!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> Emerging Women .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Headless Women
I don't read a lot of modern fiction outside of the fantasy genre, so I was unaware of this trend I saw described in the Chicago Tribune today. Apparently it is the current thing in the publishing world to depict headless women on the covers of books. These women aren't missing their heads, they just aren't shown in the pictures. Instead one sees a generally sexy body devoid of the expressions and personality of a face. It's trendy, it's the current style, but why?

Some accuse the trend of giving into the sexist stereotype of the "ideal woman." This is the "male fantasy of the woman who's totally available and can't talk back and doesn't think and doesn't judge" - if a woman has no head, she has no voice. Others though point out that these books are marketed to women not men and so instead present women with an ideal body they can fantasize is their own. "The covers may be in some ways playing to the anxieties that women have, which are not about being smart and using their brains and being successful, but are about whether they're going to be able to attract men and get men to make commitments and be able to get married and have egalitarian relationships and have children and keep their careers."

Either way, I personally find it a disturbing trend. As many of us here seek to claim a voice for women in the church and learn how to use our own voices, this tendency towards headless, voiceless women seems like a step backwards. I don't think I've read any "headless women" books, so I don't know what the books actually convey. Like I said, my fiction tastes are in the fantasy genre which usually portrays very strong women on the covers of books - celebrating women more than anything. But this tendency to obscure women on the covers does not seem celebratory to me, but reminds me instead of the days when women had to publish under male names in order to be read. Remove a women's identity and she ceases to threaten.

What are your reactions to this trend? Is it harmless, or disturbing?

Labels: ,

posted by Julie at 11:29 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 3/12/2008 09:59:00 PM, Blogger Beth

    Wow…thanks for this post and the link to the Tribune article. I am not a big fiction reader, but regularly troll the bookstores and have never noticed this trend. But once I started looking around…its everywhere! Women not wholly whole...fascinating. I may have to blog about this myself!

  • At 3/13/2008 06:41:00 AM, Blogger Kim

    You’ll find this interesting: I’m here in Malta and touring all these ancient sites, mainly temples dating from before the time of Abraham, and at several of these sites they have found small and large headless statues of plump women. On the neck there is a hole where you can insert different carved heads. Happy, sad, angry. It would appear that the headless form of a woman is nothing new!

    I think such things on book covers today reveals that after so many thousands of years of existing in male dominated societies, we are still attempting to figure out who we are as a gender and what roles we play. Just today on MSN I read about the conflict arising as a result of the new reality show involving stay at home moms. That women are wrestling between roles doesn’t really surprise me. What I do wonder: how come this isn’t an issue for men?

  • At 3/13/2008 02:41:00 PM, Blogger Tia Lynn

    I guess the headless woman image could go both ways, depending on intent. If the idea is to promote a sort of perfectly shaped, thoughtless, sex vehicle as the ideal for womanhood then it’s despicable. On the other hand, I suppose a sort of faceless/headless woman image could be trying to convey a universal, common to all or most women, experience. “This could be you, happen to you, achieved by you,” or something along those lines.

    But overall, it seems a little creepy to me.

  • At 3/15/2008 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Kim - I wonder that to. Do men really have less identity issues or is that all just media spin?

  • At 3/16/2008 03:45:00 AM, Blogger Mi

    Just popping up out of lurkerdom to say that this trend has been huge in the teen books market. Pretty much everybody hates it (including authors), but it keeps happening anyway.

    Although I do think it's got to do with dehumanisation,but just because a book may be marketed towards women, it doesn't mean that it excludes it from the "male fantasy of the woman who's totally available and can't talk back and doesn't think and doesn't judge." We're told this is what guys want, and because we want to impress guys, we should want it too.

    Links to YAlit Universe rants about such issues:

  • At 3/16/2008 01:16:00 PM, Blogger Valorosa

    It's been going on for centuries ladies and it's not going to stop.

    The question is how are you going to handle it in your own sphere.... the important thing is that when it is in your personal path ... you must act.

    Let's not just shake our heads and walk away.
    Let's teach our daughters and our granddaughters well so they don't fall prey to this age old scam.

    The attitude is perpetuated by not informing our daughters of the wily ways of lecherous men and women for that matter.

  • At 3/16/2008 07:05:00 PM, Blogger Dsrtrosy

    Wow...I'm writing a paper in my grad seminar right now about how the lack of voices in the church caused women to become invisible, and how this site (Emerging Women) is breaking the trend in cyberspace. I think I may want to site this article!

    Personally, I find it disturbing. The reasons are only minimally valid. Maybe bringing it to light will make publishers change their minds. But will it wake women up?

  • At 3/17/2008 08:47:00 PM, Blogger Deb

    This is a fascinating (and disturbing) publishing decision. Are we back to the body-conscious era like Chorus Line described in "Dance-10, Look-3"? Are we getting wrapped up yet again in imagining ourselves only as the ideal figure instead of what we are predisposed to have?

    And, of course the whole question of creative control for the author is there as well. My middle schooler made her "reading" teacher livid last year when she answered a question on the cover art of their in-class book. The question was, "what do you think this cover art represents?" and my smart gal said "a marketing decision."

    The teacher marked it wrong. I went to bat for her. (and won, BTW)

    I do not understand why this is considered something women will like. I guess I will join the group who will not buy these editions!

    Ever the rabble-rouser
    (and apparently raising one)


  • At 3/20/2008 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous Katie

    I heard a report on this somewhere (NPR perhaps? can't remember) that readers like to come up with their own idea of what the protagonists look like, hence the headless people on book covers.

    I agree that it's still creepy.

  • At 5/22/2008 11:36:00 AM, Blogger krasnodama

    I am new to Emerging Woman and I am sorry that I am adding to this conversation at such a late date. Perhaps the discussion has moved on...

    Are the headless women creepy? Definitely.

    Is the practice of incorporating headless women on the covers Compensatory.

    Nevertheless, I am reminded of Janice Radway's, Reading the Romance.

    Questions to ask of this practice: How do women who read these books create agency? Are women involved in the cover design process or is it produced for them? What avenues of agency are given to the women who read these books?

    Something to ponder: Women's acts of reading are a practice of naming and narrating,which gives them creative control over that which causes their subjugation in a hegemonic system that causes suffering. In the process they are nurtured through their participation in identifying and loving their characters. Problematic is that women remain within the system that does not provide nurturing and other outlets of creative expression. They are also shaped into a culturally accepted model of what it means to be a woman.

    A question to ask, if this agency is taken away, what agency is left?


Links to this post:

Create a Link