Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Rick Moody, author of literay book The Ice Storm, had some advance copies go out for his new book, The Diviner. The cover was a "garishly illustrated blaze-orange cover depicting a shirtless, Conan the Barbarian-type warrior standing atop a mountain peak, a shield in one hand and a forked branch lofted, spearlike, in the other."

Sounds great, right? Well, yea, if you're marketing to a different audience. And the audience he wanted wasn't going for it.

"I saw a lot of people, particularly women, just turn away from the cover," said Michael Pietsch, the publisher. Before long, "I realized we were making a mistake," he continued, adding, "We loved it and the author loved it, too, but it was not communicating the information we wanted about the book."

I was reminded of the perpetual chatter about why women aren't more involved in gaming and comic-book reading. It's often because, well, women aren't marketed to.

Now, in this instance, a Conan-like cover would have been great as far as marketing to *me*, but last night I was reading through another comic book (I've been interested in getting more involved with reading comics, since they tend to have some really neat ideas and visuals), when I started getting kinda turned off by it, and wondered why.

It was an interesting story with organic tech, bugs, things exploding, a strong female character and etc, all of which I really like. So what was the issue?

The female character had boobs nearly as big as her head, fell for the dorky guy for no apparent reason, and the other two female characters in the story answered to a dead guy who directed all of their movements.

But really, it was the boobs thing.

I mean, nobody has boobs that big and a waist that small unless the boobs are fake. Boobs are made up of fat, which is why fat women often have bigger boobs. I lose a cup size when I drop weight. That's how it is. OK, yea, everybody in comic books is stylized, and I accept this, and I appreciate that comic books have beautiful, impossible people in them (well, mostly beautiful women, though the men's forms are exaggerated to some degree as well, I wouldn't call most of them beautiful).

But OK, so, it's a comic, there's big boobs. What's the big deal?

I guess what kept gnawing at me is that I felt the female characters weren't there so much to be cool and heroic and advance the plot as they were there to have their boobs looked at. Watching the two evil powerful women turn out to be getting orders from a guy, and watching the one "good" woman cuddle up with the male freak for no apparent reason just bugged me. It became abundantly clear early on that the author and illustrater weren't talking to me at all. They were talking to adolescent boys who they hoped were really fascinated by big boobs.

I mean, how many lesbians are fascinated so much by big boobs that they buy comic books for the sheer titillation at seeing something so "monstrous"? (please, feel free to disagree with me here)

I sometimes feel that women in a lot of comic books are just rolled up into bed with the rest of the "monsters" in the cast. This isn't always the case, and I know there's good stuff out there, but in general, I just don't see this stuff talking to me.

It's something the gamers at Utopian Hell bitch about as well: games that just don't talk to women at all, that just don't include them. It's why you'll see more women players with stuff like the Myst and Riven games (which I love) and less on the ones where we aren't treated like people but just like some of the other monsters. I can certainly run around as a guy, but if every female I run into during game play is a fiesty vixen who tries to seduce me or a dumb blond, I'd still get pretty insulted, and bored. Bored is probably the best way to describe it. It's like, "Can't you come up with some interesting characters? Do they all have to respond the same way? You've got an entire fantasy world to work with, and you're using a bunch of gender stereotypes the whole way through? What gives?"

Don't get me wrong: men act as monsters too in the games, but I'd like some of the women to be real people as opposed to monstrous Others. I want to be a Cool, Kick-ass Chick. And, being a woman, I recognize that monstrous boobs would really get in the way of being really active and kickass, particularly if you were trying to do it on a tiny frame. And really, what's the tactical advantage of boobs? You can't take them off and hit anybody with them (now there's a gaming idea!). You can put armor on them and jut them at somebody, but if you get that close, they'll gut you. And not every villain you run into is gonna be straight, interested in your boobs, or so incredibly stupid as to be "charmed" by your "feminine wiles." Or, they shouldn't be.

Again: how boring.

It is, in fact, possible to write up female characters with sensible boobs, for goodness sake. It happens. They can even show some skin and still be sensible people (even if they're named after flowers).

I'd like to play cool characters, not characatures of people who have the same genitals I do.

As with any story, I want to read about people. I want to be able to identify with them, and I want to take them seriously. We live in a culture that infantalizes women with boobs as big as their heads and small waists because it's something that doesn't happen naturally, and we associate those sorts of body-transformations with women who aren't taken seriously, women who seek to play the part of object.

There's a duel fault there: the stereotype we carry for women who choose to get implants, and the stereotyping we perpetuate in the entertainment we create.

Who wants to be to dumb, bitchy monstrous woman who always gets hacked up in the end by the guy who gives her orders?

That's not fantasy. That's not escape. That's not entertainment.

It's too much like watching CNN.

Show me some alternatives. Let me be taken seriously. Let me be cool and smart and strong, and maybe it'll help me realize I can be cool and smart and strong in real life, too.

8 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Man, if I had a nickel for every sci-fi T&A cover that has some busty archery chick in skimpy useless armor and thought "There's no way she can use that bow effectively, her boobs are in the way!"...

Now, speaking as a dyke, I like breasts. It's part of the job, you know? But personally, I find the sci-fi/gaming/etc T&A monstrous as well. I think the difference is that, well, I *have* boobs. There's no mystery or intrigue about them. I know what they feel like and how they work. I'm not fascinated by cartoon boobs the way adolescent boys are because I know what real ones are like. I look at those pictures and think "Damn, I bet her lower back is killing her!"

"Show me some alternatives. Let me be taken seriously. Let me be cool and smart and strong, and maybe it'll help me realize I can be cool and smart and strong in real life, too."
YES! Amen. Have you ever read Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood? Everybody seems to just luuuurve this novel, I've heard nothing but rapturous praise for it. It's got a great premise, and was really enjoying it, until the female character appeared. There's only one, and she's this completely infantilized bombshell. She's supposed to be a strong, Amazon-type figure, and she spend the whole novel getting rescued by the hero. The whole plot seems to be him working out his Oedipal complex. I can't be the only one who noticed this, but no one else seems to have picked up on it. It makes you crazy, after a while, if you're never taken seriously as a person in the literature you enjoy. But then, we couldn't change that, because boys won't read about girls' struggles and conflicts. But girls will read anything. ::rolls eyes:: 

Posted by Andygrrl

Anonymous said...

This may be a bit off topic, but I am trying to connect with other strong willed women out in cyberspace.

I would like to generate some discussion on the topic of The Holy Grail.

I cordially invite you to drop by my blog and comment.
If you feel my thoughts are worthy to share, please pass it on.

Thanks, from me and all the women of the world,

Kelley Bell 

Posted by Kelley bell

Anonymous said...

Yea. That's pretty off-topic. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I remember looking at the U.S. Sara Douglass book-cover:

Guy: Shoulder-enhancing, waist-tightening armor

Gal: Off-the shoulder robe composed primarily of wet tissue paper

On the other hand, while Kristen Britain's fiction isn't the most original of all time, at least her character is, y'know, wearing clothes:



Posted by Patrick

Anonymous said...

There is a comic called Birds of Prey written by Gail Simone. She's an excellent writer and I dig the characters. What's the problem? The artist draws big boobs, unrealistic long legs and they may as well be wearing lingerie. Now in a combat type situation wouldn't tactical clothing protect skin from weapons, environment or just hitting the damn pavement? The artist gets all kind of rave reviews too. I still buy the comic but it's hard to take seriously. Well as serious as you can take a comic book.  

Posted by Rob Smith

Anonymous said...

I far prefer reading heroic fantasy/sci-fi with no women in the picture, or with a low content of sex or romantic love, to reading heroic fantasy where the women are prominent in the plotline but are there purely for decoration or fuckbuddies. 

Posted by NancyP

Anonymous said...

Generations of children have been given false expectations from Barbie dolls. 

Posted by David

Anonymous said...

I play an online game called City of Heroes, which is a fairly fun superhero comics video game. I've talked on my blog about the gender stuff going on there (you have the choice of playing somebody 'male', 'female', or 'huge', for instance). You get to create your character's physical features with quite a bit of detail, including sizes of waist, hips and chest...and most of the female superhero characters are, of course, running around with small waists and big boobs. But not all of them...the options are there to make quite different body types (though there are lots of limits too), and in that way allows one to be able to play something like what you say you want to be able to in a video game, even if the world you're running around in is still populated by the 'typical' comic-book body types. In fact, as an example of the various stuff that you're talking about, all of the 'bad guys' in the game (to my recollection) are just that--bad *guys*. Weird.


Posted by jpjeffrey