One of the things that gets thrown around when people are talking about sexy women on covers of books is that women are also sexist because romance books are FULL of half-naked men on the cover. Which, in my experience, is not true in our contemporary landscape.
I went to Cover Cafe which every year organizes a Best Romance novel cover contest to see if I was wrong.
Here are the categories Cover Cafe awarded in 2012:
- Alternate reality: No naked or half-naked men. All covers except one: women.
- Contemporary: 11 covers. One man in bed with a woman, though you can barely tell he is undressed. She also seems to be undressed. I wouldn’t count it as half-naked.
- Historicals: 10 covers. One man, no shirt, seen from behind.
- Series: No naked or half-naked men. Mostly couples, all fully dressed.
- Two-image covers: 10 covers. One man, no shirt.
- WORST covers: Almost all of the covers in the WORST category included men in several states of undress.
Conclusion: The covers women enjoy the most don’t tend to include half-naked men. Many of the worst, do, although it must also be noted many of the covers in the WORST category are erotica. Many men tend to be confused and often regard romance and erotica as one, but this is not the case and erotica often has more explicit images.
Of course, the Cover Cafe offers only one sample point. I went to look at the list of the RITAs, the highest award of distinction in romance fiction. I looked at the following finalists for the awards:
- Best First Book Finalists: No naked or half-naked men.
- Historical Romance Finalists: Eight books. Three half-naked men.
- Paranormal Romance: Eight books. Two-half naked men.
- Inspirational Romance Finalists: No naked or half-naked men.
- Long Contemporary Series Romance Finalists: No naked or half-naked men.
- Novel with Strong Romantic Elements Finalists: No naked or half-naked men.
- Young Adult Romance Finalists: No naked or half-naked men.
There are a LOT of categories in the RITAs, so I’ll stop at that. Well, it seems at this point that historicals are more likely to have half-naked men, followed by urban fantasy. Even then, the men don’t amount to even half of the covers.
Okay, but these are awards. Let’s see what happens when we look at Library Journals romance best seller list for December 2013.
- Number 1: Entwined with You. There’s not even a human on the cover.
- Rose Harbor in Bloom. Great. Flowers.
- Dark Witch. No human on the cover!
- Hotshot. The man is fully clothed.
- Starry Night. No humans!
- True Love. No dude!
- The Lemon Orchard. We see a man’s hand. Where are the naked men?
- The Newcomer. A fully clothed man.
- A Candlelight Christmas. No humans. One tree.
- One Heart To Win. Finally! A cowboy with his shirt open.
Of these 10 books, one had a half-naked man.
Even when it comes to erotica, there seems to be a trend to display objects or things you wouldn’t think as sexy at first glance. This, of course, inspired by the success of 50 Shades of Grey. The worst covers, as seen at Cover Cafe, buck this trend. But then they are the *worst* covers, with shoddy artwork and production values.
Okay, so this is not a comprehensive study but the assertion that the romance aisle is full of half-naked or naked men seems to be false. Please, stop using it as an excuse to justify nude or semi-nude women in speculative books.