Cheesecake Fantasy and Other Good CausesOctober 24th, 2012 at 12:10
Fantasy, as a genre, is often embarrassing. I like to tell myself that it’s not as bad as it used to be, in the days when Gor novels were sold unironically, and almost every book cover had some kind of gross, bizarre representation of the “female” form in chainmail/fur bikinis, regardless of the contents of the book itself. (Worse of course was when the books did reflect the art, but for every awful sexist fantasy novel you could almost guarantee the cover would be twice as bad)
And you know, fantasy art hasn’t left behind that old fashioned, male-gazey tradition any more than comics has, though I think you can certainly argue that fantasy art has generally improved in this area across the board, while comics have steadily got worse over the last several decades.
Still, I know plenty of women readers who wouldn’t touch “fantasy” with a bargepole, though they might have enjoyed books like Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games very much. Why is the genre tag still too blatant and embarrassing for these readers to contemplate? I suspect it’s very much because of things like this Charity Pin Up Calendar, and the art style it represents: Women as Sex Objects.
Yep, there’s nothing like a big old banner which says, hey you, female reader of fantasy? The genre actually is not for you. Look at all this male gaze, marking its territory.
I have no objection to sexy/sexual art, and I can even appreciate the retro value of cheesecake calendars. As a relic of the past. But seriously, now? Twelve very successful and iconic authors of our genre (or their estates) have okayed a sexist dinosaur of a project, in the name of charity. Well, that’s all right then, right? IF IT’S FOR CHARITY.
Personally it makes me wish I was one of those authors who provides a whacking great disclaimer that no, I don’t write fantasy, I write real books. Because fantasy, SOMETIMES YOU EMBARRASS ME.
The awful thing is, it could have been cute and funny. It could have been great. They’ve almost got the hang of putting together a project that doesn’t make me cringe and remember everything bad and embarrassing about my genre’s long history of degrading women. Female authors have been included, after all. And some of the art is quite good. I quite like the idea of a gender-switched Pratchett Wizard, for example, though I bet that Paul Kidby could have done it a) better and b) with greater political awareness of what he was doing. But…
Where are the male bodies, put on display? That’s what would have made this a truly contemporary, fun experience. Pose a few iconic male bodies just as provocatively, and devote an equal number of months to their images as to women. Not in a separate calendar, but alternated with the female images. Is there any reason why they couldn’t have done that, no matter how many people it might have made a little uncomfortable?
After all, it would have been for charity.