Boston Globe article examines issue of gender bias in book cover art


The issue of gender bias in cover art on women-authored novels is discussed in a recent Boston Globe story, “Cover girls: How lipstick, bathing suits, and naked backs discredit women’s fiction” (June 28, 2014).

Globe writer Eugenia Williamson examines publishers’ continuing insistence on placing overtly feminine images on book covers in an attempt to win over female readers. This preference guarantees that men will stay away in droves and that serious literary fiction by women will have a difficult time being taken seriously, particularly when it comes to awards and other honors. Williamson discusses recent panels analyzing the issue and quotes novelist Gish Jen and Grove Atlantic vice president and executive editor Elisabeth Schmitz. Even 2013 Nobel Prize-winner Alice Munro’s short story collections are victimized by these silly ultra-feminine “romance novel” covers. The View from Castle Rock, her 2006 collection based on her family’s immigration from Scotland to Canada in the 18th century, features a headless woman in a one-piece bathing suit lying on a towel. As the young folks say, WTF?

Williamson also points out that the shortlisted nominees for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) features books with gender-neutral covers featuring large text and mostly shades of brown or blue. No headless women or views of women’s backs as they look out a window or down the beach.

Encouraging signs include the improvements achieved through the publicity created by the VIDA Count and some recent book covers, such as Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, Roxana Robinson’s Sparta, Molly Antopol’s The UnAmericans, Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion, Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise, Robin Black’s Life Drawing, and Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. 

Now, if we can just get Alice Munro’s book covers to match her serious content.

Sparta cover art  The UnAmericans   The Last Illusion  We Are Called to Rise  Life Drawing   Everything I Never Told You


One comment

  1. Thanks Bill!

    I heard Meg Wolitzer talk about this at AWP in 2013, and of course, then one sees the point everywhere.

    Hope all is well –



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