Wait, What Were We Laughing At?

Way back in the beginning of 2012 when I started doing this cover pose thing, the idea was to take the poses many female characters are contorted into for book covers, and to find a way to highlight exactly how ridiculous and impractical they were. And also to have fun. I definitely wanted it to be fun. I followed up with a continuation of the discussion, looking at the fact that yes, men are sexualized and objectified too, but not in the same ways. Men’s poses are almost always less physically awkward, more “action-ready,” and more powerful.

When I started the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation cover pose fundraiser, I saw it as 1) a way to take something fun and do more of it while supporting a great cause, and 2) a way to continue pointing out problematic poses on our book covers.

The trouble is, I didn’t spend much time introducing and contextualizing the Cover Pose Tradition at the start of the fundraiser. And when we did the first Scalzi/Hines pose-off, while I plugged the fundraiser, I didn’t provide any context at all for why we were doing this.

For my regular readers, that shouldn’t be a problem. But the Scalzi/Hines piece got a lot of press from places like Fark and Boing-Boing, meaning a lot of folks came in and saw two SF/F authors dressing up/posing like women for charity. And some of the reaction began to shift from, “I say, those poses seem remarkably impractical, and how exactly does one do that without dislocating one’s ankle?” to “Hey, guys dressing or posing like girls are both ugly and hilarious!”

This is on me. My blog, my fundraiser, my responsibility. It’s not like I’m unaware of John’s internet appeal and the likely results of our pose-off. (Though even so, the response was bigger than I could have imagined, and I appreciate that – thank you.) But I was caught up in the excitement of raising a lot of money for a good cause, and the flat-out fun of competing with a goofy and good-natured friend. So I didn’t think enough about how this might all come across, nor did I take the time to introduce and contextualize what we were doing.

I apologize for that mistake.

Both John and I had fun with this. Speaking for myself, I want you to laugh at the absurdity of these poses. Sure, one of the reasons I use props like butter knives and giant teddy bears is because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for real props. But another reason is that I want to encourage the laughter.

I can handle good-natured ribbing, too. I know that when I post these pictures, I can expect an email from my brother asking me to reimburse him for another five years of therapy. I know where that’s coming from, and I’ll get him back soon enough.

But if you’re laughing because you’re a straight guy and therefore must declare all male bodies brain-searingly ugly? If you’re laughing because you think a man in a dress is funny and should be mocked? In other words, if you’re laughing because of various aspects of ingrained sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other discriminatory nonsense? Then you’ve missed the point so badly it’s not even funny.

For the record, John Scalzi is damned sexy. He’s a smart, funny, and yes, good-looking man. For me, what makes his cover pose pic great is his obvious humor and self-confidence. Do I want to hop into bed with him? Well, not really. For one thing, I’m straight. For another, his wife would kick my ass. (Or else she’d want to watch, and then there would be performance anxiety issues, and I’m dealing with enough pressure these days.) And of course, I have leg stubble that would probably make it less pleasant for both of us. But I can look at that picture, grin, and say, “Yeah, that’s a man who rolled well in the Charisma department.”

So please do me a favor. Step back and ask yourself what exactly you’re laughing at, and where that’s coming from. ‘Cause I’m starting to see some rather problematic reactions out there.

And for my part, I apologize again, and will work to do a better job introducing and contextualizing the rest of these poses.