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