This is today's blog post, but I wanted to get Crimespacers both male and female to weigh in on this topic so I thought I'd post it here in the forum.

Yesterday’s encounter (at an MMA expo) with Fight Chix sexy fightwear for women really got me thinking. While the old-school Catholic Madonna/Whore dichotomy has never really had much of an impact on my life, there is another more complex, modern version that vexes me daily. It’s the sexy/legit dichotomy.

It’s bad for female writers (or artists of any stripe) and even worse for female fighters. The idea that being appealing to men and being taken seriously are mutually exclusive. Sure, you’ll get ahead quicker if you’re sexy, because you’re easier to sell, but nobody’s gonna take you “seriously.” When I saw the Fight Chix booth, my first sarcastic thought was, “Yeah, that’s really gonna help female fighters get taken more seriously.” Then I stopped to question my own reaction. Why can’t a sexy woman be taken seriously?

Why do women feel the need to neutralize their sexuality in order to keep the focus on their art, craft or athletic ability? Why do actresses only get critical acclaim when they ugly down for a role? Why do people snipe at a beautiful writer like Mo Hayder or a gorgeous fighter like Gina Carano, claiming they only get ahead because of their looks? Why do I worry that being sold as a “curvy crime writer” and a former Times Square peep girl is somehow eclipsing the legitimacy of my work?

What do you think?

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Well, actually I have become irritated by Galley Cat's showing us nothing but pictures of new authors who are young, beautiful, and skimpily clad. No idea, if the ladies can write, but the whole hype of pretty young things getting their books published because the new generation prefers youth and beauty and publishers are actually looking for this sort of thing is pretty sick.
But see, therein lies the problem. There is an assumption being made that women who are sexy are only getting published "because the new generation prefers youth and beauty" and not because they are talented and just happen to also be attractive. When a sexy woman's book turns out to be brilliant, it's often viewed as an unexpected surprise, whereas an older, less attractive woman is automatically assumed to be more talented because that would be the only way anyone would publish her.
Not all women are successes because of their looks or their sexuality. Talking about fighting, Muhammad Ali's daughter, I can't recall her name, is taken seriously, and it's because she kicks ass, not because of any sort of sexual appeal.

There's tons of actresses who are taken seriously yet are still sexy.

I'm not sure what being taken seriously means to you here. What exactly are you talking about? Taken seriously by who?
By "taken seriously" I guess I just mean being viewed as a writer that happens to be attractive rather than a hottie who happens to be able to write. Plus, I'd really like to reach more female readers and I find that some women tend to be turned off by an overly sexy image.

Of course, I have no intention of hiding my looks or lying about having been a peep girl, a fetish model and a Dominatrix. I'm not ashamed of those facts, I'd just like them to be the frosting on my perception as a writer, not the cake.

And yeah, I'm probably overthinking the issue. I was just curious to see what other people thought about it.
My own feeling is that the general assumption is that attractive people use their looks as a shortcut to success. Let's face it, good looking people are pleasant to be around. Our brains are wire to believe that "attractive" = "good genes, healthy, possibly a mate". It's easier to get attention when you're attractive (although I don't know this from personal experience). Normally the only unattractive people who get attention are politicians, criminals, and Stephen King.

In my opinion, if an attractive writer promotes themself using glamour shots, they are encouraging people to view them as a lightweight, because physical attractiveness plays no part in determining how good a book will be (unlike a movie, f'rinstance). However, we may see more and more people going this route because the real brand in publishing is the author. There are very few publishers whose offerings are similar enough so that a reader could purchase any of them and be satisfied (Hard Case Crime is an exception). So instead of pushing a type of book, publishers try to establish writers so that readers will end up buying everything they produce.

My 2 cents.
It's going to be tough to explore this question without generalising, but I'll give it a shot.

From a male standpoint, we're hard-wired to appreciate sexual appeal visually. Advertisers and marketers have always known this and have always tried to grab us this way. In a sea of companies all clamouring for our attention, they have to find a way to pull us in in thirty seconds or less. We're also hard-wired for focus, so it's damned easy to block out everything else, including talent or even the product on offer.

So, take away the sex appeal and whatever it is that pulls us to attention (I've really got to stop these bad puns) is something else: the writing, the music, the fighting skills, the product itself.

Writing is probably the most cerebral of the arts, so if I come across (stop it, Daniel, stop it) an author who is marketed purely through their sex appeal, I have to wonder why the focus is on that. Doesn't their work stand up for itself? Or could it be that the sexual marketing is actually appropriate for the author's work in that there's a lot of sex in the novel?

For me, when it comes to picking out a book to buy, I'm definitely more interested in the subject of the story, the writer's reputation (as a writer), the length of the book (I'm really getting sick of door-stoppers), etc.

But my brain doesn't work well all the time. I noticed this recently while watching an episode of LA Ink. While the blond and tanned Jessica Simpson / Pamela Anderson clones don't appeal to me, I noticed it took far too long for me to ask the question, "Is Kat Von D a good tattooist?"
I think it's almost exclusively women that suffer from this, and I think it does have an effect, although not necessarily on the way the writing is perceived. It's more a general attitude: a hangover from more sexist times that we are, hopefully, moving away from. Basically, a kind of objectification - the idea that the market (whatever it might be for each case) is predominantly male and that women are there to entertain and appeal to that power base on this frivolous level, rather than be an equal part of it. At heart: the same attitude that finds men making sexual comments around the water-cooler about a successful female colleague. Whether complimentary or negative, the attitude itself undermines legitimacy. Sometimes even deliberately.

Thats a generalisation, of course, and there's a time and a place. But in a 'work' environment you should expect to be judged on a 'work' level. I get sick of reading interviews with female writers where the journalist comments "she's so beautiful, how can she write this violent stuff?", which might as well be, "she's such a good little typist, but I never suspected she could file as well". (I also get fed up of reading replies that collude in that - "women write it differently" - rather than, say, "next question, please, you patronising fucking idiot").

But then, marketing ... it's a different matter, isn't it? We don't like bad reviews either, but almost all publicity is useful. There're two games in play here.
Why do women feel the need to neutralize their sexuality in order to keep the focus on their art, craft or athletic ability?"
Do they? Being male I don't think I've ever thought this was necessary. Maybe women do, but I can't answer as to why. And as for being "sexy" what exactly does that mean? Sexy in the sense of a woman (or a man) posing half- naked in a photo shoot, with a pout that suggests dyspepsia. Or real sexiness that comes not necessarily from good looks, but an intangible essence, a combination of personality, wit, charm and some animal instinct that is conveyed to the viewer and arouses immediate response.
I agree there is this problem for some, but I think you worry too much. Most of your readers and fans don't care if you're sexy or not. I bet most don't even care if you're a man or a woman. They've read your book and love your work. All the sex chatter in today's world is just basic nature--that is, men being men. Once we have lungs full of air, and a stomach filled with food, there's only one instinct left to think about.
Consider who might be sniping - is it possible that these are the same people who grew up as nerds and outcasts, who suffered through unrequited crushes in high school? When you've spent a lot of time in your life jealous of the pretty girl who got the guy, it might be easier to make a superficial judgment.

In reality, we all make superficial assessments. Someone makes a smartass remark, or writes a blog post about sex or posts some x-rated jokes and they're branded. I also think part of the reason some people don't like it is because if they think (even if it's not true) that someone will put out to get ahead, they realize they can't compete with that because they aren't as good looking/promiscuous (or insert judgment word of choice).

I could be wrong, but I find that most of the criticisms come from women, and I view it almost like a pre-emptive strike. "Since I can't beat you in the bedroom I'll discredit you as a slut" - then the editors/agents/reviewers who don't trade in sexual favours will stay away from you because they don't want to be associated with that.

Of course, my view may be a bit tainted because I can count on one hand the number of partners I've had in my life, and always within the bounds of committed long-term relationships, but it didn't stop some male authors from spreading around rumours about me. (Maybe upset because they didn't get some?) Ah, to be that good that people would be jetting from NYC to Calgary just for a quickie... Right.

In a profession such as ours, one would think we'd have a better understanding of people and not jump to such rash conclusions, but we're just as guilty. In the Publishers Weekly review of What Burns Within they summed up my female protagonist as "bombshell in the boys' club" and it irritated me. There was no consideration that for the story to work, Ashlyn had to be attractive, or that she's incredibly intelligent and good at her job.

I understand sex sells and that increasingly people are willing to try anything to catch someone's attention, but I think what we worry about is the idea that people aren't losing themselves to the story we're telling if they're just picking up the book because they think we're hot. Plus, that's a short-term sales strategy. If 100,000 men buy your book because they see you at Book Expo and think you're attractive but don't read the book, what if you aren't at Book Expo the next year? What if they don't see you again? I don't try to focus on one-off readers, but rather on a base of readers who like what I write and have the potential of becoming loyal fans. I'd rather have a solid base of readers that can grow through word of mouth to other readers who'd enjoy the books. I see the idea of selling through an author's sex appeal as pretty temporary and unsustainable (we all get older).
Brilliant reply, Sandra. I've had more than one person refer to me as Hard Case editor Charles Ardai's "wife." Isn't it long past time for female authors to be able to leave this "playing a tambourine in your boyfriend's band" mentality behind?
I've had more than one person refer to me as Hard Case editor Charles Ardai's "wife."

Wow. What can I say, other than that some people really suck?


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