Case in point, yesterday's link to my cover analysis yielded this response. Kalinara's answer (originally found here) well-summed up my intention, but I can't help but wonder if this could have been avoided.
Take the tail-end of the comment, for example:
When you embrace this cover, you're not embracing a noble view of womanhood. You're embracing the view that a woman can only be noble if she rejects and battles against the sexuality that a male-dominated culture finds threatening.
You see, I agree with the base of Hippokrene's argument. The Femme Fatale is dangerous to men, she's a representation of male fear of female sexuality and the seeming control it has over them. She's an attempt to place responsibility for male actions on the female object of the actions.
However, there's a flipside to it, and that's the path of least resistance. I had a coworker once who tried to use feminine wiles to get mostly male coworkers to make things move a little faster for her. I hated watching it then, and I hate watching it now. Before she went overseas, she trained me to take over her additional duties (Hazardous Waste Disposal -- yuck) and advised me to do the same. I expressed my disgust and told her I'd be doing things my way (which involved scowling, growling and intimidation). But, I admit, it seemed to easy to do. So easy to play the game, play into their hands and expectations. All it took was an upward thrust of the chest, a suggestive tilt of the face, and you had that attention. You had what looked like power. It was a false sense of power, though, based entirely on the attention you got from the man you were speaking to. After you left, he'd not be considering you a coworker he did a favor for. You were an object of desire he got to look at a little while. He got to see your breasts and your smile and your eyes in return for a little attention. He got a little fantasy time, and when you came back, he'd expect the same.
Now, add a few years of doing that, and you sew on a stripe or two. Suddenly, you're Sgt Fatale. You go back to that guy, and he's still Amn Supply. You need something from him, and, according to military hierarchy, you are supposed to be the one in power here, not him. However, he's expecting that smile, that fantasy. Is it right to give that fantasy to him? It may seem harmless, but in order to do so you're sacrificing your own personal earned power of position over the situation for the illusionary power of your sexuality. Come crunch time, and he's breaking a safety rule or a security rule and you need to stop him -- How much authority will you have?
There's an internal struggle in that cover to me, the struggle between two parts of yourself -- the part that has valuable skills and dignity, and the part that wants to get something done the easy way. As I looked at that cover, I saw Osira, a supervillain. Supervillains always take the easy way. She used her sexuality to get ahead. Diana doesn't do that. She's clearly a sexual being, look at her outfit, but in the picture she emphasizes power and strength and rage, not sexuality.
The comment particularly got to me, though, because I suspect it could have been prevented. I wrote that analysis early Friday morning, and briefly played with a point. A point about the usual Good Girl-Bad Girl fight and how this doesn't conform to that dynamic. Normally, in such a cover, we see an emphasis on the Good-Girl's, well, "Goodness" and purity and "Niceness." Diana does not look nice. She looks like she's about to tear those snakes to pieces and then start on Osira. "Good girls" typically resemble pre-Hades Persephone. An innocent, good natural girl who is fighting to avoid being taken advantage of. She is defending her virtue. In such images, the "Good, Pure Woman" is always just as exploited as the "Bad Girl." If anything, with the "Good Girl" it's worse because there's an element of victimization. She's being swept away by unrestrained sexuality and must fight against it.
It makes me sick too. But this cover doesn't have that victimization. Diana shows some control here. She's not the victimized "Good Girl" defending virtue against the "Hussy." She does not represent an extreme. She's a normal, moderate woman who is fighting a twisted extreme of sexuality. Like all supervillains, Osira represents an unhealthy extreme, while our hero represents the healthy middle-ground. The image shows a perverted representation of femininity, of sexuality attempting to sweep Diana away, but she's not going gently or frightened or scrambling to get away. No, she's enraged, and exerting force, and ready to demonstrate not six kinds of violence on her enemy. As her creator himself points out, Diana always breaks free and overpowers her captor.
I was bothered by the comment, a bit discouraged, and genuinely annoyed because I figured that leaving in what I'd discarded would have cleared it up, even if it had disturbed the flow of the writing. I talked it over with some friends. Tekanji, who I remember when she first saw the picture mentioned her eye was drawn to the large snake around Diana's thigh, mentioned there was some Virgin/Whore dichotomy in the picture, Kalinara brought up the awful emphasis on Diana's "virginity", and Soyo perceptively pointed out the extreme polarization of sexuality in our society (which she'd already covered in this essay a few weeks ago). We managed, between the four of us, to pinpoint the difficult position of the artist. You couldn't avoid polarizing the subjects, Diana would not be seen as a moderate persona and it would bring up the Virgin/Whore dynamic if there was no sexualization on Diana's part. But, truly, in a cover with bondage and tentacles is it possible to de-sexualize a woman in a bathing suit? Not a chance. If any more sexualization was added, the Dodsons ran the risk of crossing the line to objectification and truly brining in the Good Girl-Bad Girl imagery as Diana would clearly be exploited. Kalinara and Soyo argued that the complaint of Diana being the pure and chaste woman up against the evil temptress would be less likely in that case, but it would have killed any appreciation I had for the cover. The best possible situation was the one there, with Diana powerful and ready to attack and Osira exploited, but by herself.