July 27, 2016
Seeing pink: is it just us, or do all these popular feminist books look the same?
by Kait Howard
Ever stop by your local bookstore to pick up a tract by the latest feminist writer and realize that you couldn’t find it on the tables because, erm, your vision was a haze of pink and black?
Not long ago, we wrote on MobyLives about the increasing homogenization of book cover designs in the age of Amazon, i.e. the reason more and more books are yellow. Which has us wondering whether this is somehow related to the fact that the cover of Mona Eltahawy’s courageous and controversial Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (April 2015) is almost exactly the same as Maggie Nelson’s beautiful book-essay on gender, family, and love, The Argonauts, at least the original US edition published by Graywolf in May 2015 (for a look at the British edition published by Melville House UK, see here). Because what better way of communicating that two actually very different texts are fit for feminist readers than chunky capitals and the assertive-but-still-girly combo of black, white, and hot pink?
Once you note that similarity, it’s a slippery slope of recollections, starting with Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl (September 2014), and then moving on to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (October 2015), which boasts the same triad of colors applied to a lower case font. Before you know it you could be thinking of the illuminated pink “Yes Please” on Amy Poehler’s Yes Please (October 2015), mulling over Public Affairs’ decision to use not pink, but purple, on the cover of Andi Zeisler’s We Were Feminists Once (May 2016), and maybe even arguing with yourself about whether the jacket of Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (May 2016) isn’t red, but is more of a rosy crimson.
Because while all of these books received significant attention, with a few going on to be bestsellers, and while it’s true that each deals, in one way another, with feminism, gender, or just, well, a female perspective, most of them offer markedly different reading experiences, and were probably purchased and read by people with quite different literary sensibilities.
Without seeing cover line-ups spanning decades, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether this homogeneity of pop feminist book covers comes from the pressures of the new digital retail landscape, or whether—more plausibly—it can be traced to a simpler strategy at the publishing houses. You know, that one about not reinventing the wheel…
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.