Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Archive for the ‘yes ma’am’ Category

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

with 28 comments

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

with 26 comments

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