Backwards and In Heels

"Sure [Fred Astaire] was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards...and in high heels!" -- Bob Thaves  So this might get ranty at times, but I'd like to throw my two cents into the ginormous piggy bank of this discussion. Women on book covers/movie posters...particularly in the urban fantasy genres. This comes about because Tor.com posted an article about that pose. I posted it on my Facebook page and someone asked me what a "good pose" would be and advised me to show my work. Well, here we go. It's not a new observation. There's the video that compares urban fantasy book covers. In January Jim C Hines did the iconic blog post where he tried to mimic the covers of popular books just to show how ridiculous women are portrayed. We also learned that insulin ports are sexier than tribal tattoos. Then a blogger named Anna took it a step further, imitating the same poses and those of men on similar covers. Please go check out the latter two links if nothing else. While highlighting a problem, they are wickedly funny.All joking aside, though, there is a trend in they way women are posed on book covers that pisses me off. Now, romance covers have their own tropes. Bodices splitting, shoulders bare...whatever. Those books are somewhat exempt from what I'm about to tear into and here's why: Urban Fantasy prides itself on having Strong Female Protagonists. There are whole message boards and websites devoted to amping up women's roles in books, bringing them to the fore as role models. We don't want female characters that are shoved into men's situations. We don't want wilting flowers or smoldering vixens. We want women. Real. Strong. Capable. Women. I say this as a reader, a writer and a woman. We need stories with women being themselves unabashedly, stories where her femininity isn't highlighted. You wouldn't praise Harry Dresden for accomplishing so much while also being a man, would you? Then don't do the same thing to Dante Valentine. Women need stories where our gender kicks ass, takes names and maintains herself throughout the arc. We need for that woman to be taken seriously.

These covers completely undermine that last part. I'm sorry, I can't take a woman seriously if she's supposed to be fighting demons on rooftops if she's wearing skin-tight plastic and stiletto boots. I want strength, not a firm ass. By objectifying the heroine on the cover, you've already changed the narrative in a very subliminal way. It tells me that above all things, I should value her sexuality, not her dedication, her ferocious nature or her skills.

For example, DELIVERANCE by Dakota Banks features an Elektra knock-off in an impossible pose and clothing that is straight from the goth club on a Friday night. At least her hair is braided. Because when you're fighting off evil, there's nothing worse than having to blow your bangs out of your face or stop to tie up your hair.

FORGED IN FIRE by J.A. Pitts is another one that bothers me, but in a different way. On this cover, our heroine looks like a badass! Platinum blonde hair. Shaved sides. Reasonably realistic clothing choice for a warrior against the damned. WHY ARE WE FEATURING HER ASS?!?! She's got a fucking sword and a hammer on her hip. The look on her face tells me that she could rip out my throat with her teeth. Let her be fierce, dammit! Do not ruin the effect by sexualizing her!

GRR!!!

So, gentle reader, you may be wondering what I see as a good choice for a cover in the genre. Well, it took some looking, but I found some urban fantasy covers that I think maintain feminine integrity without objectifying the heroine.

SHAEDES OF GRAY by Amanda Bonilla. While we still have a variant on The Pose, this one doesn't make her ass the focus. She looks strong and ready to slice anything that twitches. She doesn't look like she is waiting for the first incubus she can find to shag six ways from Sunday.

Natasha Hoar's THE STUBBORN DEAD. On this cover, our heroine wears leather for a practical reason: she is riding a motorcycle. Dangerous, attractive, smart, capable. Based solely on the cover, this is a woman who has her shit together. I'd read it.

Armed. Dangerous. Lovely. Katniss Everdeen in another life, perhaps?
Caroyln Crane's MIND GAMES. Our heroine is dressed sensibly without being frumpy. She's got a wicked knife and the pose is one that is realistic. Solid cover.

 Michael R. Underwood's book GEEKOMANCY just released its cover last week and it is the hotness. We've got an attractive woman (albeit in one of the other stock poses) looking like she could be equally at home playing D&D or as an extra for The Craft. No nonsense, sexy librarian look? Yes. Witchy undertones? Yes. And in the center we've got a D20. I will read this.

It is possible to put a woman on the cover of a book without turning her into a prostitute. So why don't people do it? Why do we keep using the same dumbass tropes on our covers? And while I know it's probably asking for a lot, could we please have a plus-sized cover model? Just once? I'd love to be able to cosplay someone without saying, "Oh, I'm the fat version of ___." (Which is one more reason I love Alexia Tarabotti from Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series.)

And men, I realize that you guys have your share of ridiculous cover art as well. But, the above mentioned Jim Hines posted a spectacular blog on the topic this very morning. Feast your eyes and don't drink anything while doing so. Wouldn't want you to kill a monitor from snarking your chai.

So what about you? What do you think about book cover poses? Share some of your favorites in the comments or point me toward the ones that just make your eyeballs curdle with shame and despair.

Until then,

Nerdmaste.