This Just In: Men and Women Are Different!
Posted by Alan Tucker
One of the writing groups I follow on Facebook linked a post by Maureen Johnson on Huffington Post titled “The Gender Coverup”. Maureen took the stance, and eloquently, I might add, that publishers package books by women as “girly” and therefore view them of less quality in a literary sense. The conversation sparked a Twitter-fest about redesigning covers of current books with a “gender flip”. A follow up article with a slide show of some of the images can be found here.
There are a lot of issues to discuss from this, but I’m going to try to focus on one for today: the idea of gender bias or profiling on book covers.
First of all, I wanted to say that I thought many of the newly created covers in the coverflip slideshow were very well done. Many of them, however, for the books that I’ve read at least, did a poor job of portraying the actual story. Let’s look at Game of Thrones as an example.
While clever and nicely executed, I don’t think anyone who’s read Game of Thrones would think the second cover does an adequate job of characterizing the story inside. I know if I had purchased a copy with the gender flipped cover, I would have felt badly hoodwinked after reading it, regardless of the gender of the author.
So, to me, the question is: does the cover fit the story? If it doesn’t, then maybe there is some truth to the gender profiling notion.
Here’s a random sampling of some books I’ve read over the years by female authors. All excellent books by the way, GoodReads links at the end of the post. Click on the image to see it bigger.
This is hardly a scientific sample and it’s heavily skewed toward fantasy. However, looking at these as objectively as I can, I don’t see gender bias or profiling. I see covers that reasonably represent the mood and contents of the books.
One could argue that, being of the male persuasion, my buying habits tend toward covers that are gender neutral or have a male slant. I’m willing to concede that point. I certainly don’t gravitate to books with women in large, flowing dresses or guys flexing their abs on the cover. By and large, however, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that books with covers like that have strong romantic components. I’m generally not interested in reading romance as a personal preference.
As such, only one of these covers is classified as YA (Young Adult), The Hunger Games. Maureen and I both write YA books, and I can see more in that genre where a “girly” aspect to the covers is in evidence. But, let’s think for a moment who the large majority of those books are written for and marketed to: girls. The vast majority of YA readers are girls/young women. Of course publishers are going to create a cover designed to cater to the largest demographic. It only makes sense.
Big publishers are not the only ones following the money. Have a look at self published YA novels. The trend continues. Lots of pretty girls, elegant dresses, and hot guys. If there is any misogyny going on, it’s being perpetuated by the female authors themselves.
While I agree with many of Maureen’s points, especially the need for modernization and gender equality in our educational system, I don’t see a conspiracy by the publishing world to treat women authors’ work as second class or “trashy”. I know from experience that it’s difficult to find readers when your book doesn’t fit neatly into a specific category, as many of Maureen’s don’t. But we can’t blame our covers, or even society, for that. The simple fact is, men and women are different and are drawn to different images and stories. No one is the same and it’s our differences that make the world such an interesting place!