Above you will bare witness to but a small selection of the titles published by Hard Case Crimes and their rather ‘stimulating’ cover designs. And it is their covers that are the topic of this post. Other than their retro feel and bold type-face there is one thing in particular that appears to bind each of these covers together, regardless of the plot or author, and, it seems silly for me to have to point this out, that is the adornment of an either scantily clad or entirely naked woman on each.
Now, I feel like it won’t come as a surprise to most of you that these covers make me a little uncomfortable. My first exposure to these cover designs was with an advanced readers’ copy of Joyland by Stephen King very kindly sent to me by the publishers who knew I was interested in reading some of King’s work. I cannot tell you that I was not a little shocked by the cover, which bore a women all but naked except for a cleverly positioned towel. Not aware of the rest of this line’s cover designs I took it to be a cover carefully chosen for this book, which fitted with the plot and although seemingly objectified women’s bodies had another purpose unbeknownst to me. When I first saw these covers in a group such as this, however, I had to check my calendar. It is 2016 right? OK, so it may not have been 2016 for long but regardless, it is the 21st century.
I would be lying if I said I was familiar with the plot lines of most of the books in this series. I enjoy a good detective mystery but I am probably woefully underread in the genre. One author, and novel, that I am familiar with, however, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Valley of Fear, one of his many Sherlock Holmes mysteries. My favourite cover amongst all of the Hard Case Crime titles, and the one that bemuses me the most, is this one.
I had to double check that there wasn’t some other A. C. Doyle who authored a novel entitled The Valley of Fear that I was unaware of: there wasn’t. Let’s talk a little about the plot of The Valley of Fear, and in particular what isn’t in it:
- It was written in the very early 1900s.
- No women are barged in upon whilst wearing negligees…
- There are in fact very few female characters in the story.
- Once again none of them are described as ‘nearly nude’.
Honestly this image just has nothing to do with the plot of the story minus maybe the branding on the man’s arm.
I won’t hammer the point any further though, you can probably infer what I am getting at at this point…
What is this cover trying to tell us then? Because if I were to guess the plot of this book from the cover I might think the crime it details is one involving violence, potentially sexual violence, towards women, which is not the case. Is this what sells books then?
Why are a collection of books more often that not written by men, with lead characters who are men, that are not erotica, and probably a lot of which don’t even feature nude or semi-nude women being sold with covers that so explicitly objectify women?
I am sure by this point some of you are calling me a femi-nazi and telling me to stop getting my bloomers in a twist at an attempt by a publishing imprint to produce some retro, vintage-esque crime covers.
Yes, men can be sexually objectified too but if you can see exhibits B and C in the top row (the 2nd and 3rd cover designs featured in this post) Hard Case Crimes have saved it for the women on this occasion.
These covers, whilst a problem in themselves, are a feature of much wider social issues faced by women; and since I haven’t stated it overtly yet, straight up sexist.
Other publishers have endeavoured to create retro cover designs when releasing classics and modern classics in the past. They on the other hand have managed to not alienate an entire sex with unnecessary sexualised, sexist depictions of women.
I live in a society that constantly attempts to dictate what I should and should not do with my body, this fact is undeniably. I have been touched inappropriately in clubs and bars by uninvited hands. I have been terrified in the street by men who have approached me when I am alone and made unwanted advances. My concerns have been dismissed by others as being nothing serious. All of this and more is a feature of a culture that I thought I didn’t have to experience on nights when I chose to stay in and curl up with a good mystery book on a Sunday night.
I would love to hear your thoughts on these covers and wider issues surrounding them so do leave a comment!
Links you might be interested in after reading this post:
- A video by C. A. DuBois: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAOu9y8tOw4
- A list of 10 sexist book covers: http://www.coverbrowser.com/top/sexist
- An article on this issue in sci-fi: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21033708
Plus a bonus link to Jen’s channel, as she directed me to most of these links after reading this post: http://youtube.com/jenvcampbell
16 thoughts on “Naked Women Sell Things…”
I completely agree with you so there is not much to comment about other than congrats on the new blog. Also, those covers make me so uncomfortable that it puts me off reading them hence missing on some probably good stories.
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Thanks ^_^ and agreed, a lot of these books I could enjoy but these covers seem to imply they are for straight men only…
Ugh this is something that annoys me so much. A while ago there were these posters for a certain pizza delivery service plastered around every city in the Netherlands. It just had three naked women on it with the caption “We *heart* students”. The photo was cut off at the women’s shoulders, so they were anonymous, and tattooed in various places with the pizza place’s logo. I should probably mention that there was no pizza whatsoever depicted anywhere on said posters. Just those three naked ladies, standing very close together, touching each other. WHY? What on earth does that have to do with pizza? And what were they even trying to imply with that photo along with that caption? It just makes me so mad. If you want to sell me your pizza, show me a drool-worthy close-up photo of your delicious pizza! That’s a lot more likely to actually make me order one than this sexist marketing-crap…
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Ugh that is absolutely vile. I can’t believe these things still get approved as marketing campaigns in this day and age. Just shows how much further we have to go 😦
I do agree with you about book and magazine covers where female nudity is completely unnecessary. Strangely enough I thought the alternative book cover of Joyland by Stephen King, featuring the girl with red hair in a green dress is actually a much more compelling and powerful image, and I wouldn’t mind betting, sold more books for Hard Case Crime.
We’ve seen the demise of so-called ‘lads mags’ in recent years, so hopefully this type of cover disappears from our bookshelves too.
Yes I have seen that one and I agree! Although I hope so too these covers were only designed and published last year so every time I think we’re making progress it seems we’ve actually taken a step backwards. Hopefully more people voicing their distaste at these covers will help though :).
The “don’t judge a book by its cover” saying is impossible to be followed when I see such covers. Although many of them have absolutely no relation to the plot, it makes me think of those cheap erotic tales with unimaginative sexual fantasies that hardly anyone can relate with. It’s a shame to see how decent books can be ignored by people who may not be familiar with their plot solemnly because the cover display a misleading sexist illustration. Not only that, but I find it frustrating that we should have to make a point that such covers are disrespectful towards women. There are many other things we should worry about, but it’s hard to fix a big problem if we ignore the smaller ones. Something like using illustrations that objectify women without any relation to the plot, just for the sake of selling a book seems like the sort of issue we wouldn’t have to face at this point. What I mean is that everything that’s wrong with it is so obvious, yet somehow many people fail to see it since it’s out on the shelves. So here we are raising awareness so whoever still thinks that this is a good selling point will, hopefully, come up with a better and less offensives idea.
Although the situation is rather frustrating, your post is excellent. I’m looking forward to read more of your writing!
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I completely agree! I wish this didn’t have to be addressed because I can’t believe these made it past any marketing advisors. I was also really surprised that when I searched for it I couldn’t find anything else calling out the design of these covers as sexist and in fact found a few reputable outlets praising the cover designs online :(.
I am really glad to hear you enjoyed the post though and I am looking forward to writing more ^_^
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Just seeing the pictures on the covers I actually thought these books ARE examples of cheap erotic tales. As you said, I would not have given them a second glance in a bookshop or elsewhere.
This is such a great post Jean, and I agree completely. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to include a scantily-clad woman on a cover when it has absolutely nothing to do with the story (and even then I’d question the necessity of that type of image on a cover). There are much more tasteful ways to sell a book, without objectifying women. Also, these do just look like they belong in another era (and the thinking that goes with them surely does too).
Looking forward to reading more of your work Jean, as I really enjoy your vlogs!
If they were trying to target and capture a larger male audience, I really don’t think it’s the right way to go about it. It does men a great disservice to assume they lack the intelligence to recognise a good plot without a lewd cover. Notice also that the women depicted on the covers all have an identical idealised body type. Female bodies in their various manifestations are some of the most beautiful things to exist on earth, but this representation cheapens and degrades rather than celebrating something beautiful.
Goodness, those covers! It makes you wonder to think that not only has presumably more than one person been involved in designing them, but that other people have subsequently seen them and said “yep, no problems here- out into the world they go!” So frustrating!
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That’s exactly what I thought. How many people approved these along the line? How many people did not see any of the many issues with these covers?!
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This was a really good blog post. You made a great point-how the covers DONT actually sell the book well. I look forward to reading more like this on your blog
Ugh, I couldn’t agree with you more. Like you said, it’s not so much the fact that these books are covered in scantily clad girls that is the problem (although it cannot be discounted) but rather that it represents such a greater, more widespread problem we have in society where female representation is reduced to sex and sexuality alone. To think that these covers don’t even represent a fragment of the story either! With an industry full of designers who would do anything to get their hands on an opportunity to create a beautiful book cover, there is no excuse for this rubbish!
I can’t wait to read all your future posts 🙂
I totally agree with you about these covers. There is nothing clever about using retro images that objectify in this way. Yes, it does seem very sad that this idea has resurfaced, but feminism has come so far and will far outlive this phase in publishing.
We have come a long way – I am a child of the 60’s so came into feminism in the early days when to be called Ms brought sniggers out in many people. With brilliant talents such as yourself driving the movement forward, sexism in all its insidious forms will die!