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I think this is worth a mention
October 21, 2006, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last week, Jessica at Feministing posted a photograph of the cover of her forthcoming book, Full Frontal Feminism. I don’t like the cover but I appreciated Jessica’s explanation of its intended audience and her choice/risk. That being said, I’m ashamed that I didn’t think about the book’s ability to reach a nonwhite audience–especially with a cover like that. A function of my own privledge and racism, no doubt. I make no excuses.

Nubian, of Blac(k)ademic fame, became the recepient of some targeted and pretty hateful comments after she stated her initial reaction:

why didn’t you just call it, a young WHITE womans guide to WHITE feminism.

this is wack.

i’m sorry. the naked torso of a woman is offensive AND the naked WHITE torso of the young woman pisses me off.

And then of course, all hell broke loose. Nubian was accused–not by Jessica or Feministing writers but by other commenters–of being racist, mean and of stabbing the “Feministing team” in the back.

What? Since when did disagreement become an automatic stab in the back? Sounds to me like “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. Come on folks, let’s not jump all over someone the minute she expresses her disappointment. It seems obvious to me that the rush to defend Jessica with hugs and kisses–which I wonder if she even appreciated–and bash Nubian had more to do with people’s refusal to admit their own racial privledge and their own white guilt than with the issue at hand.

Anyway, there are more comments over at Nubian’s. I think it’s all worth reading and discussing.

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4 Comments so far
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Just another angle re: this issue… I was reading through the comment thread–especially Jessica’s replies and noted that she said her selections for the cover were limited and I’ll bet they were. I thought a piece of one of her later comments was interesting:

Which is why I rejected several other book covers that had kind of a WASP-y looking blonde girl with “full frontal feminism” written across her shirt.

From everything I’ve read/studied about the publishing industry most authors (minus a few exceptions aka guaranteed money) get very very little control over their covers–and also titles, interestingly enough. Though most publishers DO want to make their authors happy I think any author complaints re: covers are duly noted but ultimately overridden by the marketing/publicity/whatever department because they have their pulse on consumer interests and what’s going to get a book picked off a bookshelf (not to say that’s right or that it doesn’t open up a few larger problems–ie missing out on reaching out to a larger demographic than just “what is known to sell .”)

I can definitely understand many of the commenter’s discomfort and unhappiness with the cover but I think a lot of people might have overlooked the possibility that Jessica probably did have little options (and probably did choose the best of the lot) and that in the end her publisher probably gets the final say anyway. Also, to get the publisher behind the book and enthusiastic about it after publication, it’s probably in her best interests to maintain a positive and diplomatic attitude regarding the cover.

Anyway, I just thought I’d say that. It’s interesting to think about it that way especially when you consider the subject of the book. I read about it happening with fiction all the time but I never really thought about how it would open up a whole different set of problems for non-fiction.

I thought it was too bad when many of the commenters exhibited that “for or against” mentality. It’s so counterproductive, man.

Comment by Courtney

hmmm, not to fan the flames or anything, but as another first-time author with indie publisher seal press (jessica’s publisher), i can attest that what courtney so eloquently says has indeed been the case for me and several other authors i know (some of them not first-timers). the publisher shows you the cover to make sure you don’t absolutely detest it, but you don’t really have much say in the matter. sure, you can make suggestions, but if they’re happy with the cover already, they may or may not listen to you. maybe if you’re gloria steinem or stephen king or toni morrison this changes. but when you’re new to the game, most of the title/cover decisions are driven by the marketing and sales peeps, and then it’s your editor’s job to sell you on the result, even if you don’t love it. and when you’re at the bottom of the book publishing food chain, you do have to learn to pick your battles. that said, if my publisher had tried to put an anorexic or right-to-lifer on my cover (not that my book is about body image or reproductive rights, and not that they would do something so misguided), they would have had one hell of a fight on their hands. but i’m sure you get what i’m saying. and i’m sure jessica did the best she could with the options and limited pull we newer authors have. it’s also true that when you put your ideas and creations out there, people are going to object no matter what you do; you can’t make everyone happy. you do the best you can to be fair and hope that’s enough. in a world where even cold-blooded murderers and flat-out frauds can get book deals and prime time TV interviews, i’d think there would be bigger fish to fry. :)

Comment by michelle goodman

Michelle–I’ve heard that about the publishing industry and I’m glad you responded with your own experience.

I think the whole thread and issue surrounding the cover was frustrating though, mostly because Nubian couldn’t talk about race & feminism without being accused of being racist. I think that’s the part that interested (and disgusted) me most…

All that aside, your cover is great! :)

Comment by whitney

thanks, whitney. because i didn’t have much say on the matter. ;) and hoo boy, i don’t think i want to go down the road of the FFF cover debate any further. i think this comment from the feministing debate says it all (also cracked me up):

“Jessica – it seems you really don’t even need to release the book. Just release the cover and we will all talk about it incessantly. We’ll talk about the symbolism of the model and the female form. How maybe you did or didn’t have any choice in the cover. And how each of us would have obviously done it better. Maybe later you could release different versions of the same cover and we could talk about how each applies to society from every imaginable view of feminism.”

HAAAAA! i think it’s safe to say that jessica’s going to sell a lot of books, to both her supporters and detractors, i mean, if people are this riled up about the stock cover photo most likely purchsed from a media group like getty images.

(it would be interesting to see how many stock pix getty even HAS of women of color, given that the mainstream media is so whitebread. i for one would have liked a less preppy/”all american” cover gal on my own book, someone more quirky and edgy and earthy and curvy and frizzy, kinda like me and my pals. ah well. maybe next time.)

Comment by michelle goodman




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