A Thank You from the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation
Hey, what’s this? Why, it looks like a BBC article about the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation fundraiser and sexism in SF/F cover art. Now, at a time like this, there are two choices. You can squee and dance around like a little kid because holy crap, a major news outlet is recognizing your fundraiser and contributing to an important conversation! Or you can play it cool.
If you need me, I’ll be Snoopy-dancing.
I haven’t quite completed all of the poses for the fundraiser yet. I had hoped to have everything done except the group pose (which we’ll be doing this weekend), but then I got caught up reading bad fiction for a different fundraiser.
However, I wanted to share this thank you from the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation to everyone who donated or helped to spread the word. Speaking for myself, the $15,000+ we raised greatly exceeded my best expectations.
What follows is the message I received from Al Meo of the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation:
For the past 22 years, the ASF has been funded through private donations and individual fundraising efforts such as yours. Our board of directors and those involved with the foundation do so on a voluntary basis, no one is paid…so all contributions we receive are used to benefit our girls and their families.
We want to express our sincere appreciation to your followers and all those who contributed to your fundraising event for their kindness and support. Their extreme generosity helps us to continue our work in providing medical/adaptive equipment for girls in need as well as funding an educational and supportive conference for families. We also contribute to ongoing Aicardi Syndrome research and will soon be funding a new collaborative project which we hope will be successful in answering our many questions about this devastating syndrome. It is always our wish to find the cause of Aicardi Syndrome and to improve quality of life for our girls.
From all of us at The Aicardi Syndrome Foundation, thanks for making a difference! We wish you all a very happy and healthy 2013!
Thank you all so much from me, as well.
And as I head off to ConFusion, I’ll leave you with one more cover pose…
January 17, 2013 @ 10:05 pm
oh, Jim. It’s just NOT the same without the fishnets…
Congratulations on a major new outlet picking up the story–amazing, and much deserved.
January 17, 2013 @ 10:09 pm
That’s…that’s just…sorry, there are no words…
January 17, 2013 @ 10:51 pm
Needs fishnets, a corset, and a tea-drinking giant teddy bear in the background. *grin*
Seriously, though, this has been amazing and so much fun to follow! I’m glad I could be a tiny part of it!
January 17, 2013 @ 10:53 pm
Reminds me of Angelina Jolie’s leg-out pose at last year’s Oscars.
January 18, 2013 @ 12:18 am
Saw the BBC article. You need higher(4 inch seems to be standard on TV now)heels to make legs look longer and sexier.
January 18, 2013 @ 12:25 am
I think we’re all Snoopy-Dancing with you!
January 18, 2013 @ 1:00 am
Snoopy dance! \o/
Definitely needs the fishnets, though. Can we vote for fishnets appearing in the group shot?
Jim C. Hines
January 18, 2013 @ 7:41 am
As disturbing as this is to say, fishnets would be too much clothing for the group shot…
January 18, 2013 @ 7:51 am
Oh dear. Now I’m even more intrigued!
January 18, 2013 @ 8:01 am
Congratulations Jim! Nice work!
Lady Cheron (@LadyCheron)
January 18, 2013 @ 10:20 am
January 18, 2013 @ 11:01 am
And the Guardian, too! http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/dec/19/jim-hines-fantasy-book-covers?fb=native
January 18, 2013 @ 11:21 am
You’ve made the front page of the BBC news website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/
Scroll down to the magazine section for a picture of you in one of your poses under the heading ‘The battle against ‘sexist’ sci-fi and fantasy book covers’. The article itself is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21033708
January 18, 2013 @ 2:32 pm
OMG I am so glad I ran across this article!
I must admit I never have really thought about the covers on my urban fantasy novels. I just understood tha If it has a scantily clad woman on the cover either as a back shot or her holding a gun/knife/sword its going to be a book about a kickass girl who will probably have a super hot guy as a sidekick/partner or just love interest. Great. Its my favorite type of book, especially if the hot guy doesn’t have to save her at the end because she can save herself thank you very much! I always thought this was feminist heart, because I cannot stand reading the damsel in distress waiting for the hero to come and save the day. Then on the other hand if I wanted just pure supernatural romance then I look for the covers with the half naked men. I’ve never really thought about it so thanks for giving me food for thought.
However I will say I’m also super happy to have read the bbc article because it led me to you. I’ve been reading your blog and its amazing. Anyhoo the point is I can’t wait to tuck in to your Princess novels. Going to audible now to download the Stepsisters Scheme. Can’t wait. You have a new fan.
January 18, 2013 @ 2:50 pm
Thank God the kindle has eliminated the need to stare and display at cover art. Media it is a-changin.
January 18, 2013 @ 3:52 pm
I think she probably has a yeast infection and wants to air things out, poor dear. That would explain the pose.
Jim C. Hines
January 20, 2013 @ 8:21 pm
Thanks so much, Zointrikca! And I very much hope you enjoy the books!
January 21, 2013 @ 8:59 pm
I feel that I must speak out with some concerns that I have about this cover posing effort. While I appreciate and applaud the work that Mr. Hines has done to support the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation, the posing and its implied message are troubling.
The implication is that the genre is saturated with book covers that feature women who are objectified for the gratification of males. However, a lot of these are books that are written by women and marketed to women. They are purchased and read by women. These covers don’t seem to attract male readers. They are generally advertisements to males that the book is NOT targeted toward them. When we take the enormously prolific paranormal romance sub-genre into consideration, the use of half-naked hardbody males as eye-candy is much more prevalent in speculative fiction than the use of females.
Impractically sexualized poses of nearly naked men fighting their foes have been prevalent in art going back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. In modern SF genre you have the icons of Conan, John Carter, Tarzan, the Spartans from 300, and Kvothe on the cover of The Name of the Wind; all with oiled-up, rippling-muscled torsos and/or clenched buttocks facing the viewer. No historical warrior culture that used metal edged weapons ever fought in nothing but a loin cloth. Yet for several millennia we have persistently depicted our MALE heroes with barely a stitch and hypersexualized poses that would be painfully impossible to fight from.
The purpose of these depictions has always been the same: They associate male sexual virility with masculine strength and heroic virtue. Expressions of male sexuality are to be celebrated, applauded, bragged about.
At the same time, virtuous women have always been depicted as pretty, but demur. If a female was sexualized, she was either a helpless victim, a worthless whore, or a villainous seductress. If a woman was strong or assertive, then she certainly was not desirable.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen changing attitudes toward gender and expression of female sexuality. We have become freer to confidently express our sexuality without shame. Female assertiveness is even being shown in television and movies as a desirable trait.
Sexual maturation can be difficult for girls. We experience overt changes in body shape and hormonal cycles that affect our mood. We receive unwanted attention and judgment from our peers. We are conditioned by a patriarchal society to feel shame and uncertainty about our bodies and our sexuality.
Yet when we see these characters and covers we get the message that a woman can be strong, confident, heroic, and desirably feminine–that these are not mutually exclusive characteristics. We see that strength and sexual confidence are not the sole province of men. Just as a geeky guy can look at Conan or Tarzan or Kvothe and project himself onto them, a geeky girl can look at Anita Blake or Sookie Stackhouse or Black Widow and project herself onto them. It puts men and women onto an equal footing. After all, if men can be strong and overtly sexual, why can’t women be the same? If we can put men in painfully ridiculous poses to celebrate their strength and sexuality, why would you deny that to women?
It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that when women find an expression of feminine strength and sexuality, men will mock it or try to take it away from them.
As a fan of these books with strong female protagonists, I identify with and draw strength from these covers that you are mocking. You take away something that gave me confidence and replace it with shame. Many of us have experienced enough bullying in our lives, and this feels the same. I’m not sure what to feel about a charity benefiting from this. I beg Mr. Hines, Mr. Scalzi, and other men to think about the consequences before mocking female sexual expression, especially when you think you’re doing it to help us. Please don’t take from us something that we have only so recently gained.
Jim C. Hines
January 21, 2013 @ 9:16 pm
I actually have thought about this a great deal, both for the past year as I’ve been doing the poses, and before that. And I don’t believe either John or myself have been criticizing female sexuality in any way. What we’re criticizing is the way that sexuality is portrayed. While men are shown as both powerful and sexual, women on book covers are often shown as sexual at the cost of that strength or power. For example, by contorting the character into a pose from which it would be impossible to fight or act, because the emphasis isn’t on strength, but on showing off the woman’s curves. Have you been following this project, and are you aware of the differences between men and women on book covers?
I certainly don’t want to take away from your experiences, but the vast majority of the women I’ve discussed this issue with are coming away with very different messages than what you describe.
Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, is mocking female strength or sexual expression. However, there is definite mockery of the idea that “strong female characters” must be presented first and foremost as sexual objects, even when that undercuts their strength.
January 21, 2013 @ 10:35 pm
Sorry, but I am with Joanna. 42 year old mommy body notwithstanding, when I read these books, I become the character in my mind. And I would much rather look like some strong, voluptous female warrior type than some frumpy housewife in ill fitting body armour. Even the posing is not offensive to me – never discount the fact that a woman’s body is capable of very different movement than a man’s. That famous quote about Ginger Rogers applies – she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. Maybe those poses look sexual to a man, but maybe that’s because that’s what a man sees. When I see a lithe, sinewey woman in a wide legged stance, I see an assertive and powerful character that makes me want to “become” her story – I don’t see diminished strength or power at all.
I appreciate that you have good intentions, but please don’t try to tell women you are doing something “for our own good”, when more than a few of us disagree with the premise.
And I just have to say – even as well intentioned as you are, (and the pictures you made are hilarious), with all that is wrong in this world, this is what you choose as a cause? You obviously have a platform – raise awareness for something that is a real issue. Those covers are all in good fun and anyone offended should read Nicholas Sparks. Next thing you know, someone will say Louis L’Amour cover art glorifies violence because the cowboy has a gun, or the Star Wars cover art offends PETA because Ewoks and Wookies have fur. You can find someone to be offended at anything if you ask around enough – no need to manufacture issues, and this just shouldn’t be one.
January 21, 2013 @ 11:19 pm
Obviously opinions differ on this! 🙂 I’m a 33 year old woman who reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and I’m so very extremely tired of seeing women sexualized in every single damn visual portrayal of them, even when they’re supposed to be strong. And I’m a lesbian, so it’s not like I don’t find hot women interesting! I DO mind when the impression I get from book cover after book cover (especially in comics–oh dear Jesus, especially in comics) is that my only purpose in life, even if I’m trying to save the world from zombies, is to be a pair of tits and an ass.
What Jim’s doing here is nothing that I haven’t seen hundreds of other women complain about online. He’s not making up the issue out of whole cloth. It does bother a lot of us. If it doesn’t bother you, that’s great, but there is something to be said for standing athwart the death of a thousand papercuts and yelling “stop”. And the thing Jim is protesting here is that poses that are being claimed as powerful often aren’t: they’re just more of that old tits-and-ass-in-chainmail-bikinis. We deserve better. And I say this as someone who likes the occasional ass shot on a front cover.
January 21, 2013 @ 11:23 pm
Also wanted to note that part of the problem is that a lot of these books actually do tell great stories about interesting women who we can, as you put it, imagine being. So it sells the books short if the covers we get are just “hot chick.” It’s rarely the author’s fault.
January 22, 2013 @ 12:28 am
I must disagree with the conclusions you reached in the “Posing Like a Man” post. First off, those male positions ARE ridiculous from a fighting perspective. They emphasize their powerful masculine frames at the expense of their lives, since the ones in combat will most certainly die in the few seconds after the moments depicted. They are not wielding plastic or styrofoam toys, but heavy wooden, steel, and stone weapons that would cause them injury if they actually tried to hold or swing them in the manner depicted. We’re talking about torn muscles and ligaments, slipped discs, etc.–far beyond the help of a chiropractor.
Despite these things I do not begrudge those cover artists their artistic license. As I previously noted it serves the purpose of associating male virility with masculine strength and virtue. In the same way, I do not begrudge the cover artists who employ artistic license with their female protagonists. The difference is that women want to see their female protagonists showing feminine strength, not masculine strength. We don’t want to be posed like men, we want to be posed like women. We are not built like men–we have a different anatomical structure. If I were to wave a heavy sword or stone axe in those poses–trust me–it wouldn’t convey my femininity at all. These artists have a difficult task. They have to show the multifaceted nature of a female protagonist in a way that speaks to the female reader–showing her as strong, sexual, and feminine all at once–to get that woman to identify with all of those attributes and pick the book up off the shelf. An author has 70,000 or more words to show all sides of the character; the cover artist has only one snapshot.
In terms of the comfort of the poses, there are two important items: First, you are a man. If you have to pose in a masculine stance and in a feminine stance, you will be more comfortable in a masculine stance because your body is built for it. Do not mistake your comfort level in a feminine stance with a woman’s comfort level in a feminine stance. We are built for it; you are not. Second, as I previously stated, women want our female protagonists to be strong and feminine, not strong and masculine. The truth is that our feminine curves require more contortion to demonstrate than masculine poses do. This is anatomy, not sexism.
In terms of male dominance on covers– Please look at the cover on this very page. The woman is dominant in the foreground, while the man is smaller and more demur in the background. In fact, look at any urban fantasy cover with a sexy female protagonist and you will find the same thing. Just as the sword and sorcery covers have dominant men and chain-mail bikinis for male fantasy wish-fulfillment, so the urban fantasy covers have dominant women in sexy outfits with subservient men for our fantasy wishes. I would be hypocritical if I condemned one while enjoying the other. I will also note that on romance and paranormal romance covers, there usually isn’t any gender dominance.
Also in that post you say that “…to suggest that the posing of men on covers is anywhere near as problematic as the posing of women seems, well, ignorant and wrong.” Well, I certainly don’t consider these to be “problematic.” However, if you mean that sexualizing men on covers is not as pervasive or demeaning as that of women, again I must object. The romance market dwarfs the speculative fiction market, and the vast majority of those covers portray open-shirted, hardbodied men (Fabio got rich from them). Within the speculative fiction market, paranormal romance is a dominant sub-genre with the same propensity for scantily clad men as mainstream romance. A review of the numbers will show that any suggestion that the sexualization of women is more rampant or demeaning than that of men is, well, “ignorant and wrong.”
You say that the vast majority of women you discuss this with take a stance different from mine. This does not surprise me. If you talked to me in person about this, I would probably also decry the “rampant sexism of the genre,” even though I don’t believe that at all. Never underestimate the shame that our society instills in women about our sexuality and our desire to be seen as a part of a prurient social norm. We don’t want to be thought of as “slutty” if we actually express approval for a sexual depiction of a woman. The lack of a dissenting female opinion on your blog was what motivated me to open up about this. My hope is that the floodgates will now open with other women feeling comfortable enough to express their true feelings about this.
You say “And I don’t believe either John or myself have been criticizing female sexuality in any way. What we’re criticizing is the way that sexuality is portrayed.” That is exactly what I take offense with. You’re men criticizing a woman’s sexual expression, meant for consumption by other women. Our society has only recently progressed to the point where I can HAVE sexual expression, or identify with and appreciate female sexual expression that is meant for me.
If you see these female protagonists “presented first and foremost as sexual objects,” then that says much more about the way your brain works than the artwork itself. I can’t speak for other women, but I certainly don’t see these women “first and foremost as sexual objects.” I see them as strong female characters who are confident in their sexuality. I want to be her. I don’t want to be a sex object. It’s like a Rorschach test. If the first thing that you see is a sex object, well, that speaks volumes about you.
If you want to criticize artwork that sexualizes women and is intended to gratify and titillate male egos (ala the Mary’s Angels spoof), I won’t argue with you. I don’t agree with that, either (again I would be a hypocrite to condemn one while enjoying the other), but I don’t think that you would cause any harm there. However, with such a long historical precedent of patriarchal shame and control imposed upon female sexuality, there is a danger when men start to criticize how women choose to express and appreciate our own sexuality for our own consumption. That is sexism.
…Oh, and the pics also pretty funny! 😉
January 22, 2013 @ 2:06 am
All I can say is–please don’t speak for all women. There are a lot of us who find this critique useful, and who don’t find these covers empowering. If they work for you, great, but please don’t speak for the rest of us.
January 22, 2013 @ 2:30 am
That goes both ways. You also do not speak for all women. Please be mindful in your critiques. The mocking nature of the photos can be hurtful to those of us who identify with the images. While I try to appreciate the humor in it, I cannot deny that it stings.
January 22, 2013 @ 3:43 am
I guess I can see that. From where I sit, what you value and what Jim’s mocking are two very different things. There is a line between “I am sexy and powerful” and “I am being drawn as an object for someone to ogle”, and different women obviously draw that line in different spots. It’s the latter I (and I think Jim) object to.
But I grew up with a Mack truck full of “Good Girls Don’t,” too, so I can see where you’re coming from.
Jim C. Hines
January 22, 2013 @ 7:52 am
Jen – You don’t believe this is important, and I can respect that. But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t come here and tell me that something I *do* believe is important is a waste of time, and I should focus on a “real” issue. That’s a tactic I’ve seen used far too often, and it’s a bit of a button for me. The idea that you shouldn’t talk about Problem A because someone thinks Problem B is more important is ridiculous. And who says we can only talk about one problem? (And if you look around the website, you’ll see that indeed, I do talk about more than just cover art here.)
Likewise, “You’re just looking for something to be offended by,” is another non-starter, and another one I’ve run into way too many times by people trying to silence discussion.
January 22, 2013 @ 4:02 pm
I am so pleased to have had you shine a light on the fine work that has been accomplished by the foundation and on Aicardi Syndrome itself. As unfortunate as it may be, there will always be detractors and those folks who just don’t get it. In my humble oppinion, whatever you originally set out to do-the events that ensued as your effort took form were\are nothing short of miraculous. Does it really matter how one may interpret the minutia? No one can argue about the end result! I do not post this to make light of Joanna’s thoughts on the matter but rather to ask folks to look at the bigger picture here. I don’t want to see the real message get convolutaed. That being human beings caring and offering a helping hand to others when it is most needed and appreciated. BTW, I’ve never taken myself so seriously that I couldn’t share a laugh at the way others may perceive me. There are too many far more pressing issues to be concerned with. I hope that you will not be off-put by negative comments from those who have failed to understand your effort. You are to be commended for what you have done here and I wish you much continued success in whatever endeavor you may pursue next.
Warm Regards, John Lisner
January 23, 2013 @ 7:24 pm
Thanks for bringing up this viewpoint, Joanna. You are definitely right in that we are still struggling to figure out how to be sexy and powerful at the same time. There is an entire spectrum of feminine expression and I don’t think any of them are truly wrong (even submissiveness can be wonderfully empowering, as anyone who has watched the movie Secretary might say). That being said, I think Jim’s effort to bring to light the impossibility of the female poses may be more about objectification than sexuality. A woman can be sexual and real (and all the more empowering for that). It’s the unreality that I think can be damaging, since women can never live up to it (OK, maybe runway model or through plastic surgery).
As a female, I appreciate an author with a large audience trying to translate something that some women do experience into something men can relate to. A related experience: I recently began “going steady” with a guy I met on an online meeting service. In passing, I showed him the emails I had received from prospective dates – I think he expressed a curiosity to see what he’d been competing with – and he was stunned by the poor marketing skills of some of them. He had completely dismissed as hyperbole anecdotes of emails saying “Ur hot, wanna go on a date?” It did him good to see things from my perspective. And that’s part of what Jim’s doing — giving guys a way to relate.
I’ll stop here and get off my soap box, but in closing, I wanted to say that it makes me indefinably sad to think that because someone is laughing at what you think is attractive, you feel hurt.