Are Erotic Book Covers Sexist?

Australian Women's Forum cover with a guy on itThanks to The Girl for pointing me in the direction of Erotica Cover Watch. This is a new blog that asks the question: why are only women featured on the covers of erotic books?

It’s a very good point and the topic naturally delves into the whole feminist issue of the male gaze and the continued way that straight women are still considered to be non-visual.

It all comes down to official marketing wisdom which says that women on covers sell and men don’t. That’s why women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan don’t feature guys. Indeed, I suspect Playgirl was one of the few magazines to flaunt this official rule and that was probably only because they were marketing themselves to gay men.

The funny thing about this is I remember having this conversation over ten years ago with Helen Vnuk, then editor of Australian Women’s Forum, the Aussie adult mag for women. The editorial staff were busting to put some of the hunky guys on the cover, especially considering they were delightfully naked in the middle. Nope, said marketing, not doable. And I think the bean counters then proceeded to bring out sales figures that showed the covers featuring couples didn’t sell as well as solo women.

It was the last act of defiance for AWF that their final issue did feature a guy – and he was pretty hot too as you can see.

I suspect that women are just trained to see other women on a cover as normal… and of course the continuing justification of the need to make sales turns it into a self-fulfilling prophesy. On top of that there’s homophobia, which dictates that a guy won’t want to be seen reading a book that features a hunky, half naked man, in case people assume he’s gay and – possibly – beat him up. Much safer to go with the girly pinup pic, right?

The compromise is, of course, to feature a couple, but that rarely happens either. Is it considered too raunchy? Or is it cheaper to only shoot one model?

In any case, I’m glad someone is making a fuss about this. Maybe next year’s Best Women’s Erotica, which is absolutely and utterly aimed at women, should have a guy or a couple on it. Maybe we should ask Violet and Cleis Press what they think.

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