ONTD Political

The battle against sexist sci-fi and fantasy book covers

11:35 pm - 01/17/2013
Science fiction and fantasy novels routinely portray scantily clad woman on their covers - a device that draws the heterosexual male eye but may turn away women readers. Lynsea Garrison finds one fantasy author aiming to zap gender stereotypes.

Jim Hines straddles the remnants of a defeated alien species (a table), and clasps a pistol (a toy gun) as he triumphantly raises a cyborg's head (a toaster). Sometimes he fights battles alongside his romantic interest (a large teddy bear).

But no matter the mission, Hines shows some flesh. Just because he is waging a war, it does not mean he cannot be alluring at the same time, right?

Hines, a fantasy author, is posing like some of the female characters on science fiction and fantasy book covers he says objectify women.

He gets into character by twisting his body into the same contorted positions as the female characters on the books.

"The way women are portrayed is just so ridiculous, so often, you just stop seeing it," Hines says.

"I think posing has made people see it again - you see how ridiculous it is when a 38-year-old fantasy writer is doing it."

Since he started in January 2012, Hines' poses have become the most popular posts on his blog. So he launched a new series in December to raise money to fight Aicardi syndrome, a genetic disorder that mostly affects girls.

The series has drawn more than 100,000 people to Hines' website and raised $15,405 (£9,623) for the cause.

The project is one of the latest expressions of a growing conversation about the portrayal of women in science fiction and fantasy cover art.

Tracy Hurley co-founded Prismatic Art Collection, a directory of artists who draw more diverse depictions of men and women in fantasy art, particularly for role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.

"Women are so often portrayed assuming that a stereotypical hetero male is going to be the person looking at the cover," says Hurley.

"Male characters [are] powerful and strong, and women's sexuality will be emphasised. And why is that a problem? It's constraining for both men and women."

Many science fiction and fantasy readers are disappointed to encounter everyday sexism in a medium that is supposed to offer an escape.

Covers frequently exhibit women's bodies with revealing clothing unsuitable for combat, and fans argue that sexualising female characters sends a message to readers that women are sex objects.

Hurley says her goal is not to ban attractive women from book covers but to encourage publishers to include a wider variety of female characters.

"I worry about girls who don't see a character who looks like them and feel that science fiction and fantasy aren't for them," she says.

Part of the challenge is that women have long been portrayed on book covers in the same manner - thin, white and conventionally attractive.

The stories of Conan the Barbarian are largely credited with transforming fantasy art in the 1960s. These covers showcased muscled men and servile women, a style that artists replicated in subsequent decades.

When Irene Gallo began working in the publishing industry in the 1990s, publishers were moving away from the women emblematic of the Conan covers.

"Our sales people were saying that we want sexy women on covers, but we want them to be in active roles," says Gallo, now creative director of Tor Books.

Covers are improving, but strong women in chainmail bikinis and tight clothing regularly appear in comics and subgenres such as urban fantasy and paranormal romance.

While these women are supposed to be fighters, critics say they are drawn in a way that renders them powerless.

"People think that if you give the girl a gun, suddenly she's a strong woman," said Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a fantasy writer.

"But maybe she's still a sex object. We forget that the pose, the cropping, the way it's painted [all] tell a story. So if you have one element that says strength - like a gun - but everything else doesn't follow that, that's not the narrative you think you have."

Gallo thinks part of the problem is that male artists greatly outnumber female artists in the industry.

"You go to art school, and it's 50-50," Gallo said. "But professionally, it's overwhelmingly male.

"This is an unfortunate fact of the industry. These artists grew up with comics and gaming, so it's easy to perpetuate these things without thinking them through."

Marketing strategies may also be responsible for sexist covers. But the mantra that sex sells may not be accurate.

According to 2012 data from publishing industry analysts Codex Group, less overtly explicit covers in fact have a wider appeal among general readers.

Codex Chief Executive Officer Peter Hildick-Smith remains puzzled why science fiction and fantasy publishers sell sexualised covers.

"My guess is that it has simply evolved as category convention, allowing book buyers to instantly know that a given books is in one of their preferred categories," he said.

Hines, author of such titles as Libriomancer, The Mermaid's Madness and Goblin Quest, says many in the science fiction and fantasy community have not had to think about harmful messaging or sexism.

While momentum is building, Hines does not think the industry is at a tipping point yet. And that means readers will likely see covers he says objectify women for a while.

Hines is just trying to make sure his covers aren't among them.

"My next book has a woman on the cover," Hines says.

"And I told my publisher: 'if you put her into one of these spine-contorted poses, the entire internet is going to make fun of you.'"


Source has one of Jim Hines' parody pictures
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serendipity_15 18th-Jan-2013 04:41 am (UTC)
Wow, that was a super fast approval! You are awesome! <3
lickety_split MOD NOTE18th-Jan-2013 04:45 am (UTC)
Um this post demands pictures.
umi_mikazuki 18th-Jan-2013 05:00 am (UTC)

Scalzi's response:

squeeful 18th-Jan-2013 04:51 am (UTC)
I give you...The Hawkeye Initiative. Aka: replace "strong female character" poses with Clint Barton. The earlier ones are best but still, :-D
beoweasel 18th-Jan-2013 04:59 am (UTC)
There's another tumblr that I've seen, which is the opposite of the Hawkeye Initiative, where it takes female characters and puts them in the poses of male heroes.

It's really bad-ass.
effervescent 18th-Jan-2013 04:57 am (UTC)
:D This whole thing has been awesome, I think it's actually achieved getting people to realise how ridiculous the poses are and how only women are put in them.The pictures are hilarious and Jim Hines is great in general, imo.
cyranothe2nd 18th-Jan-2013 05:08 am (UTC)
Damn, I'd get a cramp in my calf if I tried to arch my foot like the woman on the bookcover in the OP!
romp 18th-Jan-2013 06:00 am (UTC)
they do but they're willing to suffer for beauty...or so I hear
gargoylekitty 18th-Jan-2013 05:45 am (UTC)
I remember seeing some of these a couple months back, cool to see he's kept doing them, though sad to see how much material he has to work with.

rebness 18th-Jan-2013 01:51 pm (UTC)
God, what an uncomfortable-looking pose!

'I'll take you on! But first just let me arch my leg in this really uncomfortable way...'
skramamme 18th-Jan-2013 06:10 am (UTC)
This is awesome but he seriously needs to get a hold of a chain mail bikini :D
What always baffles me is when the women are depicted wearing super high heels as well as the customary metal corset or filmy, sheer harem pants, because mega high heels really give you an edge when going into battle.
This reminds me of Heavy Metal magazine. Their illustrations are pretty much the perfect example of "saucy wench/hot barbarian/sexy alien" sci-fi covers- the sort of illustrations that get airbrushed onto the side of a panel van (seriously, a google image search is so worth it). That and those awful "Slave Girls of Gor" books...so freaking creepy :\
songfire3 18th-Jan-2013 08:27 am (UTC)
Well, he did wear fishnets...*g*

(not quite chain mail, but he's always open for suggestions! *gg* Find him a book cover with a bikini chain mail and we'll might get *lucky*...XD)
skellington1 18th-Jan-2013 06:23 am (UTC)
I <3 Hines' poses. Even though, back when I first started complaining about female poses and armor back in my teens, I thought SURELY people would've come to their senses by the time I was (almost) thirty!

Better late than never!
odette_river 18th-Jan-2013 06:36 am (UTC)
Honestly, this is probably one of the main reasons that I don't say I'm fantasy/science fiction fan anymore and why I haven't really read anything in the genre beyond YA. When I was younger and reading Tamora Pierce, I was all about fantasy books. Now...the covers just make me move on.
timbershiver 18th-Jan-2013 01:53 pm (UTC)
I work for a genre publisher and so over the years collected a HUGE amount of books and graphic novels. When we moved house, I decided which books to keep and which to get rid by the girls on the covers - I donated 100s to the charity shop :(
stainedfeathers 18th-Jan-2013 06:47 am (UTC)
This post made my night. It also reminded me of one of my favorite Halo artworks- Zero Suit Master Chief. Bolk also did an Avengers one too that I just now noticed. Haha. Oh Hulk...

I need to come back to this tomorrow when I'm not passing out at my keyboard ( saw this post as I was about to go to bed) and look at this guys work more closely. These are totally awesome. I hope he has tried to do one of Rob Liefeld's insane poses he puts women in.
hinoema 18th-Jan-2013 06:52 am (UTC)
I absolutely love this whole conversation. And of course, it wouldn't be complete without this:

(Slightly large image- it's a comic.)

clevermanka 18th-Jan-2013 02:30 pm (UTC)
All the old-school Foglio love! XOXO!
halfshellvenus 18th-Jan-2013 07:42 am (UTC)
This is just so awesome, both as a statement and as a wonderful use of satire.

I feel something similar to this affront to women when I try to watch Game of Thrones. Fascinating idea, great cast, but god-- the degradation of the female actresses in it, the soft core porn... it's just an assault on female viewers. And it really pisses me off, because there's the expectation that the male audience will really go for it and the female audience will put up with it the way they always do. :(

Jim Hines, you're my toaster-slinging nerfgun-toting hero. :)
bleakwinters 18th-Jan-2013 11:37 am (UTC)
The thing is, in the books it's not nearly this sexualised. The level of sexual violence and objectification in GoT is absolutely astounding. Oh, sure, the books are problematic and GRRM gets some shit wildly wrong, but the show is just disgusting and ham-handed.
stillglows 18th-Jan-2013 07:46 am (UTC)
bless this post, for it is a thing of beauty.
songfire3 18th-Jan-2013 08:13 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting this!! He's awesome!

Have you linked jimhines to this? He'll love it! (Especially if it garners more attention for the Aicardi Syndrome!) :D
carmy_w 18th-Jan-2013 05:54 pm (UTC)
I have tried three different times to get on his latest LJ post; I keep getting Frank!

He knows he was featured in an article, because he mentioned it in the blog post. Either LJ is goofing up again today, or else his page is getting slammed!
alexvdl 18th-Jan-2013 08:33 am (UTC)
Interestingly enough another SFF writer posted an article on Pin Ups today.

timbershiver 18th-Jan-2013 02:01 pm (UTC)
Ugh, it sounds like he perfectly understands some of the problems women face, but still decides to add to it anyway.
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