle to believe your eyes – erotica covers featuring men! Yes, men!

Oh dear. Smelling salts at the back, please.

Seriously, it’s taken me ages to find covers for this post. We wanted to say something positive and give the thumbs up to books which do something other than stick a sexy chica on the front. But I’m nearly blind from searching. Next time, I’ll stick to snark.

Lust, edited by Violet Blue, (Cleis Press, 2007) is an anthology of erotic fantasies for women and, quite wonderfully, its cover art depicts a hot and sweatily sensual, heterosexual embrace. As we know, your typical ‘for women’ collection features a woman on the front, since the eroticised female body is deemed to cover all bases. Practically no consideration is given to women who might like to look at men, or who might like to have their sexuality rightfully and correctly represented as actually rather normal and extremely common. There are an awful lot of women who get off on men’s bodies but, to look at most erotica covers, you’d think ours was a fringe sexuality, out there on the margins with people who get off on teaspoons. (Why are there no teaspoons on erotica covers? Why?)

Lust paints a different picture. Lust doesn’t merely acknowledge het sexuality by sticking a token male leg, elbow or foot at the edge of its staple hot babe image. Lust actually seems to be celebrating majority-female desire, and it’s one of the most evenly balanced, truthful and sexiest couple shots I’ve seen in straight smut. I say ‘truthful’ because I think this image portrays how sex feels for us. I confess, I’m a tad confused by those other, more widely-seen images of super-smiley couples glowing healthily on a white backdrop. The lovers there often appear closer to having a merry pillow fight than an orgasm. But, hey, maybe I should stop quibbling and be grateful couple images even exist. This one’s gorgeous.

(Incidentally, Violet Blue’s excellent blog features a Hot Boy Thursday slot to complement her Pretty Girl Fridays. You don’t get candy every week, but when you do get it, it’s blisteringly hot (there are goth boys too!) and each post comes with lots of lusty links. Highly recommended!)

Violet Blue’s forthcoming Girls on Top (Cleis, 2009) is, as the strapline explicitly says, ‘explicit erotica for women’. Unfortunately, our bloke is becoming a bit token here but he’s gamely holding on. Faring much better is the guy on Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s Tasting Him (Cleis, 2008), and we’re really fucking rocking with Alison Tyler‘s Red Hot Erotica (Cleis, 2006), its cover depicting a man and a woman having a smoulderingly good time, thanks very much!

It’s fabulous to see such an image on a book which, rather than flagging its specialist status (‘for couples’, ‘for women’), is just general erotica, a genre increasingly appealing to women, but whose covers are still invisibly flagging their traditional market (‘for men’). Because, of course, no one would label a het erotica book ‘for men.’ There’s no need; the assumption is it’s all for men, always. Defaults, perceived ‘normality’, and the stark-staring obvious don’t need labels. You don’t put a sign up to say ‘road’. You may, however, need a sign saying ‘turn left here’. It would be great if more erotica books started using bodies as signs; started to imply ‘for men and women’ by featuring men and women on the covers. It’s an easy language to read.

The three books above are rare beasts in erotica since they feature the male form in isolation rather than as part of a male/female embrace. Just check out Susie Bright‘s Best American Erotica 2000 (Touchstone)! It’s a torso! A beautiful, sleek male torso, adorned with a shimmer of sweat, and he’s damn near dominating the cover! If that’s not a deliberate and delicious candification (hey, I invented a word!) of the male form, then I don’t know what is. I love this concept of a photo montage, a jumble of bodies, abstract and overt, where the viewer can take from it whatever he or she wants. (BAE 1995 has a similar design, albeit more feminine.) There’s no pairing of him with her, him with him or her with her. We are simply given images of bodies, fragmented, disordered, up close, at a distance. In some places, it’s actually tricky to discern what the image is. Much like fucking, the cover is deliciously disorientating, and it’s cleverly giving both sexes some eye candy while implicitly involving us in the dizzying thick of the action.

Cowboy Lover (Cecilia Tan and Lori Perkins, Running Press, 2007) is another rarity, an erotica cover focussing solely on a guy, albeit from a safe distance, and NT Morley‘s Master (Berkley Heat, 2005) had me practically swooning in shock when I found it. Here’s a BDSM bonanza offering ’30 spanking tales from the top’ and on the cover we’ve got the top, the torso, the muscled master himself. How very, very yum. The other half of this book is Slave, ’30 stinging tales from the bottom’, and I believe the flip side cover image is of a woman. (I haven’t been able to track this because, astonishingly and brilliantly, the publisher – who has strong romance links (quick, pull up a chair, Sherlock!) – has chosen Master as its main cover.) How about that for gender equality, man on one side, woman on the other? All we need now is a similar femdom anthology for Mathilde and the two of us would be politically and erotically happy for, oh, about ten minutes.

Hang on, everybody! Quiet, please. What’s that terrible noise in the distance? Oh god, is it … could it be …

Phew, panic over. Just my cat yawning. For a moment, I thought the world was ending but look: men on erotica covers and the world still spins.

Alison Tyler’s Open for Business (Cleis, 2008) again keeps us at a safe distance but this is a fun, cheeky image of a couple getting it on, proof that there are more ways to sell sex than via the female body. Similarly, the cover of Sex and Candy, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Pretty Things Press, 2007) might appeal to those who’d prefer to have candy-candy rather than human-candy on their smut. Pretty Things Press, owned by Alison Tyler, features numerous people-free covers and is one of the few publishing houses that doesn’t continually default at hot honey cover art. Yup, you guessed it, there’s not enough man candy for my taste but for anyone shy about purchasing books which scream SEX (and in buying smut, women, of course, have much more cultural baggage to put aside than the guys – three cheers for the internet!), the covers of PTP may hit the spot.

Finally, Bedding Down, another Kramer Bussel anthology, this one forthcoming from Avon Red (Dec 2008), interestingly, an offshoot of Avon Romance who are producing some fabulously erotic couple-covers. What can I say except ‘wow’? Avon Red is revealing its romance roots here with Bedding Down, offering a cover that’s sumptuous, sexy and sensual. The man and woman get pretty much equal billing, there’s no impending pillow fight, and he has quite the loveliest shoulder and neck. Again, wow! Thank you, Avon Red, for showing erotica how it’s done.

And that’s your lot, folks! I found a few more general erotica covers featuring guys but they offer little more than testosterone tokens on an image which is either non-fleshy or primarily of a woman. Trust me, I’ve been to the dustiest, dankest corners of Amazon to bring you these covers, and had to wade back so many years I virtually became a minor. I have spiders in my ears and have seen enough T&A to last me until Christmas – just don’t ask me which Christmas.

Feel free to drop us a link if you know of any other covers kicking their way out of erotica publishing’s gender bias (but please don’t direct us to covers featuring a bloke’s toe in the bottom left). And of course, while a few more images would be interesting, it’s never going to alter our fundamental point: there are way too many images of women in erotica and virtually none of men. The covers shown here are outweighed by the thousands upon thousands of erotica covers offering nothing but a sexy woman. And that is grossly unfair and utterly shameful.

So there really isn’t much to say of the above covers except ‘more, more, yes, harder, bigger, stronger, keep going, just there, please, more, more, more!’

Written by Kristina Lloyd

October 2, 2008 at 7:04 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Dirty Girls, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel

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Dirty Girls, ed Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub Seal Press

On an aesthetic level, I (Kristina Lloyd) like this cover. It’s sensual and rich, its colours picked from the warm palettes of autumn and toffee. It’s modern and knowing, the self-proclaimed dirtiness of its women echoed in a title font that looks shabby and poorly printed. Similarly, the cover model’s bling and heavy make-up is deliberately, brazenly sluttish – more high class hooker than trailer trash because, my goodness, what a lovely couch. And, woo-hoo, she has a head – something of a rarity in erotica.

But this isn’t about aesthetics. After all, we could discuss the presentation of the male form on erotica covers in terms of aesthetics, font, knowingness etc. Except, obviously, we can’t because these covers don’t exist (except in the fevered imaginations of me, Mathilde and a handful of others).

Dirty Girls is, as the strapline says, ‘for women’. Having a naked babe on the cover seems such a wasted opportunity here.

Why not an image which, in keeping with the contents, is for women rather than the usual: an image of a woman?

Editor, Rachel Kramer Bussel, says, ‘the stories are written by women, and it’s being published by a feminist press, so if you ask me, putting a man on the cover would’ve been totally antithetical to what the book is ostensibly about.’ [1]

This sounds dangerously close to the notion than feminism is anti-men. It’s not. Feminism is anti men ruling the world. Why shouldn’t a sexy book aimed at women feature an image of the thing most women find sexy, a guy?

Time and again, women are put in the position of ‘object of desire’ rather than ‘subject actively desiring’. And the object of our desire – a man – is missing from the picture entirely. For a woman to say she wants a sexy man is not, as is sometimes thought, a weakness, a chink in the armour of female liberation. Expressing your lust, claiming your right to sexual satisfaction, being a person who is actively desiring is poles apart from the caricature of a needy, dependent woman who yearns for a man because without him she is a moony, ditzy sap foundering in her own inadequacy.

In rejecting this caricature, let’s not chuck out the baby with the bath water (or the penis with the patriarchy). Let’s not be afraid to say, as women, ‘I want a hot guy.’ We can retain our autonomy and do this without adding the usual fucked-up twist – I want a hot guy to want me, to find me attractive, to look at me with lust as I lie on this couch in a sultry mish-mash of availability and aloofness.


Dirty Girls is, I’m sure, a wonderful book. I know many of the writers with stories in the collection and I’ve probably diddled myself silly over their words before now. There are lots of names new to me and when I read their bios and interviews, I am genuinely excited. Their voices sound fresh, intelligent, honest and sexy. I don’t have a problem with the fiction. It’s the cover that rankles.

The original subtitle for Dirty Girls was erotica by women. When the book was launched, Kramer Bussel was at pains to point out that men would love this book too. But really, she needn’t have bothered. That cover says it all.

But, but, but argues Kramer Bussel, this cover is different. This cover is not like all those others with a passive model being served up for male eyes. Hell, no.

Here's looking at ya!

Reclaiming the gaze

What I love about it is that she’s both subject and object,’ says Kramer Bussel. ‘I like how she’s staring so defiantly at the camera, reclaiming the gaze and showing that “dirty” in this context is not only about what’s done to you but about what you do and think and feel. She embodies that spirit, in my opinion, and her nudity is powerful and sexy.’ [2]

RKB asserts that our dirty girl is both looking and being looked at. This is true. Also that she stares ‘defiantly’. This is sort of true though you could make equal claim she has a come-hither gaze. But let’s be generous and say Dirty Gerty is not your archetypal coquette with eyes askance. She has a relatively bold fuck-you face. But if this is an image which purportedly speaks to woman, on a book aimed at women, then why is she defying me? Why is she giving me, a woman, that fuck-you face? What did I do? I’m not the patriarchy.

Dirty’s alleged defiance only makes feminist sense if this image is being looked upon by men (or via the male gaze). And really, why are we even bothering with this? It looks suspiciously like clutching at straws. Dirty’s defiance is, what, 5% of the picture? And crikey, if she really were reclaiming the gaze and challenging those who look at her, you’d think she might at least try opening both eyes. Shall I make that defiance a more cycloptian 2.5%? Whatever the maths, this is mainly a softly-lit hot babe sprawled naked on a couch. I’ll bet you my last gay porn mag that most viewers of this cover are not remotely challenged by her defiance.

For heaven’s sake, can’t women just look? Can’t we dodge the range of that pesky viewfinder and feast our eyes on what gets us hot? On beautiful men. On finely sculpted bodies. On the sweet swoop of his back, the strength in his arms, the stubble on his jaw?

That, surely, is erotica for women.


I’m guessing the publishers of Dirty Girls, in aiming a book at women, are thinking of all women – straight, bi, lesbian. Can you imagine a parallel book, let’s call it Rude Boys, being marketed at all men – straight, bi, gay? It simply wouldn’t happen. Male sexuality is sharply delineated in het culture and homophobia is rife, quite a contrast to the diffuse, fluid, up-for-anything sexuality which constitutes the dominant idea of ‘liberated’ woman.

Straight women forced to attend gay orgies for kicks

Women forced to attend gay orgies for kicks

This disparity suits erotica covers very well. Female sexuality is treated as a job lot, an all-accommodating hunger that will not merely accept but *embrace* its woman-loving side. It will happily sit down with the straight guys who’ve been enjoying tits and ass on their porn for years and say, ‘My, ain’t she hot?’ And the guys will say, ‘Welcome to the party! I love your open-minded radical sexuality. Will you be kissing your bestfriend later? Mind if we watch?’

And once again, so many women are sidelined and made invisible; are forced to go and gatecrash the gay guys’ party because that’s the only place we can get cock.


I confess, Dirty Girls makes me more uncomfortable than most erotica, because it claims to be more feminist than most. The strapline says ‘for women’, the publisher promotes its feminism, and yet the book still seems to be talking mainly to men, most likely without even realising it. The message on the cover (‘Hello Boys!’) is reinforced by the books’ publicity blurb and intro.

What do women really want? To be sensually seduced or pressed up against the wall for a quickie? To be tantalized by a peep show or the chance to join the mile high club?

Reading this collection […] will give you a glimpse into what makes women wet, what makes us feel and act dirty, what makes us slick our lips and spread our legs. Maybe, just maybe, their stories attempt to answer Freud’s infamously infuriating query: “What do women want?”

Hot vacation sex

Hot vacation sex

Freud’s question is infuriating not in and of itself, but because he posed it. It’s infuriating because it encapsulates how Freud and patriarchal society excluded women and made them other, subjects to be examined, described and defined from a position of male power. It’s not infuriating because it attempts to generalise when we are all unique and precious snowflakes. The issue is far bigger than that.

Unfortunately, this book seems to be making a bid to answer Freud’s question, when it really ought to be elbowing it aside and moving into the 21st century. As Dirty Girls thinks fit to tell the dead doctor (or maybe Mel Gibson):

They [ie women] want to be worshiped, they want to be ordered around, they want to be sent spinning into ecstasy and then come crashing back down. They want strangers bearing ice cubes on a hot day, and to be a party favor passed around among guests. They want hot vacation sex, visits to peep shows [etc] [3]

Who, exactly, is being addressed here? If it’s women, shouldn’t it be we, we, we, not they, they, they? Sure, it’s the authors of the stories being referred to but the implication is these individual women are representative of all women. And, in a ‘for women’ anthology, should we even be explaining ourselves to ourselves at all? Can’t we just have an erotica book, please, that boldly appeals to women; that allows us to enjoy sexy fiction and ogle a sexy men; that doesn’t make us feel as if we’re reading a pornish guide to women over the shoulders of our boyfriends?

I realise I’ve gone a leetle bit off track in delving behind the cover but I do find it striking how the introduction to Dirty Girls seems to reinforce the message underpinning the predominance of women on erotica covers: that in erotica, women are the subjects under scrutiny, the looked-at, the product, the package; men are the audience, the lookers, the consumers. And while I have no doubt many women will adore this cover and feel this book is for them, isn’t that because we’re always having to accommodate ourselves to the male view? Because we’re so used to being excluded and ignored that we don’t even notice it? That sometimes – oh horror! – we actually do it to ourselves, we render our desire insignificant by allowing it to be lost in those pushier representations of male desire?

That’s not my feminism. That’s not my sexy. That’s not the way we want erotica to grow.



[1] RKB on Dirty Girls

[2] RKB on Lust Bites

[3] The intro to Dirty Girls

Written by Kristina Lloyd

September 18, 2008 at 7:16 am