Don’t judge a book by its cover–literally

Don’t judge a book by its cover–literally

So, apparently, when men ask for less girly covers, authors and artists hear them. (Read the link.)

I think it’s pretty cool that guys want to read “girly” books, and sensible that they want to read them without fear of judgment. The funny thing is, as a woman, so do I.

Take for instance the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. Most of the covers have a woman somewhat scantily clad, with cleavage or underboob (and sometimes both) showing. She only occasionally holds a tool of her trade (car mechanic), and when she does, it looks far more suggestive of *ahem* adult funtimes than of “I’m actually a decent mechanic”.

Now, if Mercy was a seductress who allowed payment in sex for mechanical services rendered, I’d understand the covers.

But she’s not.

She’s a freakin’ shapeshifter, and I’m pretty sure she is described quite clearly as wearing the same sort of coverall that most mechanics wear. Because, you know, car maintenance is messy. A few strategically placed smudges of oil and grease, along with some tousled hair, might conjure a sexy image, but in reality, after I’ve done maintenance (yup, little white girl can change her own oil and tires, thanks very much), I want nothing more than to take a shower because my hair is frizzy, and the crap I get on me is really, really hard to take off, and smells horrible.

Don’t get me wrong—Mercy is supposed to be attractive. I don’t mind her being portrayed as such, but there’s a huge cognitive dissonance in that for me, especially because in one of the books, Mercy is assaulted by a guy because he thinks she’s hot and that she’s interested, but she’s not interested in him. It was pretty heart-wrenching to read. I mean, the woman doesn’t flaunt her looks, but even if she did, that still wouldn’t change how I feel—I wouldn’t think she deserved it or anything because she’s hot.

Sex at all is kept to a minimum in the books, though I will admit that there is a romance or two that takes place. Other than that, the books are dedicated to solving mysteries within the community of mystical creatures and testing the bonds between people.

Interestingly enough, the UK covers are much less racy than their US counterparts. If you do a quick search on Amazon’s UK site, you can see the difference immediately. I much prefer those covers. They have the more mysterious, adventurous feeling about them that the books are supposed to have. (For the record, if a book is based around sex, I have no problem with it having a sexy—or “sexy”.)

But it’s interesting, isn’t it? And hard to deal with—we all have a different idea of what the cover for a book should look like, but we’re drawn to certain ones regardless. It is hard to get someone interested without a gripping cover, but covers can be gripping without the hint of sex. They can also be gripping to their target audience without catering to the “normal” tastes of one demographic or the other.

But there’s also the problem of thinking that we can’t or shouldn’t read books because of their covers. I totally get not wanting to read a book in public because it’s got a disturbing cover, but why should we judge guys who read books with “pretty” covers or girls who read slasher novels? Books are supposed to take you away to a different place, and not one where you’re worried about what people around you think of you.

I’m not going to go on a full-fledged rant about gender roles in society here, because that would get messy. Suffice it to say, book covers are strange, strange things, and some of them could be done a hell of a lot better. Also, they reflect gender issues in society.

That is all.

(Well, not really, but… yeah. Stopping now.)

Just because I’m X doesn’t mean I Y or can’t Z

I don’t know why I remembered this recently, but I did, and… snowball.

In high school, I worked at an after-school childcare program. My boss had run the program since I was three, and she’d watched me grow up, so I was kind of grandfathered in. (That’s not to say I was bad at it—it’s how I got a lot of stable babysitting jobs.) Her son, who was about ten years my senior, also worked there. He was fairly nice, but a little quiet. No. This is not going where you think it is. In fact, it’s about to go exactly the opposite.

A few days after I turned 18, I was talking about the low-key party I’d had (hanging out on the beach with friends and then scarfing down a neon pink and green cake at my house), and the first thing out of this guy’s mouth was: “You’re 18? Now you can model as a centerfold!”

It took me a second to realize what he’d said. During that time, he got a pretty good dressing-down by his mom. I think most of that was motivated by me being a “good” girl who would not in a million years pose for Playboy. “Good” is, of course, a subjective term, but whether or not I am, I’d never pose. Just not something I ever want to do. Given my body type, I doubt they’d have me, anyway. So, everyone’s happy there.

But really, is that the first thing people think when they hear someone’s turning 18? Yeah, there are a lot of “legal adult” things that being 18 entails, but why zero in on objectifying women? I suspect the guy was joking, but why not joke about cigarettes or how I don’t know how the election system works and I’d probably just write myself in for every slot? None of these are things I’d do, so I guess that sort of puts them on fair ground, and I guess it could be considered a compliment if he really thought I’d pose. But then, it’s also a huge knock if it’s “Hurr hurr… You’re such a fatty and they’d never use you.” (I was quite overweight at that point, so this is not outside the realm of possibility.)

I’m probably making far more out of this than he ever meant. It was probably just a harmless joke, but it still rankles a little. It’s an implication that that’s what I’m there for: to be looked at and enjoyed. Like my brain is suddenly of no use to me unless I’m thinking how to do some sort of sexy pose (which I’d be horrible at), or put on makeup (which I rarely wear), or how tight/high my skirt should be (not a fan of micro-minis, but that’s just me).

Let me be clear: the girls who choose to model for Playboy aren’t doing anything wrong in my eyes. As long as it’s their choice, and as long as they’re okay with it, that’s fine. I don’t think I’m better than them—I just don’t want to be known as a sex object. But I can’t say that other women shouldn’t—I can’t make that choice for them. What I can say is that it’s not flattering to every woman to be looked at like that, so think before you objectify. If you think someone is hot, great! But there’s a time and a place to express that.

This guy’s friend, who also worked there for a year, was even worse. He was clearly misogynistic, and I got into verbal fights with him more than once about what girls can and can’t do. Apparently, for no other reason than that I’m female, he believed (and probably still does) that I didn’t know how to jump a dead car battery. I could do this at the age of ten. It’s not hard at all. A car battery is pretty obvious, and it’s even color-coded for your convenience! I’ve had to teach others (mostly women, but also a guy or two) how to do it, and every single person has had no trouble with it. (As a side note, I can also change a car’s tires and oil, and each of these was met with equal disbelief. What’s next? I can’t pump gas?)

It’s hard to define a line in these cases. What’s okay to assume, and what isn’t? Well, ideally, we wouldn’t make assumptions at all. But, because we do, there’s gotta be some line separating appropriate from inappropriate. For instance, you generally don’t walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them you want them in your bed five minutes ago. You also wouldn’t assume a woman knows how to cook, or that any man can change the oil on your car. Not everyone knows everything—I hope that’s obvious—and not everyone knows what people of their gender are “supposed” to know. Honestly, I have no idea how one applies eyeliner. I’ve seen it done. I get the theory. But I can’t actually do it. I am also not incredibly good at sewing, and God forbid I need to use a sewing machine. Um, halp?

Of course, a lot of people know things that their gender “isn’t supposed” to know. I know my way around cars. I know guys who are good at braiding hair and cooking and cleaning. There are men out there who *GASP!* teach elementary school.

This world we live in can’t be defined by strict gender roles. Yes, only biological women can carry and birth babies, and it takes one of each biological gender to make a baby. And that’s about it. Women can program, men can be nurses, and we can all just get along. Women aren’t property or objects—they’re allowed the same desires as men, including the desire to just be left alone sometimes. I’m probably preaching to the proverbial choir, here, but if that’s the case, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

I Might Be an Unconventional Feminist

There are several common misconceptions about feminism out there. One is that feminists want to become men and/or usurp their places. Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t at all want to be a guy. I enjoy being female, and I’m quite comfortable in my own skin. Another common one is that feminists think men are useless and should either be treated as second-class citizens or not exist at all; basically, that women want payback. I’m not happy about the way women have been treated throughout history, but you know that saying about how two wrongs don’t make a right… And anyway, I don’t think men are useless. I mean, there’s a biological reason why there are two genders, and though even beyond that, you could make the argument that there should be only one gender or the other, how could you make that choice? In a phrase, misandry is not the same as feminism. (Nor, in my opinion, should feminism involve misandry to begin with.)

I consider myself a feminist, but not everything I do is based in a distaste for complete patriarchy. I don’t wear makeup often, but when I do, it’s usually very light. That’s not because I think makeup is a social construct based on making women objects—it’s because I have sensitive skin and don’t like the caked-on feeling it leaves on my face. I like that it enhances beauty—really, I do. It makes me feel confident and sexy, which are things I want for myself. In other words, I don’t put on a dress and makeup because I want to impress men. I do it for me. And I take total umbrage at the thought that, if I do these things, I’m “asking for it”. Um, no. I’m not even going to say “nice try” on that one. Men and women alike can control their urges, and what I’m wearing or drinking or doing in general does not make your rights trump mine. It does not mean that a “no” means “yes”, or that I’m just playing hard to get.

I’m also perfectly okay with being romantically attached to one of the male persuasion. I know that this one’s a touchy subject for some people, so I’m going to reiterate here and now that this is just from my perspective, and I really don’t care who likes whom outside of my relationship in terms of gender identity. (An asshole is an asshole, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, so that’s a completely separate issue.)

I’m not attracted to my boyfriend for money. I don’t expect him to support me while I make sandwiches and pump out babies and shop for shoes, nor do I aim to make him financially dependent on me. My boyfriend’s personality is attractive to me, as are his looks. (Hey, I never said people couldn’t appreciate each other’s looks—I just dislike it when looks are the only thing that matters in any relationship!) We have a relationship based on trust and love, not on gender roles. I think that’s quite all right. We have taken a lot of teasing about my wearing the pants, me being rather more extroverted (and thus outspoken) than my boyfriend, but believe me, if my boyfriend thinks I’m wrong (or just has a different opinion), he will call me out in no uncertain terms. He won’t do things that make him uncomfortable, even if it’s me doing the asking. And that’s something I love about him. I don’t want a guy who bends to my every whim; it’s boring and very bad in terms of selfishness. Along with trust and love, relationships involve compromise, no matter the identities of the parties involved.

As far as jobs go, I’m of the opinion that each gender can hold any job that the other can, so long as that job does not involve the use of the other’s reproductive organs. (For instance, one who is biologically male cannot donate eggs or carry a baby to term—let alone at all—as a surrogate, and one who is biologically female can’t be a sperm donor. Facts of life.) Any woman can train to bulk up and heft weight around in a job, or learn how to program, and any guy can train to be a nurse or elementary school teacher. And don’t even get me started on how women are perceived as too emotionally delicate to be in politics.

I’m a huge believer in equality. I believe that, all other things being equal… well, we’re all equal. So maybe that’s not me being feminist, but me being… I don’t know. Not egalitarian. That doesn’t quite fit me, I think. I just believe that regardless of skin color, religion, gender, age (to some degree, obviously—with age does come the ability to do certain things), hair color, language, phone type, astrological sign or anything else, we’re all born with the same stuff—the same basic human essence—and so we all have the ability to think and do the same things. However you call it, whatever you think about it, that’s what—that’s who—I am.

I might be an unconventional feminist. I’m really not sure. Tell me what you think! (Why yes, I am going to start shamelessly begging for comments now!)