On book covers, marketing, and gender

For once I was able to get a bunch of book ordering done the other night.  Collection development is one of my responsibilities, though a responsibility that is shared and that I have limited time for.  In the process of this tonight several books stood out for various reasons (not all good).

So for starters, I came across this gem:

First off, I'd like to say that I'm sourcing that book cover off of The Discovery Channel store.  Yes, I know that The Learning Channel, History, and all of those often aren't these days.  I might also have issues with child beauty pageants, as well as what seems to be a celebration of anti-intellectualism and just general bratty behavior that I've been seeing on television (and other places).  As for "So tap into the beautimous from within and celebrate life with some vijiggle and vijaggle!" those words are a bit too close to "vajazzle" for me to feel comfortable when talking about children.


Ok, moving on.

Book covers (like books themselves) can be amazing, horrible, or anything in between, and tonight they ran the gambit.  Probably one of the best things that 50 Shades of Grey has done for the book industry is to encourage a different style of book cover.  I have been known to grumpily list issues with the poses on romance covers (that satin nightie is definitely not period for 1600's Scotland, why does the cover art end right above his nostrils, is she humping his shoulder?).  The exploitation isn't limited to just women in romance covers, but they do tend to be put in the more anatomically puzzling poses (where as men are generally in a limited range of simple poses, universally lacking of any hair below the neck, and oiled to a glistening luster).

I've gone some into the ridiculousness that is romance covers before here.

Sometimes however there covers that pull on sex appeal but are very clever, such as Sex and the Citadel:

Tonight I found perhaps one of my favorite clever sex associated covers when I found Vagina : a Literary and Cultural History.  This is also on my to-read list:

So, one book that makes me want to cry, and one that I think is pretty awesome.  Win some, lose some, right?

What about when a book is supposedly actually fantastically written, and a great teaching aid, but it and the others in its series look like they're at least soft-core?

I've heard from some of my friends who are teachers that these books are actually very well written and easy to follow.  That this series has great math books that work... but that the covers often cause them to be dismissed by educators.  I'm going to be honest, it's not just the educators that look at the cover and don't take this seriously as a educational resource, I showed it to a number of male friends all of whom got the impression that this was anything but an educational (at least, educational relating to math) book.

It's the whole image, not any one part.  She is a lovely young woman, and is not showing much skin at all, but the accents on the cover stress her breasts and hips, and the title and tag line sound like something with at least a NR movie rating, and the rest of the series isn't much better.  And lets be honest, what would your reaction be if you saw a man posed like that on a cover of a math book?  Likely amusement, or even more certain that it was sexual in nature.  Female sex appeal is being used to sell math to girls, and that doesn't sit right with me.

The summary from Amazon it did not do much help my impressions of this book.  It felt too patronizing:
New York Times bestselling author and mathemetician Danica McKellar tackles all the angles—and curves—of geometry

In her three previous bestselling books Math Doesn't Suck, Kiss My Math, and Hot X: Algebra Exposed!, actress and math genius Danica McKellar shattered the “math nerd” stereotype by showing girls how to ace their math classes and feel cool while doing it.

Sizzling with Danica's trademark sass and style, her fourth book, Girls Get Curves, shows her readers how to feel confident, get in the driver's seat, and master the core concepts of high school geometry, including congruent triangles, quadrilaterals, circles, proofs, theorems, and more!

Combining reader favorites like personality quizzes, fun doodles, real-life testimonials from successful women, and stories about her own experiences with illuminating step-by-step math lessons, Girls Get Curves will make girls feel like Danica is their own personal tutor.

As hundreds of thousands of girls already know, Danica's irreverent, lighthearted approach opens the door to math success and higher scores, while also boosting their self-esteem in all areas of life. Girls Get Curves makes geometry understandable, relevant, and maybe even a little (gasp!) fun for girls.
Barnes & Noble at least treats the book as an actual educational text and girls as people rather than as budding sexual beings who need geometry to snag a husband.
Three-time New York Times bestselling author Danica McKellar now makes it a breeze to excel in… Geometry!
Hollywood actress and math whiz Danica McKellar has completely shattered the “math nerd” stereotype. For years, she’s been showing girls how to feel confident and ace their math classes – with style! With Girls Get Curves, she applies her winning techniques to geometry, giving readers the tools they need to feel great and totally “get” everything from congruent triangles to theorems, and more. Inside you’ll find:
·        Time-saving tips and tricks for homework and tests
·        Illuminating practice problems (and proofs!) with detailed solutions
·        Totally relatable real-world examples
·        True stories from Danica’s own life as an actress and math student
·        A Troubleshooting Guide, for getting unstuck during even the trickiest proofs!

With Danica as a coach, girls everywhere can stop hiding from their homework and watch their scores rise!
And here's the thing.  I bet that had the cover not made me think I was looking at a particularly steamy romance novel, I probably would have no issue with Amazon's teaser text.  But we use sexy women to sell things to girls and women of all ages and to boys and men of all ages, and often men and some women respond to gender flipping (putting men in the same poses/depictions as women) as "gross" and it most people think that is reasonable.  There is no reason that it should be "gross" for one gender to be in a pose and not the other, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender.  Straight women have been reading Cosmo for years, and that is filled with nearly naked women.

Go take a look at the Hawkeye Initiative, or watch both the original and gender swapped versions of Blurred Lines (I also recommend reading "Why the Gender-Swapped "Blurred Lines" Parody Gets it Wrong".  Do they make you uncomfortable?  What about it causes a reaction, why does it upset you?  Does the gender of the person posing effect your response and acceptance of the image as "normal" or "wrong"?

EDIT: There's also an interview with Danica McKellar on selling math as sexy that's worth taking a look at.  Danica McKellar: Are her math books bad for girls?


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