There’s been a lot of talk about sexism in genre recently. There have been those who were very wise and those who opened up a can of worms. It put the subject of the gender divide firmly in my mind, so I thought I’d mention something about historical fiction and how it’s marketed. I was in Waterstone’s the other day, looking for some historical novels, and was staggered at the gender binary with regards to cover art. You could split the genre in two broad cover categories.
First up, the epic tale book. Written by a man. About a manly war, perhaps. So manly, we’ll pop a super tough man on the cover, so you know he’s a real man. (Sometimes with a weapon, too, just in case you didn’t get the idea.) For example:
Of course, I exaggerate – but I was surprised (and this is me, a former bookseller) at just how many historical novels shared this war-pr0n style. On the other hand, there is the the other type of historical novel, the more feminine side of the genre, shall we say, replete with woman in period costume on the cover:
Again, repeat and fade, alter the dress and pose and setting, perhaps, but you get the idea. For the vast majority of faced-out books in the store, and for the historical fiction display that I looked at for a good while, this was the case. The displays really do enforce the binary.
These are extreme examples, but it leads to questions about gender binary in book marketing. Publishing is a business, of course, and a lot of money is pushed about – these cover art decisions are taken solely to sell as many copies as possible, so publishers will stick to this comfortable approach (though they occasionally don’t).
How much of such marketing actually contributes to the problem of gender divides in the readership? Part of the whole SF and sexism debate was contemplating the issues at a broad level – which is more likely to be affected by things like cover art than a blogosphere that regularly debates issues. So, is what’s happening in the historical genre some kind of book-cover segregation, women through the pink door, men through the blue, and how much does that stop each gender crossing over? (And apologies for sticking to the genre binary here in the first place, people.) I do think that if a male reader, for example, becomes conscious of the way the books are marketed, he will be more likely to read a book by a female author even if it had the most garish period-costume-fetish of a front cover. Readers are in control once they’re more aware of such things.
Anyway, all just random thoughts that came from book browsing. What outsiders would say about the SFF genre?