Best SFF Award Nominee Book Cover Award etc: Institutional Sexism

I’ve been collating names of cover artists/designers on the list of 34 covers left after the previous culling. Guess how many are women?

Did you guess ONE? If so, then you are probably right. I say probably because I’m going off names and what bios I can find. So maybe some of the named artists I could find are women with names that are traditionally male. For example, I don’t know Sam Weber‘s gender.

Victo Ngai  ( http://victongai.tumblr.com/ ) the artist for the striking Barsk cover was the only one.

Now thirteen of the thirty-four covers still don’t have names, so maybe many of those covers were illustrated/designed by women. But, I’m not sure which is worse – that gender proportions of the named covers represents the whole or that it doesn’t and hence women artists ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY uncredited in their work! Either option would seem to be appalling but at least the possibility that women’s work goes disproportionately uncredited at least has something we can fix more directly.

Yes, this is a weird and arbitrary sample of book covers, but it is weird and arbitrary in so far as it picks on covers that publishers (both big & indie & self-published) were putting their supposed best-foot-forward on. Also, it was an anonymous selection when it came to artists – covers were picked out for reasons OTHER than the cover artist and artists were identified later.

I’m genuinely surprised by this. The world is not lacking in talented women artists and designers.

PUBLISHERS: CREDIT YOUR COVER ARTISTS AND COVER DESIGNERS – AND EMPLOY WOMEN! Fergoodnesssake

The list of artists/designers so far:

1

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers Christoffer Meyer

2

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers Christopher Doll

3

The Book of Phoenix – Nnedi Okorafor Joey Hi-Fi, aka Dale Halvorsen

4

Arcadia – Iain Pears Nameless Hero

5

Arcadia – Iain Pears Thomas Cole

6

The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett Paul Kidby

7

The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett Jim Tierney

8

League of Dragons – Naomi Novak Nameless Hero

9

Uprooted – Naomi Novik Scott McKowen

10

Uprooted – Naomi Novik crushed.co.uk

11

Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie John Harris

12

Seveneves: A Novel – Neal Stephenson Jonathan Knowles

13

Updraft – Fran Wilde Stephan Martiniere

14

Updraft – Fran Wilde Tommy Arnold

15

War Factory  – Neal Asher Larry Rostant

16

Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho Nameless Hero

17

Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho Nameless Hero

18

Half a War – Joe Abercrombie Mike Bryan

19

The Traitor, Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson Sam Weber

20

Europe at Midnight – Dave Hutchinson Clint Langley

21

Way Down Dark – J.P. Smythe Nameless Hero

22

Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky Nameless Hero

23

Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm – John C. Wright Jeremiah Humphries

24

Son of the Black Sword – Larry Correia Larry Elmore

25

Hell’s Foundations Quiver – David Weber Stephen Youll

26

Ctrl Alt Revolt! – Nick Cole Nameless Hero

27

Souldancer – Brian Niemeier Marcelo Orsi Blanco

28

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin Nameless Hero

29

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher Chris McGrath

30

Raising Caine – Charles E. Gannon Bob Eggleton

31

The Grace of Kings – Ken Liu Sam Weber

32

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard – Lawrence M. Schoen Victo Ngai

33

Envy of Angels – Matt Wallace Peter Lutgen

34

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley David Mann
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28 comments

  1. Cora

    I just checked my physical copies and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is credited to David Mann. The UK cover of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet with the silhouette standing under the stars is credited to Christoffer Meyer. The black and gold cover of Sorcerer to the Crown is merely credited to the stock photo agency Shutterstock – no designer named.

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  2. thephantom182

    “I say probably because I’m going off names and what bios I can find. So maybe some of the named artists I could find are women with names that are traditionally male.”

    Can you tell which ones are white, Camestros? Because that’s what’s important in an artist, as with an author. Plumbing and level of tan.

    Say, here’s a radical notion. You don’t suppose that, maybe, just maybe mind you, artists get chosen for covers based on how their covers sell, how fast they get stuff done, price, and how easy they are to work with? Because publishers are trying to make -money- you know. It doesn’t grow on trees.

    The only reason there is art on the cover is to fool the book store browsing public into picking the thing up. Otherwise there’d just be a title and the author’s name.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      Let’s suppose that is exactly how it works: that the disparity (which as I’ve filled in a few extra names has only got worse) is because cover art has been chosen purely on merit. I can believe that but that takes us one step back in terms of an explanation – i.e. it isn’t publishing house art directors being overtly sexist.
      Now take a second step back in terms of explaining the disparity. Why would cover art (picked without prejudice) be overwhelmingly from men? Are men somehow *better* artists on the whole than women? I’d be curious to see somebody defend that proposition – or is it more likely that a variety of social reasons are at play.

      Now bear with me for a moment.
      1. if it is the first (which is frankly laughable) then I suppose there is nothing much anybody can do about it.
      2. if it is the second then there is a failure in the market. Genuine value isn’t being realized – there are people who are not as productive (both in an economic sense and in a sense of personal achievement) as they could be.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thephantom182

        “…cover art has been chosen purely on merit.”

        Why would you assume merit? I’d assume laziness. “What worked last time will be good enough this time” is a very powerful force in business. Close enough is good enough, they’re in a tearing rush to get stuff booted out the door so they can bill it.

        Furthermore, you are judging merit incorrectly. “Quality” is unimportant. That is a very hard concept to get sometimes, but it is basic. They aren’t in business to make everything as awesome as possible. They are in business to MAKE MONEY.

        Making money means risking the least overhead, to get a REASONABLE return. They don’t care if Jane’s amazing cover will sell two hundred more copies than Bob’s crappy cover. They know Bob. The guy is pleasant in his emails, he delivers on time, he’s never screwed them over (that’s major, right there), he’s done dozens of covers for them, they sold okay, that’s what they want. Bonus if Bob covered their ass with rush jobs a bunch of times. They’re going to call Bob, especially if there’s a hurry on.

        They aren’t going to call Jane, just because they “need more women artists” to make things “fair.” Unless Jane has a kickass portfolio, works cheap and hounds the shit out of them for work. Then they’ll give her something to shut her up. If it works out AWESOME, they’ll maybe give her more. IF they can giove her more and still keep Bob fed. They can’t afford to lose their go-to artist just to keep KR and Camestros Felpatron happy on the interwebz.

        Plus, there’s this to consider. How did Bob get that gig in the first place? By hounding them for work, over-delivering and generally busting his ass for years. If Jane does that, she’ll be where Bob is in ten years. That’s how long it took Bob.

        And don’t forget, Bob is no more than two fucked up projects from unemployment. They’ll call that Jane chick who’s been bugging them if Bob screws something up.

        What I find distressing, Camestros, is this drive you and your peers exhibit to immediately conclude “institutional sexism”, “institutional racism”, and so forth, where there is no evidence for it. Nobody cares if the author, editor, artist etc. is male/female/whatever. We can’t tell.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        The fact that the customer can’t tell and yet the disparity exist is what is notable. Politics aside, the disparity is noticeable. Now you say gender played no role in the disparity and so you excuse gender from your explanation – making it a non-explanation. Or are you now contending that men just work harder? Again, not something bourne out by evidrnce in general.

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      • thephantom182

        “Or are you now contending that men just work harder? Again, not something bourne out by evidrnce in general.”

        They do in medicine. The difference in output between male and female physicians in Canada is getting to be an issue. One male does the work of one and a half females. No maternity, less illness, etc. It adds up over a career. I would not be shocked to find the same holds true in the arts.

        “Politics aside, the disparity is noticeable.”

        I disagree. Politics aside, I don’t know if there is any disparity. How many women work in the field? They could be enjoying 100% employment for all you know, Camestros. You have no background data to support your contention, you’re just assuming “institutional sexism” without any support.

        I’m assuming the lower number of women is down to the usual factors that affect businesses. Managerial laziness, lack of will to stick one’s neck out, Not Invented Here syndrome, Peter Principle, the usual crap. There’s plenty of evidence for all of that, any management boffin will tell you.

        I suppose SEXISM!!!! is more interesting than “the usual crap”, but misidentifying the problem will not help anything.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        “Politics aside, I don’t know if there is any disparity. How many women work in the field? They could be enjoying 100% employment for all you know, Camestros.”

        Doesn’t change whether there is a disparity – it just shifts the point at which the disparity occurs. It would be odd if there were fewer given art doesn’t require better upper body strength or testicles or some other feature you are more likely to find among men. So if fewer women choose this kind of career then there is still a question looking for an explanation.

        “I’m assuming the lower number of women is down to the usual factors that affect businesses. Managerial laziness, lack of will to stick one’s neck out, Not Invented Here syndrome, Peter Principle, the usual crap.”

        You realise that what you are doing now is basically describing some of the things we MEAN by institutional sexism. Is it the ‘sexism’ word that is upsetting you? Let me put it another way – when all those things aka ‘the usual crap’ combine in such a way (perhaps without any specific intent of anybody) so that on average and in total they create significant disparities that disadvantage women – then that’s what we are calling ‘institutional sexism’.

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      • Cora

        As a woman, I really hate the complaint that women simply don’t work hard enough, just because they aren’t willing to put up with ridiculous work hours, Doctors often have ridiculous work hours early in their career and it’s unfair to penalise women for taking time off for having children or taking care of sick relatives, especially since they will be judged more harshly, if they don’t.

        Instead, I think the question we should ask is why men agree to work ridiculous hours, especially since men have families, too. Traditionally, many men were able and willing to offload their parental and familial responsibilities to their wives, but that is becoming less common, thankfully. And BTW, my parents’ doctor is known to be never available during school holidays, because he prefers to spend time with his children. And my financial advisor just recently went on paternity leave, because he had a new baby. So men are no longer willing to neglect their families in favour of their career either.

        Besides, for artists this is a moot point, because art is something you can do from home on your own time, where the family-unfriendly structures of the traditional work day do not apply.

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      • thephantom182

        “You realise that what you are doing now is basically describing some of the things we MEAN by institutional sexism.”

        Yes, and I observe that re-defining things in a way that completely changes their meaning is an old habit of political campaigners. “Sexism” implies malice, Camestros, a fact that everyone is quite well aware of. “Institutional Sexism” implies a deliberate, malicious, active and systemic bias against women. (Or men, as I’m increasingly seeing in hospitals. Male nurse? Watch your back, dude.)

        Everyone knows what you mean.

        By the way, in that vein: https://pjmedia.com/trending/2016/09/23/feminist-study-objective-truth-scientific-method-are-sexist/

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      • camestrosfelapton

        If you want to come up with a better word to describe the issue, that’s fine with me. As far as I can see the meaning hasn’t been completely changed at all – what is being identified is the source of the problem.

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      • thephantom182

        “As a woman, I really hate the complaint that women simply don’t work hard enough, just because they aren’t willing to put up with ridiculous work hours, Doctors often have ridiculous work hours early in their career and it’s unfair to penalise women for taking time off for having children or taking care of sick relatives, especially since they will be judged more harshly, if they don’t.”

        That’s the thing though, isn’t it? Women, penalized or not, take time off for childcare. They -have- to, early in the child’s life they have that job which cannot be handed off to anyone else. Men do not. Over a 30 year career, males far outstrip females in productivity. This is an immutable fact of life, not something that can be changed by regulations or preferential hiring.

        “Instead, I think the question we should ask is why men agree to work ridiculous hours, especially since men have families, too.”

        This is an interesting proposition. You are suggesting that men voluntarily -reduce- their output to match that of women, rather than push to accomplish all they can and reap the rewards thereof. Question 1, why would they do that? What’s in it for them?
        Question 2 and related, who is minding the store if Mummy AND Daddy are both at home? Where’s the income for the family coming from?
        Question 3, who’s patching up the patients when all the physicians are taking all this time off?

        As to artists working from home, as a writer who works from home, you’re either Writing or you’re Not Writing. You can’t stop what you’re doing to go change a diaper or fix a bottle and maintain any sort of decent throughput. Graphic art would be worse I expect, paints have drying times and setting times. You got that coat of X on the paper, you have ten minutes of working time left, and the kid is screaming for a bottle RIGHT NOW!!! Sure, that’ll work.

        Children require care. Care comes from Mummy, because Daddy is crap at it and a bit dangerous for babies to be around, on average. This is how humans are. Also monkeys. Dad monkey does not look after the little monkeys while Mom goes looking for ants. It does not work that way.

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      • thephantom182

        “If you want to come up with a better word to describe the issue, that’s fine with me. As far as I can see the meaning hasn’t been completely changed at all – what is being identified is the source of the problem.”

        Again, Camestros, I’m arguing that a lack of female names on an essentially randomly chosen list of artists is -not- indicative of a problem. Or indeed indicative of anything at all. You’re the one who said Institutional Sexism!, and having been called on it you’re re-defining it. Naughty!

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      • thephantom182

        “According to you gender should not be relevant when it comes to covers. The numbers suggest that it is. Hence there is manifestly a disparity”

        There is a disparity in your numbers. Is there a disparity in the field? That would require your numbers to be representative.

        If there is a disparity in the field, assuming your numbers are representative, does that indicate a -problem-?

        If there is a problem, granting all of the above, is that problem caused by deliberate exclusion of females based on anti-female bias? Meaning -now-, not thirty years ago?

        Sorry. Too much granting of facts not in evidence, Camestros.

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      • Cora

        Ever since parental leave laws were changed in Germany, there has been an increasing number of men taking paternity leave. And somehow, both babies and the economy have survived.

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      • Mark

        “Ever since parental leave laws were changed in Germany, there has been an increasing number of men taking paternity leave. And somehow, both babies and the economy have survived.”

        Yup, my daughter appears to have survived my parenting. I missed the memo that I was supposed to be bad at it, and just carried on as per normal.

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  3. KR

    I am alive to this particular point today. It’s been a pretty disillusioning year for me from an institutionalized-patriarchy perspective and I’ve come around to a renewed interest in indigeneity and First Nations issues as well. It’s all connected, really. Pondering personal responses to such large-scale problems and trying to remember the shape of my fired-up, go-get-’em 20-something self.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cora

    SFF is the last bastion of the custom illustrated cover in adult fiction. Most other genres have moved to photographic covers using stock photos. And even SFF is moving that way, partly due to the rise of self-publishing, since self-publishers often cannot afford custom illustration. But even trade publishers are relying more and more on stock art (and there are a few covers here I think are based on stock art), because stock photos and stock art are cheaper than commissioning an artist. e.g. You can find a lot of decent exploding spaceship type CGI images, if you browse the stock art sites. And with stock art, the image itself usually comes before the artist (though I know at least one excellent SF stock artist who’s female).

    Now the question is, why are there so few female SFF artists, especially since the art directors at the publishing houses are often women, e.g. Lauren Panepinto or Irene Gallo. This raises a few additional questions: Are there fewer women commercial artists in general? Do women illustrators tend to work in other areas, e.g. children’s books, comics, greeting cards, fashion illustration, etc…? Are women pressured to work in those areas or do they work there willingly? Is there a conscious or subconscious bias against female artists at publishing houses?

    Phantom is correct that publishers prefer to work with established artists, which is e.g. why Bob Eggleton or Larry Elmore or Michael Whelan (who doesn’t appear here) have been around for decades. The question is, are those established artists more likely to be men and if so, why? One possible explanation I can think of is that cover art was often supposed to appeal to men, so maybe male artists were believed to be more likely to produce art that appeals to men. Though pulp artist Margaret Brundage and her scantily clad damsels in distress would belie that idea.

    For example, the ridiculous clinch covers featuring a half-naked man engaged in a torrid embrace with a woman about to fall out of a dress of dubious historical accuracy, that were common on romance novel covers into the 1990s, were never actually supposed to appeal to the overwhelmingly female readers, but to the overwhelmingly male truck drivers working at the distribution companies, who stacked paperback spinner racks at drugstores, gorcery stores, etc…. The distributors and their truck drivers are long gone, but their taste continues to influence book covers via established artists that have been around for a long time. Similarly, the tendency for YA novels to feature a girl in a ball gown on the cover, even if no ball gown ever features in the novels, was supposedly due to the (female) YA buyer at Barnes & Noble really liking those covers. Even Baen’s famously awful covers must appeal to someone. And interestingly, I see a lot of self-published science fiction authors attempting to imitate Baen’s covers rather than the IMO much better covers of Tor or Orbit or Roc or DAW.

    Besides, there are several established and popular female SFF artists, e.g. Julie Dillon, Galen Dara, Cynthia Sheppard, Kinuko Kraft, Rowena Morrill, but for some reason none of their covers appear here.

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