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Lusty Lady

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

My controversial, nipple-baring Dirty Girls book cover

Dirty Girls: Erotica for Women, out in February from Seal Press

I had no idea that the book cover for Dirty Girls: Erotica for Women (which will be out in April, but has its very own blog!), which I've been drooling over since I first saw it, would be so controversial. But apparently it is, as it's been singled out by erotica author Mathilde Madden over at Lust Bites:

And, look, while we’re celebrating male beauty can I just say, what the fuck is up with the book covers of erotica books for women that they have naked chicks on the covers? This book cover baffles me. There, are more like this, of course - girlie covers of erotica books - but this one seems so very FHM. Could they not find a picture of someone the gender the majority of women fantasise about the majority of the time?...

I mean god forbid a women's erotica book should be sold by *gasp* objectifying men. I know some women are into women. And sure women are pretty (though not as pretty as men.) But we know this isn't what this is about. In fact, whenever I see a cover like that I feel damn certain the book isn't really aimed at women at all. And it's not as if the world is short of pretty pictures of women - for those who like looking at pretty pictures of women.

I could let this go, and it’s not that I’m personally offended, because I didn’t pick the cover (though I do love it). But I think there’s a bigger point that needs to be made: when you read erotica, you can read it in numerous ways, and two of the varying ways are as either party in the story. Let’s say there’s a man and a woman in a given erotica story (and TRUST ME, in Dirty Girls there’s plenty of sex that involves more than two people, and not all of them heterosexual). I like the fact that I can identify with, for example, my own protagonist in “Icy Hot,” who seduces a stranger on a boiling hot day in a bodega, all over a bag of ice. But I could also, even though he’s really the object and not the subject of the story, identify with the guy who has this woman practically jumping on him and following him home so he can tease her with ice cubes all over her body. As readers, we get to identify with either, or both, of those people.

I’ve plenty of submissive types tell me they loved He’s on Top and/or She’s on Top, because even though the stories were told from the tops’ POVs, they also encompassed the bottoms’ needs and desires. I read both ways, depending on the story, but I have to say, I personally tend to be drawn to images of women, even though I’m attracted to both men and women.

Also, the book’s subtitle is “erotica for women,” and the stories are written by women, and it’s being published by a feminist press, so if you ask me, putting a man on the cover would’ve been totally antithetical to what the book is ostensibly about. I actually would probably feel really uncomfortable having a man on my book cover…unless my book’s main character was a guy.

This reminds me over another crazy-hot cover, Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica 2008, (pictured below) for which I broke my self-imposed no-reading-erotica-on-the-subway, and it was so worth it. I’ll post more about it when I’m done, but buy it and treasure it for Violet’s intro, which is worth the price of the book alone, it’s that hot but also heartfelt. Anyway, I was studying the cover because I think it’s incredibly hot. Book covers have tough jobs; they have to grab the reader, they have to encapsulate what an entire book is about with a single (usually) image. It’s a tough balance, especially with erotica, because clearly, if someone is turned off from that image, if the model is too ____ for their taste, they may walk away from a book whose insides would make them rush off to get their hands down their pants (or up their skirts) ASAP.

Violet Blue's Best Women's Erotica 2008

I don’t think it’s a conspiracy to keep hot, shirtless men off book covers, but more a business decisionæthat women want to see women. Now, I’m not saying there can’t be a sexist angle to this. I was talking about something related to this subject recently, though can’t recall exactly what it was, and someone said, “Well, women are just hotter, right?” I think that’s insulting to everyone; there are, of course, standards of beauty, but I think there are multiple standards. It’s why the whole CWILF/FLILF thing kinda irks me, because basically what’s being put out there is that nobody on earth would ever want to fuck/fantasize about these men. Well, news flash, somebody does. But I think what book covers are trying to tap into is a fantasy of someone we’d like to be, or get to know.

When I see the Dirty Girls cover, I see a woman who’s bold and daring enough to stare right back at the camera, even with her clothes off. To claim her nudity, her sexuality, to defy that dreadful phrase I had to read ad nauseam as a women’s studies major, “the male gaze.” I say that not because that gaze doesn’t exist, but because I think that in some circles, feminist/women’s studies almost privileges it too much. We are in an era where we all get to gaze, and this woman is gazing right back at whoever’s looking at her. She’s sexualized and sexual.

One of the women I asked to blurb the book (I’m waiting for her blurb right now!) is Burning Angel superstar Joanna Angel, because I think she embodies that particular form of out-there exhibitionism. It’s a pretty bold, in-your-face, unapologetic, horny, yet also soulful and sensual way of being. Or, as I write in the introduction to Dirty Girls, which you can read in its entirety here:

The women writing here don’t apologize for being dirty. They know who and what they want and they go after the objects of their affection in all kinds of different ways. Reading this collection_whether from start to finish or skipping around to your favorite authors or the most eye-catching titles_will give you a glimpse into what makes women wet, what makes us feel and act dirty, what makes us slick our lips and spread our legs. Maybe, just maybe, their stories attempt to answer Freud’s infamously infuriating query: “What do women want?” To judge by the twenty-seven tales you hold in your hand, they want to be worshiped, they want to be ordered around, they want to be sent spinning into ecstasy and then come crashing back down. They want strangers bearing ice cubes on a hot day, and to be a party favor passed around among guests. They want hot vacation sex, visits to peep shows, and a man who’ll lick stinky cheese off their boots. They want power, and they want to give up power. They want sex at the office and in the great outdoors and on trains and airplanes. They want sex with the whole United States of America (or, at least, part of it). They want to be wooed, seduced, flirted with, taken. They want men, women, and sometimes both at the same time.

And hey, while we’re on the topic of hot book covers, I must throw in one more, for Rubber Sex, out in May, cause I’m seeing it for the very first time:

Cover of Rubber Sex

See also Smart Bitches Who Read Trashy Books, on book covers.

I’d love to hear what you think (here or at rachelkb at about this topic, what your favorite erotica book covers are, and what makes you pick up (or put own) a given erotica book. And whatever you like about a book cover, I wish you happy reading once you get to what's inside.

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At November 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On covers. Honestly? I like the cover as an image and this is a subtle shot, but there have been other covers I've seen that resembled cheap porn dvd covers, which I've found hideous and trashy. This image isn't.

I don't think it's necessary for erotica to be sold with an image that is more fitting for an adult film. There's enough of a struggle for the genre to gain mainstream acceptance worldwide. I'd be of the same opinion if the cover had a male in a porno pose. I like objectification for my own personal thrills (lol), but I don't make it the basis of my purchase choice as a reader.

Aside from that, I think that stories ultimately sell a book, regardless of the cover. I think in this scenario, it makes perfect sense to put a female on the cover (the title of the anthology speaks for itself).

Then again, and it may come across as a contradiction, I can see the marketing angle as well. The book would definitely appeal to men, and it may increase sales for that gender, which is a good thing. Men are visual, respond better to visual stimuli, and that's logical as well.

It's probably about time there were more women on covers, because those romantic 'bodice ripper' covers with Fabio were just OTT. How many everyday men look like that anyway?

At November 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot the fave book cover.
I liked BAE 2006, the way the legs opened up from the spine.

At November 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel

I'm glad you didn't take it personally that I used your book as an example of a wider point. I was pretty sure you didn't get to pick your own covers. And believe me, I have had book covers of my own that have left me gnashing my teeth. But I do feel that the extreme bias in the assumed image preferences of audiences of erotica books needs to be addressed.

Statistics are problematic but this survey of 16-24 year olds found that 98% of women are attracted to men and 18% to women (bi-girls cause the overlap, of course). Denying women images of eroticised men (indeed for Lust Bites posts I often have to raid gay porn sites) is simply repression. I just find it incredulous that you think that 'We are in an era where we all get to gaze, and this woman is gazing right back at whoever’s looking at her.'

We all get to gaze? Sorry, did I miss the 'We have achieved sexual equality' memo?

And, of course, if you can find me an example of a 'dirty boys' - an erotica/porn book aimed at straight men with a naked man on the cover I will take it all back

At November 17, 2007, Blogger Alison Tyler said...


I like the cover for Dirty Girls, truly. I don't have a problem with women on the covers. But I'm more partial, to covers like these:


The Loving Dominant

and this one

But I think this one is aimed at men, and it has a man on the cover.


At November 17, 2007, Blogger Tom Paine said...

Let's be frank: the majority of buyers seeing a book with a hunky male on it are going to think "gay fiction," unless he's part of a straight couple. It's just our sorry preconceptions.

At November 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm on your side, Rachel, not only because I'm a lesbian but also because, somehow, a sexy woman on a book cover just says "erotica." (And, God, does that ever NEED saying, over and over...). And Alison's research seems to suggest there are enough naked/straight guys to assuage the yearnings of the feminist-equality crowd.

Anyhow, I blogged briefly (and, hopefully, with a bit of humor)about your posting.

Hugs, Justine

At November 19, 2007, Blogger AuthorM said...

I like to look at pictures of men. I like to look at pictures of women. I like to look at pictures of men and women together!

I've had people say they would be afraid/embarrassed to read my upcoming release TEMPTED because of the cover, which doesn't even have a nipple on it! (but it does have three people.)

I guess the bottom line, for me, is that a sexy book should have a sexy cover, and since I'm not ashamed to read sexy books, I'm not ashamed to buy them with nipples on the cover, with hard abs on the cover, with limbs entangled, whatever. I might draw the line at an erect penis or full frontal, spread-eagled nudity...but not because of any gender issues.

Maybe I'm just easy.


At November 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of nipples. In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that, for the record.

I think your cover is exactly what it should be... erotic. I find it tasteful, appealing, sexy, and... it makes me want to know what's inside.
So, I say, mission accomplished.


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