Never Gender a Book by its Cover

Book covers are gendered spaces.  Not only authors names (one reason I’ve always been fond of using first initials rather than first names), but the colors, designs, scripts, and more are deeply gendered symbols.  Author Maureen Johnson tweeted about getting a lot of comments from men saying that they’d love to read her books, but require a “non-girly cover” to do so.  Johnson’s book covers have some pretty characteristic “feminine” features, from the women depicted on them, to the script used for the titles, to the colors, and more (see below for a sample).

Johnson 1

Johnson challenged her readers to craft masculine covers for books with feminine covers and feminine covers for books with masculine covers.  She called the project “Coverflip,” and it spawned quite a bit of support (check out the #coverflip hashtag for more on the story in Huffington Post here).  Johnson wrote about it in this way:

Imagine that book was written by an author of the OPPOSITE GENDER. Or a genderqueer author. Imagine all the things you think of when you think GIRL book or BOY book or GENDERLESS book (do they EXIST?). And I’m not saying that these categorizations are RIGHT—but make no mistake, they’re there… Now, as a mental exercise, imagine [the author is a different gender]. The book has the same exact topic. Does the cover look like this? (here)

tumblr_mme5n7AKhH1r1tusjo1_500slide_296089_2421810_freeThe call produced a stream of submissions.  To the right and left are two of Johnson’s books flipped.

The fact is, we do judge books by their covers.  Cover art matters.  So too does the gender of the author, the author’s name, the title, and more.  Covers are one way publishers can communicate to potential readers “what kind of book” a particular book is and who the intended audience might be.  I like to imagine people coming across #coverflip and thinking, “Well I’d never read that book… Buuuuutttttt… I’d read it with that cover.” Continue reading